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Iraqi Military May Plan Urban Warfare in Case of U.S. Attack

By Rajiv Chandrasekaran
THE WASHINGTON POST -- baghdad, iraq

Iraq’s military likely would respond to a U.S. invasion by attempting to lure American forces close to Baghdad and other large population centers, where Iraqi commanders believe their soldiers would be less vulnerable to airstrikes and civilians will be more willing to fight for the government, according to senior government officials and diplomats here.

The strategy appears based on Iraq’s experience in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, when it lost thousands of soldiers in its vast southern desert. During that war, U.S. ground forces were able to easily overrun Iraqi troops, whose trenches and bunkers provided them little cover from American artillery and bombs.

Now, Iraqi officials have indicated that they would fight a very different war by shielding their soldiers in cities and trying to draw U.S. forces into high-risk urban warfare.

“Take the desert,” Mohammed Mehdi Saleh, a senior member of President Saddam Hussein’s Cabinet, said in an interview Thursday. “What’s in the desert? If they want to change the political system in Iraq, they have to come to Baghdad. We will be waiting for them here.”

Although there has been no visible military buildup on Baghdad’s streets in recent weeks, Western military analysts say they believe there are at least three divisions of the army’s Republican Guard, Saddam’s best-trained and most loyal troops, stationed in and around this sprawling capital of 4.8 million people. The main Iraqi opposition group, the Iraqi National Congress, reported this week that Saddam had centralized command of the Republican Guard and had ordered new fortifications built around Baghdad.

It is unclear whether the talk of urban warfare here reflects firmly held battle plans or is intended as a verbal counterpunch to threats emanating from Washington.

“We take this very seriously,” an adviser to Saddam said. “We are fully prepared for any eventuality.”