At the same time, U.S. and British ground forces are moving into southern and central Iraq, having seized Iraq's only deep-water port at Umm Qasr and begun fighting for control of Basra, the capital of Shiite southern Iraq. Air strikes have also blasted targets in the key northern cities of Mosul and Kirkuk, where unconfirmed reports also suggest U.S. airborne troops may have seized control of important oilfields.
Although coalition forces encountered some significant resistance at Umm Qasr and elsewhere in the south, the military units on which Saddam is depending to stand and fight have been deployed closer to Baghdad. The crucial indicator of how long and bloody this war will be is likely to come over the next week as U.S. and British forces come face to face with Republican Guard units deployed along the approaches to the capital. Saddam and his generals knew they could not stop the U.S. and British forces at Iraq's borders; their game plan has been to fight them to a standstill by forcing them into a bloody battle for the capital. U.S. commanders are hoping, however, that the combination of heavy air bombardment targeted at the regime's power centers and the rapid drive by coalition forces towards Baghdad will force a collapse of Saddam's regime as even loyal troops read the writing on the wall.
PHOTOS & GRAPHICS
Who will step in to fill the void?
Tools of the Hunt
On Assignment: The War
Perry: Street Fighting in Karbala
Robinson: Chaos at a Bridge
Ware: Last Stand for Saddam
When the Cheering Stops
Jubilation and chaos greet the fall of Saddam's regime, leaving Iraqis and Americans puzzling over how to rebuild the nation
The Search for the Smoking Gun
Counting the Casualties
CNN.com: War in Iraq
The need for destroying the regime speedily while minimizing the traumatic impact of the war may explain why its first act involving targeted strikes at centers of power and a movement of ground troops into Iraq, signaling to Iraqi commanders that the battle has begun and demonstrating, through steadily escalating air attacks that their defeat is inevitable but also giving them the space to take themselves out of the equation, or better still, to turn on Saddam and his cronies. And, of course, the U.S. retains the option of rapidly escalating the application of force from the air or on land. The escalation is unlikely to be slow because of the political pressure on the U.S. to finish this quickly; and second, the fact that Saddam's own strategy may be built precisely on the idea that the longer he is able to survive and demonstrate that his forces are putting up resistance, the better his chances of averting the catastrophic regime-collapse the Americans are trying to achieve. Thus far he's lobbed a couple of missiles into the invasion's staging grounds in Kuwait, and has set fire to a handful of oil wells. A number of false alarms notwithstanding, the feared attacks with chemical and biological munitions have not thus far materialized, and Saddam's strategy may be to try and draw the coalition forces into a bloody battle for Baghdad, in the belief that they may balk at the military and civilian casualties that could involve.