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Baghdad on hold: U.S. may wait weeks for reinforcements

SPECIAL TO WORLD TRIBUNE.COM
Friday, March 28, 2003

The United States has been drafting a timetable for the battle for Baghdad as officials acknowledge that the wait for sufficient troop reinforcements could take weeks.

U.S. Marine and Army units have already arrived in positions on the outskirts of the Iraqi capital. But both Defense Department officials and military commanders agree that the force level and supply lines are inadequate for a sustained attack on Baghdad.

So far, about 90,000 U.S. troops have been deployed in Iraq facing more than 150,000 Republican Guard and paramilitary troops in and around Baghdad, Middle East Newsline reported. Officials said Central Command is preparing to deploy at least another 100,000 troops in Iraq. The units include the army's 1st Armored Division, 1st Cavalry Division and the 2nd and 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiments.

Officials said high-level discussions are taking place within the Bush administration, Joint Chiefs of Staff and Central Command over the conditions required to launch an attack on Baghdad. They said President George Bush has already approved orders for intensified air attacks on a range of military and dual-use regime targets in the city.

"The campaign could well grow more dangerous in the coming days and weeks as the forces close in on Baghdad and begin to have to deal with the Republican Guard forces north of Tikrit [and] south of Baghdad," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said. "It's only reasonable to expect that it will require the coalition forces moving through some Republican Guard units and destroying them or capturing them before you'll see the crumbling of the regime."

The U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division, the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force and the 101st Airborne Division are said to be within striking distance of Baghdad. On Friday, U.S. warplanes pounded Baghdad for the second straight day. For the first time, the United States used B-52 bombers dropping bunker-busters on regime targets in the city.

A key question, officials said, is whether the allied assault on Baghdad should wait for the deployment of the U.S. Army's 4th Infantry Division, based in Fort Hood, Texas. The first group of soldiers could arrive early next week, but the unit of about 30,000 troops could require up to two weeks to take up positions in Iraq.

The 4th Infantry, the only fully digitized division in the army, is said to be equipped with 20 AH-64D Apache attack helicopters, 200 M1A2 main battle tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles. The division also contains four battalions equipped with Paladin self-propelled howitzers and multiple launch rocket systems.

"The full combat power will come to bear quickly and decisively upon an enemy who has no idea of the combined weaponry getting ready to strike him," Maj. Gen. Raymond Odierno, division commander, said.

The use of the 4th Infantry Division has been a nagging concern for military commanders and Pentagon officials. The division waited six weeks to enter Turkey which denied the U.S. request and 30 ships that carry equipment for the unit crossed the Suez Canal on their way to the Arabian Peninsula and Persian Gulf.

At that point, officials said, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld mulled the possibility that the division should stay out of the war, which he and other senior administration officials expected would take no more than 10 days. But a series of ferocious battles with Iraqi Republican Guard troops prompted a decision to immediately order the division to Iraq.

The administration had pressed Saudi Arabia to allow the 4th Infantry division to move its equipment through the kingdom to save time. But officials said Riyad has rejected the U.S. request for the docking of 30 ships at the port of Dammam.

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has deployed five Republican Guard divisions in and around Baghdad. Iraqi officials predicted a siege of the Iraqi capital would begin next week.

"It will be no surprise that in five to 10 days they will be able to encircle all our positions in Baghdad," Iraqi Defense Minister Sultan Hashim Ahmed said. "They have the capability to do so. But they have to come into the city eventually."

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