U.S. Debates Plans For Baghdad

IRAQ:AMERICA AT WAR: U.S. Army soldiers search an abandoned medieval fortress in the desert near Karbala Friday, March 28, 2003. Scouts had observed Iraqi military activity in the area, although no one was found in the building. The soldiers are with A Company 3rd Battalion 7th Infantry Regiment with the 3rd Infantry Division.( AP

As some internal disagreement over the effectiveness of the Iraqi resistance boiled to the surface, military planners weighed their options as allied forces closed in on a bomb-weary Baghdad.

The U.S. Central Command denied Friday that it had underestimated Iraq's fighting ability but acknowledged that battlefield commanders may be seeing a "more precise" reality of resistance than headquarters.

There has been strong resistance by Iraqi paramilitary forces as U.S. troops have moved north from Kuwait toward Baghdad. American forces sought at first to bypass towns in the south in the drive to reach the Iraqi capital quickly but have had to slow their advance to root out enemy fighters.

Lt. Gen. William S. Wallace, the Army's senior ground commander in Iraq, observed publicly that Pentagon war strategists had misunderstood the combativeness of Iraqi fighters. The miscalculation, he said, had stalled the coalition's drive toward Baghdad.

"The enemy we're fighting against is different from the one we'd war-gamed against," Wallace told The New York Times and The Washington Post on Thursday.

Military planners, meanwhile, wrangled over whether American troops should lay siege to Baghdad rather than invade.

In other major developments:

  • Four U.S. Marines are missing following fierce combat in an-Nasiriyah, U.S. Central Command said Friday. The whereabouts of the troops from the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force are unknown, a spokesman for Central Command in Qatar said.

  • The U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a resolution Friday to restart a U.N. humanitarian food program for Iraq once the U.S.-led war winds down.

  • In Basra, a "couple of thousand" Iraqi civilians trying to flee the besieged city, which is encircled by British troops, were attacked by Iraqi paramilitary forces who opened fire on them with mortars and machine guns, British officials said.

  • Flanked by patrol boats and assault helicopters, the British supply ship Sir Galahad docked at the hard-won port of Umm Qasr on Friday, loaded with the first military shipment of relief aid for Iraqi citizens.

  • Gen. Tommy Franks told Infinity Radio that no weapons of mass destruction have been found to date in Iraq. "But then again," Franks said, "we have not been to the places where we believe these weapons may be located."

  • The Pentagon says 27 Americans have been killed in the war so far; 22 Britons have also been reported killed. Figures on Iraqi dead are unknown but widely believed to be over a thousand.

    Of Baghdad's population of 5 million, about 50 percent or more are believed to be Shiite Muslim. Saddam Hussein is a Sunni Muslim, and so is most of his government.

    This is why President Bush and top advisers such as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld are considering laying siege to Baghdad, after isolating it from most of the Republican Guard armies around it, reports CBS News Anchor Dan Rather.

    The idea is that perhaps Baghdad's Shiites will openly rebel against Saddam and his Sunnis. U.S. special operations inside Baghdad now seek to help organize and ignite such rebellion.

    The new talk in Washington about possibly laying siege to Baghdad instead of trying to barrel right on into it, was born of two main things, among many, reports Rather.

    First, the difficulty the British have had in trying to take Basra, Iraq's second largest city in the south. Second, the belief - basically a hope - that Baghdad's large Shiite Muslim population may be encouraged to revolt against Saddam and his mostly Sunni government.

    But before any final decision is made about a possible siege, U.S.-led forces must try to cut up and off Saddam's Medina Division Republican Guard, which is now dug in between Baghdad and attacking allied forces.

    The major drive to accomplish that is expected over the next few days, a week at most, reports Rather.

    In the interim, the American game plan is simple: bombs, bombs and more bombs.

    In Baghdad, U.S. officials said bombs and Tomahawk missiles struck several communications and command-and-control facilities, including a tower hit by two 4,700-pound "bunker-busters" dropped from a B-2 bomber.

    In Basra, Iraqi paramilitary forces fired mortars and machine guns Friday on about 1,000 Iraqi civilians trying to leave the besieged city of Basra, forcing some of them to retreat, British military officials and witnesses said.

    Britain's 7th Armored Brigade apparently tried to fire back, but stopped out of fear that civilians would be wounded, said Lt. Cmdr. Emma Thomas, a spokeswoman for British forces in the Gulf. As a result, some civilians retreated into Basra in trucks, she said. It's unclear how many did manage to escape.

    British forces have ringed the southern city of 1.3. million in hopes of eliminating units still loyal to Saddam Hussein and opening the way for badly needed humanitarian aid.
    • Joel Roberts

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