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U.S. Facing the Complexities of Urban Warfare in Iraq - 2003-04-09


The battle for Baghdad marks a new phase of the war with Iraqi and American soldiers engaged now in urban combat. VOA-TV’s Chris Simkins reports on the challenges and risks of fighting battles in a city environment.

The urban battlefield of Baghdad. Each day it’s growing more dangerous as coalition troops and tanks attack targets in downtown areas. Military analyst Tony Cordesman says Baghdad street fighting is an advantage for Iraqi troops who may launch surprise attacks on American Marine and Army units.

“We’re fighting against an enemy that knows the terrain, knows the buildings. As one senior general put it, it’s still a fistfight in a dark room.”

Baghdad is a sprawling city of 5 million people. The streets are wide with low slung buildings dotting the landscape. Tanks can roam freely through the streets but there are fewer places for soldiers to hide from snipers.

“No one can be ever certain who’s in the building behind them or up on the side of up on the roof. The risks are always there.”

Coalition military commanders are reluctant to be drawn into street fights. Even so U.S. forces have technological advantages they can use. Predator drone airplanes can show precisely where many enemy troops or tanks are positioned.

Coalition forces also use night vision goggles that only cover one eye so a soldier can see in darkness but is not blinded if the lights come on. As coalition forces search for Iraqi troops they are instructed to enter buildings in tight four man groups called stacks, arranged so each member can watch the other.

Two other challenges for soldiers in Urban warfare, suicide bombers and trying to distinguish between enemy soldiers wearing civilian clothes and actual civilians.

Military analyst Richard Aboulafia says limiting civilian causalities will be difficult in Baghdad because of Iraqi tactics.

“You’re going to try to avoid collateral damage and of course the Iraqis will do their best to make collateral damage happen by keeping civilians in harm’s way.”

Baghdad hospitals have been flooded with civilian injuries since fighting began in the city. Coalition commanders say they hope to keep those numbers down by carrying out more effective tactical strikes that will cost fewer lives.