Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

One War, Two Battles

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

One War, Two Battles

Article excerpt

A dominating first-week effort by coalition forces confirms that allied military strength is unrivaled. And despite pockets of stiff resistance, US Central Command officers insist the campaign will continue to be waged on "our terms."

But as US-led convoys march toward Baghdad, scattered encounters with guerrilla fighters and paramilitary units point to a troubling reality: Iraq and the allies are not necessarily fighting the same war.

Most military campaigns are symmetrical - both sides fight on equal terms and for similar ends. The first Gulf War was essentially a symmetrical battle.

But "Operation Iraqi Freedom" is different. To achieve their political ends of disarmament and liberation, coalition forces are seeking to topple Saddam Hussein's regime while minimizing damage to Iraq's people and infrastructure.

Mr. Hussein, on the other hand, is fighting to survive. So far, he's asked all Iraqis to take up arms against enemy forces. Reports of fake surrenders, civilian snipers, and forced citizen human shields suggests allied soldiers could have a difficult time discerning combatants from non-combatants.

That difficulty, coupled with stated allied reluctance to inflict civilian casualties, has slowed battle efforts across southern Iraq. In Umm Qasr, for instance, British commanders suggested they could have taken the key port much more quickly had they not been so wary of collateral damage.

Such sensitivity will be tested in the battle for Baghdad. Initial allied hopes that Hussein's regime could be decapitated or toppled from within have fallen as city residents appear to be growing emboldened against the prospect of American-led regime change.

Speculation that residents might take up arms against US-led forces has raised the question: Who are legitimate military targets?

So far, coalition forces have defended themselves from guerrilla tactics. But the line between combatant and non-combatant may be blurred if residents of the Iraqi capital take up arms against allied troops.

"The Geneva Conventions make this point clearly: If you mingle with combat troops as a civilian, you are a legitimate military target," says Anthony Cordesman, a military analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "It doesn't matter what you wear."

Could the allies achieve their political ends without commanding Baghdad?

"I don't think it's necessary to seize Baghdad," says Philip Coyle, a former assistant secretary of defense and senior adviser to the Center for Defense Information in Washington. "If the people of Baghdad rise up and express themselves against Saddam and against the Iraqi army also, especially of course, the Republican Guard, if they do that, then I don't think it will be necessary."

He says lingering fear of Hussein and uncertainty about the American commitment to support rebellion have dampened Iraqi enthusiasm about the conflict. …

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