Inside a sweltering, gold canvas tent, hundreds of US Army military police (MP) sit fanning themselves while two uniformed Arabic-speakers brief them on what to expect from Iraqi soldiers and civilians. "As soon as the Iraqi people know the United States will go all the way to Baghdad, we will get support," says a mustached sergeant named Sami. "The Iraqi people are waiting for liberation. Hooah?"
"Hooah!" the MPs reply.
At desert camps across northern Kuwait, US military units are building up not just for war, but for what many here anticipate could be mass surrenders and capitulations by the Iraqi Army and an almost overnight transition to "stabilization operations."
Even if the scenarios of a swiftly collapsing regime turn out to be too optimistic, US forces will confront immense tasks once the fighting is over as the occupying power of a fractious, downtrodden, and potentially unstable nation. In the end, maintaining the peace in Iraq - as in much of modern warfare - may be as difficult as waging the war.
The US strategy going in is designed to minimize destruction that would add to the burden faced by America and its allies in securing peace and helping the nation of 22 million rebuild.
The imperative of US commanders is to try to force Saddam Hussein out while minimizing civilian casualties and damage to the country's economic infrastructure. American forces hope to achieve this through an intense, compressed campaign combining precision air strikes against Iraqi military facilities and regime targets with a rapid ground push to free the bulk of the country from Mr. Hussein's control.
"We are taking extraordinary measures to prevent innocent casualties," said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who has retained the authority to approve any strikes against military targets that risk more than about 30 civilian lives, military sources say. Civilian bridges, roads, communications facilities, power plants, and other infrastructure would not be targeted under current US rules of engagement.
Yet even with a surgical military operation, American ground forces rolling into Iraq would have to contend - almost as soon as the smoke cleared - with humanitarian needs as well as potential social upheaval. In a population that's suffered nearly a quarter century of dictatorship and years of economic sanctions, war prisoners, displaced residents, and factions intent on settling old scores could all pose challenges.
To meet such needs, US ground combat forces are loading up aid packages with enough food, water, blankets, and medical supplies for thousands of Iraqis. "We have prepositioned packages for 1,000 to 1,500 people with our brigades," says Maj. John Chadbourne, executive officer of the Third Infantry Division's 703rd Support Battalion. "In Desert Storm [in 1991], some of the first divisions of Iraqi soldiers we ran into had no shoes and few clothes," he recalls.
Civil Affairs teams trained to quickly assess a community's needs, resources, and leadership are also in place with the brigades. "Who are the key leaders in the community? Who is considered legitimate?" says Maj. Toney Coleman of the Army's 422 Civil Affairs Battalion, explaining some of the checklists soldiers will go through. "If you have a green suit [US military] doing the work, you've already made the wrong decision."
Third Infantry Division combat units are taking on extra supplies of concertina wire for use in setting up temporary holding areas for Iraqi war prisoners. "We may have so many people surrender to us that it could impact our military mission," says a senior Army lawyer.
DURING the 1991 Gulf War, US combat forces were largely unprepared to deal with the tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers who surrendered, many holding US military leaflets urging them to put down their arms. One MP who recently set up camp here, Sgt. Rick Pike of the 10th Mountain Division's 511 Military Police Company, recalls how he and 12 comrades handled 7,300 Iraqi POWs during the Gulf War. "We set up a hasty compound with concertina wire," he says.
Today, Sergeant Pike is part of an influx of hundreds of US military police into Kuwait. In part, it's an attempt to ensure that combat units are not bogged down processing war prisoners.
"We definitely learned from our last mistake," says Sgt. 1st Class Garold Williams of the Third Infantry Division's 549 Military Police Company. "They're expecting mass defections," he adds.
MPs plan to give surrendering Iraqi soldiers food and water and allow them to keep any gas masks they have. The "initial wave" of soldiers would be placed in a central holding area and separated by rank. Within a month, they would move to a detention camp built inside Iraq, Sergeant Williams says. Many soldiers could then be processed in a matter of days, and freed.
Outbreaks of factional violence and revenge killings are other problems that American forces may have to deal with in the aftermath of Hussein's fall.
"We understand that if there is a regime change there could be reprisals," says Col. Lyle Cayce, staff judge advocate of the Third Infantry Division. "There will be a media blitz telling people that if they commit reprisals they will be punished.
Still, he acknowledges that US forces lack the manpower to police Iraq. "Obviously we can't guarantee the safety of every person, but I feel confident our country will do what it can," he said, noting that the Third Infantry Division has experience in separating warring factions in Bosnia.