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Humanitarian Groups Await Flood of Iraqi Refugees - 2003-03-21

Refugee camps set up in six neighboring countries to Iraq remain quiet. There has been only a trickle of refugees fleeing Iraq. But military analysts in the region say the camps will become overrun with refugees if a promised heavy bombing campaign takes place in Baghdad. However, some military analysts in the region are at odds over whether Washington and London may be wanting to hold off on aggressive bombing in hopes of limiting casualties, heavy damage and the flight of hundreds of thousands of refugees out of the country.

While the facilities to handle as many as 300,000 Iraqi refugees are either already in place or are under construction throughout the region, there have been no reports of major flows of fleeing Iraqis.

The neighboring countries of Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey have agreed to open their borders to allow Iraqi refugees temporary asylum.

But the spokesman for the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, Kris Janowski, said Friday there have been no reports of any movements outside of Iraq, although he says the United Nations fears as many 600,000 Iraqis could flee to the camps if a severe bombing campaign gets under way.

During the Gulf war in 1991 almost one million Iraqis fled the country, mostly to Iran.

Military analyst Zaharia Hussein Ahmed says he expects refugee camps will soon be filled with fleeing Iraqis. Mr. Ahmed is a former Egyptian general and head of the Nasser Military Academy in Cairo.

He says he fully believes the United States will make good on its promise of a "shock and awe" bombing campaign in Baghdad because, he says, militarily it will be the only way to minimize casualties among coalition forces.

Mr. Ahmed says Iraq's main military forces will be centered in Baghdad and the surrounding areas. He says making the Iraqi regime "evaporate" will start and end with the fall of the capital. Mr. Ahmed says he believes this will take a great effort from the Americans if they plan to control Baghdad especially, he says, if they want to control it with the least amount of casualties.

But military analyst Hossam Soweillam disagrees. The former Egyptian army general and director of the Egyptian Armed Forces Center for Strategic Studies in Cairo says that if U.S. forces gain control of 90 percent of Iraq before surrounding Baghdad, they might not have to engage in a heavy bombing campaign. "I think Saddam Hussein will be obliged to reconsider his political situation, his political decision in order to surrender and leave Iraq peacefully without waging a battle inside Baghdad," said Hossam Soweillam. "Americans will practice all means in order to execute, to manage these targets, to manage these objectives with the minimum casualties to personnel and materials by practicing psychological pressure on Saddam Hussein and push the Republican Guards to make a military coup. But in all cases there's no alternative but to remove the head of the regime."

Mr. Soweillam says world reaction to the war would be much more positive if it could be won with limited casualties and damage and a minimum amount of Iraqi refugees.

Mohammed Kadry Said says that may be "exactly" what the U.S. administration is thinking. The former Egyptian army general and current head of the military unit at the al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo says that may be why the promised heavy bombing campaign has not yet begun. "I think this may be one of the acceptable justifications," he said. "Maybe the Americans don't want to make a lot of damage. They want to make it very smooth and it may be this is what they are thinking."

Mr. Said says the smoother the military operation goes the better it will be politically for President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

However, on Friday senior Iraqi officials were promising that Baghdad would remain defiant and promised its walls "will be an incinerator" for invading forces.

And if Baghdad stands and fights, no one disagrees that now empty refugee camps in neighboring countries will be flooded with fleeing Iraqis.