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US courts defectors with havens

Washington, March 22: If the first, limited phase of the “shock and awe” air campaign on Baghdad convinced anybody in Saddam Hussein’s inner circle that they stood no chance against a US onslaught and wanted to defect, those people are now being offered safe houses in the Iraqi capital where they would be protected against precision-guided attacks from the sky.

Strands of information emerging from various sources here indicate that the US is still counting on either a coup against the Iraqi President or a wholesale change of sides by the Republican Guard and others to avoid a hostile, violent passage of its army into Baghdad.

While the world is mesmerised by TV pictures of the pounding of Baghdad, those directing the war from here are worried that America’s super high-tech, precision weaponry is no match against out-dated, but manual command structures which still helps Iraq’s army to put up a reistance, howsoever feeble.

“They had redundant systems”, defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld conceded yesterday while talking about the damage inflicted on Saddam Hussein’s ability to put up a fight, any fight. “Our expectation is that even if it is simply couriers, they will have the ability to communicate”.

This worry also came through when Gen. Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of US military operations against Iraq, both emphasised that the images which the world was seeing on TV screens did not give a complete picture of what was happening in many other parts of Iraq not covered by 24-hour cable news on a regular schedule.

One example of the close shave with disaster that the US-British forces are facing in the war was the fortuitous destruction of an Iraqi boat with 130 mines near Umm Qasr. If the boat had, indeed, reached Umm Qasr port and detonated the mines, the vital Shatt-al-Arab waterway would have been unusable. The Shatt is as vital to Iraq — and now to the US-led forces — as the Suez Canal is to the maritime world.

Another example of how the Iraqi army’s “redundant” systems are still able to keep the conflict going was the amazing escape of “Chemical Ali” or Gen. Ali Hassan al-Majid, Saddam Hussein’s cousin, who is in charge of the army in the South.

Al Majid, known by his nickname for ordering the use of chemical weapons on Iraq’s population, was in a building bombed by the US just before the start of their ground offensive. He is now said to be in an Nassiriyah.

The intelligence community here was today moving to the conclusion that while Saddam Hussein may have survived the first air attack on Wednesday with burst ear drums and concussion, his second son Qusay is dead. One of the many pointers to this is is the transcript of Saddam’s TV address within hours of the attack in which he said: “This family has sacrificed in this war”.

With Iraq putting out its ministers on TV today, even in the aftermath of the heavy pounding of Baghdad, efforts are being redoubled to strike deals with potential dissidents in the Baghdad junta.

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