Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Baghdad Digs in - Literally - for Battle

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Baghdad Digs in - Literally - for Battle

Article excerpt

For Americans following the inexorable allied march northward, this has become the "Are we there yet?" war. Iraqis waking to the distant thunder of bombing strikes and the gritty yellow pall of roiling sandstorms have a different refrain: "Are they here yet?"

The two questions point to a common perception that the battle for Baghdad has begun.

Some Iraqis may fear "barbarians at the gate." Some Americans and Britons may imagine advancing forces as Luke Skywalker destroying the heart of the Babylonian Death Star. But both groups recognize the strategic and symbolic importance of Iraq's capital city.

Residents of Baghdad awoke to stormy conditions and smoke from fuel fires meant to hide targets. Streets were mostly empty as the entire city appeared to hunker down for the coming battle.

Baghdad is literally digging in for intense combat.

The city's people are expanding defensive trenches around the city, including in the courtyard of the Iraq museum, home to priceless antiquities, some dating to 7,000 B.C. And residents reported seeing members of Saddam Hussein's intelligence agencies posted on the streets.

From Basra to Baghdad, allied forces are advancing toward the heart of Saddam Hussein's strength. The leading edge of a 200-mile convoy marching north to the Iraqi capital has reached the city's outer rings of defense.

To put the progress in perspective: In six days, thousands of vehicles have raced through sniper fire, tricky river crossings, and intense spring sandstorms to cover a distance equivalent to driving from Santa Barbara to San Francisco. The 3rd Infantry Division's sweep through southern Iraq has killed about 500 Iraqi fighters, according to reports reaching ground forces command.

"So far, over the five days, the progress on the way to Baghdad has been exactly what we planned," British Prime Minister Tony Blair said. "Nobody, least of all the forces loyal to Saddam, should be in any doubt that the resistance will be broken down and that the goals of the coalition forces will be met," he added. …

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