The next few days

Posted: Mar 26, 2003 12:00 AM

The "shock and awe" has passed. Now comes the war of attrition.

Currently, allied tanks are massing on the perimeter of Baghdad. To date, the war has been dominated by psychological operations designed to scare the Iraqi forces into submission while our leaders pursue back-door negotiations to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

The shock and awe stunned the Iraqi leadership, but did not neuter it. And the early political goals of this campaign will necessarily recede in significance, as does our goal of winning the war in a manner that does not alienate the Iraqi people we're attempting to liberate.

Saddam has pulled his troops back to defend Baghdad, where his 1st Hammurabi division, al Nida Armored division and the 2nd Al Medina division have dug in. Urban warfare is chaos. Civilians will be massacred.

In the coming days, our soldiers and tanks will face a horrendous ground battle. U.S. prisoners may very well be strung out along the perimeter as human shields. Behind them all of the resources of the Iraqi government - likely, that means weapons of mass destruction.

Into this trap our soldiers now prepare to roll. Don't kid yourself. The bloodshed and carnage will be immense. Eventually, we will overwhelm the Republican Guard but, of course, that was never the question. The goal of this war was to remove a tyrannical dictator and to liberate the Iraqi people. The latter consideration has, to some degree, inhibited our forces. With mounting international condemnation for this war, we have had to scale back the level of force we employ.

As for eroding support for Saddam, it seems we missed a prime opportunity by not taking over the Iraqi airwaves. We let Iraqi leaders prattle away on air in hopes of gaining some valuable intelligence, but surely that time has passed. We need to cut off Saddam's propaganda and use the airwaves to create confusion amongst his soldiers.

We cannot be constrained by our fears of alienating the Iraqi people or of world opinion. If we have failed to convince the world that we are a just nation, then that is a shame and a burden that we will have to carry. Now is the time to focus on the battle for Baghdad. Urban warfare is a messy proposition. If we allow ourselves to be stymied by world opinion, many of our infantrymen and women will die.

We must remind ourselves why we are going to war and then move forward with absolute force. It is time to recall the brutality of Saddam's regime. This is a man who has gassed his own people. This is a man who, if you recall his speeches, wishes to be remembered for toppling America. Saddam is manufacturing biological and chemical weapons and is trying desperately to build a nuclear bomb. He nourishes hate and fanaticism hoping that terrorism of the Sept. 11 variety will continue to replicate throughout the world.

It is time to focus on these core issues because a good deal of carnage lies ahead.