The gloves are coming off. Since the war began, the United States military and the Bush administration have focused on saving Iraqi civilians, even at the cost of American lives. That strategy has worked brilliantly; photos of cheering Iraqis greeting their American liberators continue to flow into newspapers. But now that the war has finally gotten down to the nitty-gritty, we're pulling no punches.
Saddam Hussein, al Qaeda and much of the Arab world thought that the war in Iraq would turn into one large-scale Mogadishu. They had good reason to believe it. For a decade, the U.S. leadership had two priorities in any war, in order of perceived importance: first, minimize civilian casualties, and second, minimize American casualties. To achieve those two goals, Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton never got the United States deeply involved in any conflict. This pattern of activity led Osama Bin Laden to peg the United States as a "weak horse."
The early stages of this war were characterized by a similarly high regard for civilians. The British had to battle it out door to door in Basra for nearly two weeks before taking control of the city.
April 7, 2003, marked a turning point. The U.S. military learned that Saddam Hussein, senior officials and members of his Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) were meeting in a facility behind or beneath a restaurant in the al Salaa commercial block of Baghdad. At about 2:48 p.m., an Air Force B-1B bomber refueling over western Iraq got the order: Attack the restaurant -- this could be "the big one." Twelve minutes later, the B-1B dropped four satellite-guided 1-ton Joint Direct Attack Munition weapons, leaving a crater 60 feet deep and flattening the restaurant as well as three nearby houses. At least 14 civilians were killed.
But why would Saddam meet with his senior staff in a vulnerable area? Saddam was counting on the "Mogadishu syndrome" to prevent any U.S. attack on him. According to the Washington Times, "the IIS may have picked the spot to meet because it did not believe the allies would bomb a commercial block. The allies have stated their objective to avoid civilian casualties." Saddam didn't realize: The Mogadishu days are over.