THE IRAQ CONFLICT: After Seven Days of Warfare, Baghdad Is 'Centre of Gravity' ; MILITARY ANALYSIS

By Bellamy, Christopher | The Independent (London, England), March 27, 2003 | Go to article overview
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THE IRAQ CONFLICT: After Seven Days of Warfare, Baghdad Is 'Centre of Gravity' ; MILITARY ANALYSIS


Bellamy, Christopher, The Independent (London, England)


WITH THE deep-water port of Umm Qasr secured at last and British troops moving into the outskirts of Basra, the decisive point of the war yesterday was still the approach to Baghdad, which for Allied strategic planners is the Iraqi "centre of gravity".

The Defence Secretary said Saddam Hussein's government had lost control of southern Iraq and the British would be switching some effort to reinforce the US grab for the Iraqi capital.

After the seventh day of the war and the sixth of land combat, British and US leaders took stock. It is likely that the national leaders' focus has shifted to the "end-state", although that should have been decided at the beginning. To the type of government to be installed after President Saddam falls, and to the role of the United Nations.

On the battlefield, considerable gains have been made in the first six days, although the predominance of "friendly fire" deaths, especially those suffered by the British, has been a shock. The US- British-Australian force (it can hardly be called a coalition, for it is not) has a deep- water port, and largely surrounds Iraq's second city.

The "rising" in Basra reported on Tuesday night, does not seem to have taken hold as fast as initially hoped. The British fought artillery duels with 1,000 pro-Saddam militia. An assault into Basra itself may still be some way off.

Continued resistance behind the advancing ground forces was probably inevitable, although it has been much stiffer than expected. An even bigger shock has been that many Iraqis did not welcome the invaders as liberators, as forecast. Many in the areas seized by the British and Americans said they still fear the secret police. Only time and extensive foot patrolling and "hearts and minds" operations will reassure them.

Unsurprisingly, the British, with their long experience of peace operations, in Northern Ireland and elsewhere, have proved more effective in Umm Qasr and Basra than the Americans.

The US troops are incomparable in the open field but when fighting in built-up areas, their tendency to stand back and blast at the landscape does not work. At least, it does not unless they are prepared to inflict huge numbers of casualties indiscriminately.

Yesterday dawned with reports of ferocious fighting around Najaf, on the main approach to Baghdad from the south, as the US V Corps repelled fanatical assaults.

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