The Cautious War

In its first few days, the US blitz on Baghdad has gone as well as could be hoped. The political goals of the war are becoming clear, and many of the worst fears haven't come true.

The land war has been made easier by selective air strikes and behind-the-scenes special operations. Coalition casualties have been relatively light - many simply from accident. One British plane was lost Sunday - to friendly fire. Some US soldiers were captured.

Given the amount of munitions hitting Baghdad, civilian losses have been remarkably low. Reporters on the scene say many of those injured were hurt by falling Iraqi antiaircraft fire, not bombs. Thus far, the US and British aircraft have hit targets with promised precision. Thousands of Iraqi regular-army forces have surrendered, and are others are encouraged to go home - in hopes they will be useful in the postwar period.

These careful successes - rather than all-out combat to destroy Iraqi troops and cities - are essential in a war the world doesn't widely support.

What's also encouraging thus far is what has not happened. The coalition has seized southern oil fields mostly intact; of 500 wells, only nine were sabotaged. Ports, bridges, and oil terminals are also mostly undamaged. No Iraqi Scuds have rained down on Israel. Coalition forces have not encountered Iraq's chemical and biological weapons. The coalition bombing of Baghdad has, so far, left water and electrical systems intact. Protests in other Arab nations aren't large enough to encourage Saddam Hussein.

Despite all that, the most difficult battles still lie ahead as the coalition reaches the capital. The Republican Guard and Baath Party militia are expected to put up stiff resistance. And the big question is the status and whereabouts of Saddam Hussein, who may be hunkered down near the capital or in Tikrit, his home city. If Iraq uses weapons of mass destruction, that will most likely occur around those cities.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says negotiations continue with unidentified Iraqi military and intelligence officials to get them to surrender or remove Hussein's regime.

Pockets of Iraqi resistance still threaten US and British forces in the rear. In some cases, Republican Guards were seen shoving women and children into their positions to be used as human shields. While Shiite Muslims in the south have mostly welcomed coalition forces, it remains to be seen what kind of greeting the Sunni in central Iraq and Baghdad will provide.

The US-British strategy of conducting a war that largely leaves Iraq intact for a better, post-Hussein future, and does the least damage to the US reputation, seems to be on track.

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