- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 31, 2002


U.S. and British coalition air strikes reportedly damaged one of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's spy centers on Sunday, a radar site on Thursday and a missile site yesterday in what has become a slow-burn air war over the decade-old no-fly zones.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi military is digging in to protect Baghdad in what U.S. officials describe as the biggest buildup of defenses around the city since the 1991 Gulf war.

Spurred to action by American threats of attack, Iraqi earthmovers are digging defensive positions for tanks, artillery and troops, said defense and other officials, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Some military units are spreading out their heavy equipment to make it more difficult to target, and anti-aircraft defenses are being moved to improve the protection of the Iraqi capital from U.S. air strikes, officials said.

“It's the largest defensive preparation since Desert Storm,” said a Bush administration official. “The rhetoric they are hearing coming from the United States they're taking it very, very seriously.”

Saddam has said he will take any fight with U.S. forces to the streets of Baghdad and other Iraqi cities, and U.S. officials acknowledge this is probably Saddam's best strategy in a new war. Some of the U.S. military's vast advantage in technology and training are mitigated when fighting in a city, rather than in the open.

Two polls released yesterday indicate Americans' support for ground troops in Iraq is waning.

Fifty-one percent of those polled favor ground troops in Iraq, down from 70 percent in January, according to a Time magazine poll. Likewise, a Newsweek magazine poll found 49 percent support for sending U.S. ground troops into Iraq.

Those polled by Newsweek preferred air strikes (63 percent), sending in commandos to assassinate Saddam (70 percent) or organizing an international coalition to take over the country (69 percent).

Defending Baghdad proper is half of the Iraqi Republican Guard three armored divisions that ring the city's outer reaches, officials said. The Republican Guard is considered the army unit most loyal to Saddam.

During the Gulf war, Saddam moved many of his units to the open desert to fight the U.S.-led coalition, and he lost badly. If his troops stay in the cities, U.S. forces face fighting in urban neighborhoods and streets to oust Saddam from power.

But the idea of a war built around urban combat in Baghdad, Basra and elsewhere gives some U.S. military planners pause. While Pentagon officials are confident they can defeat Saddam's weakened military and conquer Baghdad, some worry that U.S. and civilian casualties will be higher than the U.S. public is willing to accept.

For the sixth time in a week, coalition aircraft yesterday bombed an Iraqi defense facility. U.S. Air Force F-15E strike aircraft fired several precision-guided weapons at a surface-to-air missile launcher site in the southern zone near Al Kut, 150 miles southeast of Baghdad, a senior U.S. official said.

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