Doha, March 29 (Reuters): With every day that Baghdad holds out against US cruise missiles and advancing land forces, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein gains time — perhaps the only thing he can hope to win in a war against the US.
US military sources said today commanders had ordered a pause of four to six days in the push towards Baghdad because of supply shortages and stiff Iraqi resistance.
The reported delay — while denied by the US Central Command — raises the possibility the war could stretch into a third week or beyond, dashing the pre-invasion hopes of moderate Arab states that it would all be over swiftly.
No Western military expert believes Iraqi forces can win militarily, no matter how long the war lasts. But few if any Arab political analysts believe Saddam will capitulate or flee.
They believe survival is his key strategy, for long enough to deny the US a moral victory. And his ultimate ambition is to be hailed as a great Arab leader, even if he is killed in the achievement.
“Saddam Hussein is going to take that pause as a very positive sign and he is going to exploit it,” said former Jordanian foreign minister Jawad Anani.
“There is no way he can win militarily. The only thing he can do, and this is what he has been planning, is to buy time. He is banking on rallying world public opinion. Over time he will benefit the more the claims of the coalition are shown not to be matched by results,” he said.
“Iraq started out with low expectations, so every little gain counts,” Anani added.
Washington is sticking to its repeated assertion that the war’s outcome is not in doubt, but this is tempered now by the caveat that “it will take as long as it takes”.
But the longer it takes, the more uncertain it becomes.
Abdel Monem-Said, director of al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, said Saddam would be able to portray any pause in the US advance as an Iraqi victory.
“It will be considered a defeat (for the invading force), at least for a week, even if it doesn’t change the fundamental balance of power”, he said, because it will be seen as a sign the US military is not invincible.
A grinding siege of Baghdad is not the first choice of US strategists. But a bloody street-by-street take-over of the capital is seen as even less desirable —and possibly not much quicker.