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Into The Red Zone


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THE SOUNDS OF SILENCE

The Iraqis continue to refuse International Red Cross access to American POWs. The reason is almost certain. Many have been tortured and killed. We don’t know if any are still alive. The four bodies found by the Marines on Friday, buried in shallow graves, were reported to have been dismembered. Other atrocities continue. The Brits released yesterday a video of civilians being shot at while attempting to flee Basra. I continue to be puzzled by the lack of public–and media–attention to the Iraqi atrocities. Today, a woman–part of a crowd being pushed across a bridge to cover an Iraqi unit–tried to run. She was shot in the back and her body tossed over the bridge.

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Israel–thought to be out of the woods because spec ops had found and destroyed Saddam’s main scud batteries–is still under that threat. Earlier reports of success appear to be overenthusiastic. But the guys are still hunting. Maybe they can find them all, and maybe some will be launched. And maybe Saddam is about to release his chemical weapons on our people.

The Brits captured an Iraqi general yesterday at one of the terrorist centers near Basra. One Brit officer was quoted as saying they planned to ask the Iraqi “very politely” to cooperate. No time for dry Brit humor, or for prolonged interrogation. Shoot the guy so full of sodium amatol or versed that he thinks he’s talking to Allah, and then question him.

The press and the Dems–and I still insist that’s not entirely a redundant statement–continue to wonder aloud at the lack of liberated Iraqis waving at our smiling soldiers wandering down the freed streets of Baghdad. To them, it’s proof of a failure of the war plan, and an omen of disasters to come. But we’re seeing the same reception in a very different ways. Instead of tossing bouquets of roses at our troops, ordinary Iraqis are throwing something much more valuable: intelligence information.

Areas that can at least smell freedom–Basra in the south, and near Nasiriyah and even Baghdad–ordinary people, still afraid of Saddam’s regime, are helping Coalition forces find and target Baath party leaders and fedayeen gatherings. The damage we are inflicting on Saddam’s military and terror cells is increasing in scope and pace. We can wait for the roses. Right now, this is far more valuable. More later.

08:24 AM

INTO THE RED ZONE

A grim, determined mood has captured the warfighters this night. It was best voiced by the CENTCOM senior officer who told the AP that we are prepared to pay a high price in casualties to take Baghdad and remove Saddam Hussein. That’s not a forecast, mind you, but a message to the Republican Guard. And the mood among them must be much grimmer.

Today saw the first “reconnaissance in force”–a series of probing attacks by Marines to test the Iraqi defenses around Baghdad, which has been dubbed the “Red Zone.” Around Baghdad are about six divisions of the Republican Guard. That we are winning the war of attrition against those divisions is proved at least two ways. The Iraqis are moving some or all of their “Nebuchadnezzar” division south from Tikrit to fill in the holes our air power has blown in the six divisions already dug in around the city. And when the “Nebuchadnezzars” move, they will be bombed again and again, reducing–we hope substantially–the number that actually reach Baghdad. About 2,000 sorties were flown over Iraq on Monday, and the fly-guys aren’t up there to enjoy the view.

It may be a few days or a week or more before we take the battle into the heart of Baghdad. The Iraqi television stations are being bombed, but are still on the air. The signal that the end is near will be when the Ministry of Defense is destroyed. Our talks with those inside may yet lead to a mass surrender. It’s worth waiting a little while to end this without sacrificing lives needlessly.

The biggest fear now is that Saddam will unleash his chemical and biological weapons on our troops. We can probably defend against a severe chem attack, with few casualties. The chemicals may still kill hundreds or thousands of Iraqis, depending on how the winds blow. Bio weapons are another matter. We don’t have the means of detecting a bio attack, and the effects may not appear for days after. That most of our people have been vaccinated against anthrax and smallpox (even the embedded reporters got the shots) should prevent the worst. Should, not will.

Just north of Nasiriyah, the Marines targeted “Chemical Ali”–Ali Hassan al-Majid, Saddam’s cousin who was responsible for the horrific chemical attack on the city of Halabja in 1988. Several thousand Kurds were killed when Ali hit the town with poison gas. Maybe they got him, and maybe not. Let’s hope.

The civilian casualties continue to mount. For every tragedy we see–such as the van full of women and children shot up at a checkpoint today–we have to remember that there are five incidents of heroism, saving civilians from danger. In al-Hindiyah yesterday, during a battle to capture a key bridge across the Euphrates, Ranger Captain Chris Carter rescued an old woman who was trapped in the killing zone between the Rangers and the Iraqis. You’ll never see that one on Al-Jazeera.

The carpers are out in full force, trying to make political troubles for Messrs. Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld. But they are too soon, by half. It may be that we will suffer hundreds of casualties taking Baghdad. But is just as likely that the cracks in the walls around Saddam will collapse it before we have to.

It is more than a little strange that Saddam hasn’t been seen since the first night of the war. There are reports–unconfirmed, of course–that Saddam’s wife has fled. His personal bodyguards are now seen around Tariq Aziz, the foreign minister who ran the U.N. inspectors around for years. And it may not have been Saddam who fired the Iraqi air defense chief this weekend. He probably wasn’t going to get a success bonus, but looking around Baghdad, you might think he’s done a pretty good job.

Iraqi civilians apparently have more confidence in the precision of American bombing than our media do. They are sending their children to school, and going about their daily chores. For the one and a half million who live in the “Saddam City” area, their big entertainment is watching the coalition air forces fly overhead. But for all our care and success, the press never lets up.

I picked the following news leads out of three newspapers today. Read them carefully.

“The first 11 days of the war have brought back with a vengeance the deep splits that have long existed within the Bush administration and the Republican Party over policy toward Iraq.”

“Facing mounting skepticism about their strategy in Iraq, senior Pentagon officials launched their fiercest defense yet of their decision to send in limited ground forces, dismissing yesterday of discord between US political and military officials over how to prosecute the war.”

“US troops dug in south of [Baghdad] yesterday, preparing to wait for weeks while airstrikes and artillery grind down Iraqi forces defending the capital.”

The first two are from the Washington Post and the Boston Globe. The third is from the virulently anti-American Saudi paper, Arab News. Pretty moderate, those Saudis.



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