Benchmarks Toward Victory

Eleven days into the war, it's no surprise US and British forces have hit rough spots, from sandstorms to a suicide attack. But the coalition has shown remarkable flexibility in adapting to new threats. And it's used its overwhelming power and technology to remain on the road to victory over Saddam Hussein.

The main success for Mr. Hussein's militia thugs has been against Iraqi civilians, especially Shiites, whom they kill in an effort to keep people under control. The more they use such tactics, the more the world sees the regime for what it is.

The US-British goal of creating a safe zone in the south is nearly complete. The ports are open and humanitarian aid is flowing in. The British, with proper caution toward civilians, are whittling away at the small group of regime forces in the second-largest city, Basra. The southern oil fields are secure.

US forces swiftly moved to less than 50 miles from Baghdad and have quickly taken control of much, if not most, of Iraq. This allows them to launch air attacks from captured airfields inside the country. They've dealt a blow to an Al Qaeda-linked terrorist group in the north. Republican Guard units in Baghdad and south of the capital have taken serious losses.

There have been few refugees, and the coalition is poised to deal with any humanitarian crisis. Regrettably, some civilians in Baghdad have died. Such deaths have been few, considering 1) the number of bombs dropped; and, 2) Hussein's attempts to maximize civilian casualties by using civilians to shield his forces and weapons - a war crime. (It's not yet clear that US bombs were responsible for the civilian losses.)

The bombing will take weeks to have its effect, as it did in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and the Gulf War. In this war, however, the ground campaign began almost simultaneously with the air attacks. This was necessary to protect the oil wells and prevent environmental disaster.

These early successes are helping pry off the tight grip that Hussein's Baath Party has had over Iraqis and leave much of the country intact. As more US ground forces arrive, the final assault on Baghdad can begin.

Cracking the Hussein regime, however, may not require full urban combat. Largely unseen is the work of US intelligence agents and Special Forces in the city. And British forces in Basra are showing how to use clever tactics to focus firepower on Iraqi forces.

The biggest victory so far is the resolve of the American people to see this job through. Hussein calculated he could deflate support for the war by forcing delays and creating civilian causalities. It's become increasingly clear he miscalculated.

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