Iraq Bombing Prepares Ground for an Endgame

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Bombing Iraq in installments carries less political risk than a spectacular attack -- and it also helps round up a posse to overthrow Saddam. Heavy bombing continued Monday following Sunday's strike, which temporarily knocked out an oil pipeline. "Although low-key air strikes have already done more damage than the big raids in December, the political consequences are minimal," says TIME Middle East bureau chief Scott MacLeod. "There have been no outbreaks of protest in Arab countries over attacks since December."

Washington also wants to send a message to Saddam's opponents inside Iraq and in neighboring countries: The U.S. is serious about overthrowing Saddam. "Previous experience has made Arab governments and Iraqi opposition groups suspect that talk of overthrowing Saddam is intended for U.S. domestic consumption," says MacLeod. "Continuous bombing is a way of signaling Washington's commitment." Any internal insurrection, however, represents a fearsome challenge. "Saddam's forces may be demoralized, and he faces ethnic opposition in the north and south, but even then it's not clear that a revolt could work," says MacLeod. "It could succeed if the timing was right and the necessary elements in place, but previous failures have been disastrous." And the mere whiff of dissension in the ranks usually leaves a few Iraqi generals twisting in the wind.