Cover Story

Six signs the war is going well

Issue: "Beginning of the end," March 29, 2003

On the first night of the war with Iraq, President Bush urged Americans to expect a lengthy, difficult campaign. In the fog of war, reports of success may well be unclear (and sometimes contradictory), but here is a checklist of important objectives that will point to victory.

Basrah: U.S. strategists believe the south will fall quickly, because local Shiites have long resented the iron hand of Saddam's Sunni regime. News photos from Basrah will probably be the first to be broadcast widely in the Muslim world, so their PR value is huge. If the locals hail the Americans as liberators, it could help to cool tempers throughout the region-and persuade Iraqi troops throughout the south to surrender.

Western desert: The United States wants desperately to keep Israel out of the war, so taking out Iraq's medium-range missiles is a top priority. Saddam hit Tel Aviv with Scud missiles in the last Gulf War, and residents there have already sealed their windows in case of a chemical or biological attack this time around. If any missiles do hit Tel Aviv, it's a sign that U.S. Special Operations in Iraq's western desert were not fully successful.

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Mosul and Kirkuk: Leaders of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) have predicted publicly that local Iraqis will give up these key northern cities without a fight. Mass surrenders in the north will prevent troops from later falling back to defend Baghdad.

Tikrit: KDP leaders have said their first priority is to secure their historic homeland, which doesn't include Tikrit, Saddam's birthplace. But recent statements indicate they might march further south, opening a true second front. If the Kurds do attack Tikrit, Baghdad will feel the squeeze. Saddam seems prepared for this scenario: He has reportedly moved an entire Republican Guard division from Mosul to Tikrit, essentially giving up on the north.

Kut: One hundred miles southeast of the capital, this is likely the first place U.S. troops will encounter large numbers of Saddam's Republican Guard. Intelligence reports indicate that Guard commanders here have been issued chemical weapons, and Kut may be their last chance to use them: The city is at the northern edge of Iraq's Shiite-dominated south, and Saddam has shown that he considers his countrymen there expendable. Chemical attacks closer to Baghdad could produce casualties among Sunnis loyal to the regime, and Saddam can't risk a revolt in his own backyard.

Baghdad: The war won't be successful until U.S. Central Command has control of the capital. But unless Saddam's regime collapses from within, the battle for Baghdad could be long and bloody. Three Republican Guard divisions protect the city's perimeter, while the most loyal, the Special Republican Guard, is posted inside, along with tens of thousands of security forces. Analysts believe Saddam's ultimate strategy is to force a long, painful siege of the capital, leading to a new round of "international outrage" designed to push President Bush into calling a ceasefire.

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