- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 22, 2003

The U.S. military is conducting its air raids on Iraq while taking maximum care to spare civilians and the infrastructure of Iraq, and even frequent Bush administration critics say the effort will be successful.

"Every single target has been analyzed, and the weapon has been carefully selected and the direction in which the weapon is delivered has been carefully examined and the time of day when there is the greatest prospect of minimizing any innocent lives," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday.

President Bush, making the same pledge as his father did during the 1991 Persian Gulf war, has promised to strive to avoid killing civilians. Mr. Bush has framed the conflict as having human rights and democracy at its root, even naming the attack "Operation Iraqi Freedom."

The consensus among human rights groups and the military is that allied bombing in the 1991 war killed between 2,000 and 3,000 civilians. Even some liberal groups concede that the United States will do far better this time.

"I think it is more than just rhetoric this time," said Steve Goose, director of the arms division of Human Rights Watch, which has been critical of military offensives around the world for a perceived callousness toward civilians. "The strides in technology and the increased sensitivity to avoiding civilian casualties have been great."

Such care in targeting and the backing of human rights groups can go a long way for the war effort and for Mr. Bush. The number of civilians killed by allied attacks may shape the perception of the United States in post-Saddam Iraq whether as liberators or as heavies.

"The Iraqis will look at civilian deaths as who caused the casualties," said Ala Saik, an Iraqi-American in Michigan who has relatives in Baghdad.

"This effort is not targeting the infrastructure as it did in 1991, and the people are thankful for that," he said. "Also, Saddam in 1991 set up his defense systems in civilian areas, so there were more people killed there. This has not been the case so far."

Moreover, Iraqi citizens, war-savvy from years of experience, now know where not to be in the case of bombing. In addition, weapons developments since the Gulf war have significantly lessened the chance of errant bombs.

"We have learned a lot since [the Gulf War] and the Iraqis have learned a lot in terms of places to avoid," said retired Col. John Warden, who was the Air Force's deputy director for strategy, doctrine and war-fighting during the 1991 Gulf war.

There were several instances of collateral damage strategist parlance for civilian deaths and the destruction of unintended structures in the 1991 Gulf war due to bombs going astray.

Col. Warden noted that bombs that were part of a midday attack on a bridge in Falluja, a city on the Euphrates River west of Baghdad, instead hit a market.

"It is impossible for that to happen now," he said. "We can keep these things very low, half of what it was in the Gulf war."

A federal official said avoiding civilian casualties and collateral damage has emerged as a "key component" in the planning of aerial attacks by U.S. forces.

The source, who asked not to be identified, said the planning depends on precision bombing and new ordnance for what are now described as "effects-based operations."

The source said an F-117A Nighthawk stealth fighter with a laser-guided bomb can now accomplish what required hundreds of bombers on a single raid in World War II, and without the thousands of civilian deaths every night that was routine in the 1940s.

He said the expected measure of accuracy for World War II bombers, known as the "circular error probability," was about 3,000 feet compared to less than 10 feet today.

Jerry Seper contributed to this report.

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