U.S. led coalition forces may be planning to isolate Baghdad while consolidating their control over the rest of Iraq. The hope appears to be that the regime of Saddam Hussein will collapse without coalition troops getting embroiled in bloody street fighting.
After a two-week display of 21st century high-tech firepower, the U.S.-led coalition operation in Iraq may come down to a military tactic more suited to the medieval era: a siege of Baghdad.
To be sure, it won't be a conventional one and General Richard Myers, Chairman of the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, does not think the word "siege" paints the proper picture.
But he says once coalition troops have isolated the Iraqi capital, it becomes essentially irrelevant and he believes a new free Iraq will start taking shape without it.
"When you get to the point where Baghdad is basically isolated, then what is the situation you have in the country? You have a country that Baghdad no longer controls, that whatever is happening inside Baghdad is almost irrelevant compared to what's going on in the rest of the country," he said. "What's going on in the rest of the country? Well, you have the southern oil fields; we'll see about the north. You have the face now of, by this time, probably, an Iraqi administration, interim administration, some form of people standing up now starting to work the post-conflict governance. It will take some time, but you'll have that."
And what will be happening inside Baghdad itself? Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld appears to hope that Iraqi soldiers who want to survive the war will rise up against whatever remains of Saddam Hussein's government.
"For the senior leadership, there is no way out. Their fate has been sealed by their action," he said. "The same is not true for the Iraqi armed forces. Iraqi officers and soldiers can still survive and help build a free Iraq if they do the right thing. They must now decide whether they want to share the fate of Saddam Hussein or whether they will save themselves, turn on that condemned dictator and help the forces of Iraq's liberation."
In the meantime, Mr. Rumsfeld is concerned that some foreign governments,- like France and Russia, are talking about possible peace deals that give hope to Saddam loyalists that they can retain some grip on power. He says such talk gives not only comfort to the Iraqi regime but also ammunition to retain the loyalty of its military forces.
But Mr. Rumsfeld insists there will be no deals. "There's not a chance that there's going to be a deal. It doesn't matter who proposes it, there will not be one," he said.
General Myers goes on to say such talk of settlements short of the regime's ouster could have bloody results. "If that's done by other governments, the one thing you know for sure it will potentially prolong the conflict and has the potential for both Iraqi civilian casualties and coalition casualties to increase," he said.
But there are still risks. Mr. Rumsfeld says that until now, because of its hopes, the regime may have decided not to use its chemical or biological weapons. With no chance of a deal, he fears Saddam may no longer feel constrained.
"Do they want to not use all their weapons and hope they can get a deal when it's not even a remote possibility or will they go ahead and use them and totally eliminate the perception in their people that he might survive because once he uses those it's pretty clear there can't be a deal," he said.
So even though coalition forces may now try to bleed Saddam's regime of its last remaining political and military authority without resorting to a deadly street battle, there are still dangers.
As Mr. Rumsfeld puts it: "The regime has been weakened, to be sure, but it is still lethal. And it may prove to be more lethal in the final moments before it ends."