Military questions linger
On the brink of conflict in Iraq, military analysts say Baghdad will be the only point of contention should the conflict play out, but the length of the war and the number of casualties will be impossible to predict.
Ground troops, however, will not be the first to engage the enemy, according to Western history professor Jonathan Vance.
"[We're] looking at a combination of air strikes before troops go in," Vance said, adding the air strikes will concentrate on communication targets.
As for the timing of the initial attacks, it will most likely come at night, said John Ferris, a fellow with the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary.
"Americans and [the] British have major advantages in striking at night," Ferris said, concurring with Vance's assessment that initial targets will mostly be communication centres.
Brock Millman, also a history professor at Western, said the air strikes may go even further than simple communication targets and might include public utilities in an effort to degrade Iraqi ability to respond. Millman said the air strikes will most likely last three to four days, while noting American ground forces are not as prepared as some people think.
"The parachute stories in the news are not correct," Millman said, in reference to recent stories citing the United States armie immediate intention to parachute units into Iraq. The ground forces still need a couple of days to completely mobilize, he said. When the troops do enter, however, it will be a relatively easy march to Baghdad, Millman said. "Initially it will seem a rapid victory."
According to Vance, the war will slow down when Baghdad is entered by American troops. "Urban warfare gives the advantage to the defender," Vance said, adding, if fighting in Baghdad is necessary, it could stretch the war's length to a number of weeks instead of days.
Millman agreed, noting urban warfare nullifies the U.S. advantages of large artillery and bombs. Another problem, according to Millman, will be the estimated 100,000 Republican Guards defending Baghdad. These guards are the most loyal to Saddam, and will be fighting with the least to lose, he said.
However, all this could be idle speculation, Ferris explained. "I don't think the Americans will try to fight in Baghdad," Ferris said, adding the Americans will most likely try and remove Saddam before entering an urban conflict which has the potential for many casualties.