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US Hoping for Quick Victory Without a Serious Fight - 2003-03-20

The U.S. military campaign against Iraq is under way. The offensive appears to be escalating, but it is not unfolding with the kind of massive countrywide strikes and overwhelming ground assault some observers originally expected. The opening attacks appeared to be a strategic gambit aimed at ending the war quickly, with as few casualties and as little damage as possible.

It was the Chinese General Sun Tzu who, 2,500 years ago, was credited with saying, "To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill."

A senior military official says that observation essentially sums up what the U.S.-led coalition is attempting to achieve in Iraq. As the official puts it, "victory with minimal expenditure of ordnance."

It explains why the opening shots in what is called Operation Iraqi Freedom were aimed at senior leaders of Saddam Hussein's government, apparently including the Iraqi leader himself.

Further attacks have been aimed at other so-called leadership targets, including strongholds of the Republic Guards, the troops considered most loyal to the Baghdad regime.

Although Pentagon officials will not confirm or deny it, it is understood additional air attacks have targeted communications and command and control centers outside of the Iraqi capital.

The goal is what the military terms "decapitation" - a strategy that, if effective, will leave Iraqi troops leaderless or at least unable to receive orders. Military sources hope that will encourage more desertions and surrenders.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld appeared to confirm this unconventional approach to war in comments at the Pentagon. "We continue to feel that there is no need for a broader conflict if the Iraqi leaders act to save themselves and to prevent such further conflict," he said.

Mr. Rumsfeld went on to warn that if they did not capitulate quickly, then what would follow will be the "shock and awe" campaign originally envisioned, with unprecedented and devastating airstrikes and other military maneuvers.

"What will follow will not be a repeat of any other conflict," said the defense secretary. "It will be of a force and scope and scale that has been beyond what has been seen before."

Mr. Rumsfeld said Iraqi soldiers and officers must ask themselves whether they want to die fighting for what he termed "a doomed regime," or do they want to survive and help the Iraqi people in the liberation of their country.

The unspoken hope, according to Pentagon sources, is that if Saddam Hussein is not removed from power by U.S. bombs and missiles in the early stages of this war, then perhaps dissident elements in his army may choose to eliminate him.

In either case, Pentagon officials hope it will mean a quick end to hostilities.