Troops Gird to Keep Peace in War ; US Soldiers in Northern Kuwait Undergo Training in How to Give out Humanitarian Aid as Part of 'Occupation' Duties

Article excerpt

Inside a sweltering, gold canvas tent, hundreds of US Army military police (MP) sit fanning themselves while two uniformed Arabic-speakers brief them on what to expect from Iraqi soldiers and civilians. "As soon as the Iraqi people know the United States will go all the way to Baghdad, we will get support," says a mustached sergeant named Sami. "The Iraqi people are waiting for liberation. Hooah?"

"Hooah!" the MPs reply.

At desert camps across northern Kuwait, US military units are building up not just for war, but for what many here anticipate could be mass surrenders and capitulations by the Iraqi Army and an almost overnight transition to "stabilization operations."

Even if the scenarios of a swiftly collapsing regime turn out to be too optimistic, US forces will confront immense tasks once the fighting is over as the occupying power of a fractious, downtrodden, and potentially unstable nation. In the end, maintaining the peace in Iraq - as in much of modern warfare - may be as difficult as waging the war.

The US strategy going in is designed to minimize destruction that would add to the burden faced by America and its allies in securing peace and helping the nation of 22 million rebuild.

The imperative of US commanders is to try to force Saddam Hussein out while minimizing civilian casualties and damage to the country's economic infrastructure. American forces hope to achieve this through an intense, compressed campaign combining precision air strikes against Iraqi military facilities and regime targets with a rapid ground push to free the bulk of the country from Mr. Hussein's control.

"We are taking extraordinary measures to prevent innocent casualties," said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who has retained the authority to approve any strikes against military targets that risk more than about 30 civilian lives, military sources say. Civilian bridges, roads, communications facilities, power plants, and other infrastructure would not be targeted under current US rules of engagement.

Yet even with a surgical military operation, American ground forces rolling into Iraq would have to contend - almost as soon as the smoke cleared - with humanitarian needs as well as potential social upheaval. In a population that's suffered nearly a quarter century of dictatorship and years of economic sanctions, war prisoners, displaced residents, and factions intent on settling old scores could all pose challenges.

To meet such needs, US ground combat forces are loading up aid packages with enough food, water, blankets, and medical supplies for thousands of Iraqis. "We have prepositioned packages for 1,000 to 1,500 people with our brigades," says Maj. John Chadbourne, executive officer of the Third Infantry Division's 703rd Support Battalion. …