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Pentagon: US Forces 'Locked and Loaded' - 2003-03-19

U.S. military forces are poised to unleash what one senior Pentagon official describes as a massive attack on Iraq.

The quarter million U.S. military personnel in the Gulf region have been described in weapon's jargon as being "locked and loaded," awaiting orders to attack.

In the wake of President Bush's ultimatum to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, a senior Pentagon official says those "locked and loaded" American forces now have "their fingers on the trigger," and they are ready to open fire.

That opening fire, military officials suggest, should be unprecedented: a massive assault, first with bombs and missiles, all intended to shock any potential opposition in Iraq into submission as ground troops move in.

The primary targets will be government and military assets, not civilian.

And the main focal point will be Baghdad, what the senior Pentagon official terms Iraq's center of gravity.

There are, to be sure, uncertainties: will Iraq use chemical or biological weapons, will it order the country's oil wells set afire, will Iraqis welcome or oppose U.S. troops?

Pentagon sources say there are some indications Iraqi artillery units may have received chemical munitions. They also say they have identified around 100 locations where trenches have been dug and filled with oil, apparently to set on fire.

But senior Pentagon officials say there are some positive signs, including fresh evidence that many Iraqis, perhaps including influential members of Saddam Hussein's government, are fleeing to neighboring countries.

The senior officials also say there are indications that at least some of Iraq's troops are prepared to surrender and some may even switch sides in any fight.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, decline to provide any further details.

U.S. psychological operations specialists have made a concentrated effort to discourage military opposition to a potential American invasion. They have dropped millions of leaflets in Iraq, many encouraging Iraqi soldiers to desert. Others have warned against the use of chemical weapons.

In a broadcast appeal Monday, President Bush urged Iraqi soldiers not to fight for what he termed "a dying regime that is not worth your own life."