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Sunday, March 23

Iraqi surrenders critical to ground war

By John Yaukey | GNS

WASHINGTON - As U.S.-led coalition troops advance toward Baghdad, American military planners are banking heavily on Iraqi soldiers surrendering in large numbers to keep both coalition and enemy casualties to a minimum.

Much of the vaunted "shock and awe" air campaign that began shortly before 9 p.m. Iraq time on Friday is geared toward destroying military targets and inducing fear and surrender rather than producing a high body count.

Thus far, several thousand troops and officers have given up to American forces primarily in the south.

"We have over 2,000 prisoners, and we’re treating them well,’’ Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters Sunday.

Many of those surrenders were made in the southern port town of Umm Qasr near the Kuwaiti border, which was taken quickly Friday by U.S. Marines advancing north.

If large numbers of Iraqis stand and fight, particularly in Baghdad, the war could enter a worst-case scenario of brutal urban combat that claims huge numbers of civilian and military casualties.

An analysis by Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution estimates American casualties could hit or exceed 5,000 if the combat in Baghdad goes badly.

Ultimately Saddam Hussein hopes to heap pressure on the coalition forces entering Baghdad with civilian body counts so high they are forced to back down.

Minimizing civilian casualties will be crucial for the Bush administration in winning support from Arab allies and minimizing anger in the Muslim world.

"A lot of their troops are surrendering gleefully," Bush said Sunday.

U.S. intelligence agents have been sending e-mails and making cellular phone calls to Iraqi officers warning them that if they fight they face certain defeat and possible death.

"Coalition forces are striking on a scope and scale that makes clear to the Iraqis that Saddam Hussein and his regime are finished," Rumsfeld said.

As the bombing got under way, Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sought to encourage surrenders, urging Iraqi commanders to ‘’stop fighting that you may live to enjoy a free Iraq where you and your children can grow and prosper.’’

Rumsfeld said he was heartened by signs that the intensity of the attack was prompting many Iraqi military units and their commanders to consider a cease-fire or giving up.

Much of Iraq’s regular army is intended to serve essentially as cannon fodder designed to slow the advance of coalition forces. Encouraging large-scale surrenders among them is not expected to be difficult.

"In the regular army we have seen very little will to fight," Lt. Gen. John Abizaid, one of the leading commanders in the Persian Gulf, told reporters in Qatar. "Units have just melted away."

That said, coalition forces encountered more resistance than expected Sunday in the southern cities of Basra and Nasiriyah.

Inducing surrenders among the elite Republican Guard units will be the toughest test of the war plan.

Rumsfeld said that coalition officials have held talks with members of the Republican Guard and Special Republican Guard units about defecting or surrendering.

Many of the 60,000 Republican Guard troops are drawn from Saddam’s ancestral town of Tikrit, north of Baghdad, and thus are likely to remain loyal.

Fearing they might be tried as war criminals or executed by Iraqi civilians if they surrender, Republican Guard troops may also believe they have no choice but to fight until the end.

Military experts believe they will avoid combat in the open terrain, preferring to retreat into the narrow streets of Baghdad where coalition forces will have to leave their armored vehicles and fight unprotected on foot.

A likely battle could pit the U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Division against the Republican Guard’s top Medina, Hamurabi and Nebuchadnezzar divisions in the southern reaches of Baghdad.

These units have been specially trained in street fighting and are not expected to surrender readily.
If the Republican Guard refuses to surrender, they are the most likely troops to use chemical weapons against coalition forces.

Before the war began, Pentagon officials reported that Saddam has authorized his troop commanders to use chemical weapons.

Saddam is suspected of having large stores of the nerve agent VX, which is lethal in even small doses.