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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 1 April, 2003, 19:34 GMT 20:34 UK
Baghdad fears impending firefight

By Rageh Omaar
BBC correspondent in Baghdad

Smoke rises from buildings in Baghdad bombed by coalition forces
Baghdad has suffered a pounding
As the coalition forces press on towards Baghdad, military preparations here appear to be low key.

As I drive around the city, I do not get any sense of enormous defensive positions, tanks out in the streets, or huge military encampments.

There are no checkpoints and no curfews. Baghdad is still an open city.

However, there might be large numbers of forces secreted away within the city.

Urban warfare

Certainly the Iraqi authorities are exuding an enormous amount of self-confidence.

A few days ago, I asked the Iraqi minister of defence which Republican Guard positions were being hit and how badly, but he did not reveal much.

What he did say was that the Iraqis had learned lessons in the first Gulf War.

They were not going to leave their troops massed in their thousands, waiting to be picked off by Apache helicopters like sitting ducks.

The minister of defence also said they had taken measures to have their divisions broken up into small units that could be deeply dug into the city in the event of urban warfare.

Now, as a British journalist, I'm not going to be allowed to visit Iraqi forces and take pictures of them to verify what he says.

But to a certain extent I believe him.

Iraqi advantages

The Iraqis have had a year to prepare for this war. They know how their whole military collapsed in Kuwait the first time, and they will not let that happen again.

Boy in Baghdad peers through hole made by shrapnel in a door in Baghdad
People fear a long siege in Baghdad
So it could be that what the B-52s are doing on the outskirts of Baghdad is simply pounding empty sand and empty buildings. I do not know.

What I do know is that we have seen evidence of small units of 10 to 15 men scattered throughout the city.

It is clear that the defence of Baghdad goes down to the very basic unit of the neighbourhood. It is not one large army defending a whole city.

The local officials who lead the units - be they from the ruling Ba'ath party or from the army - know their neighbourhoods extremely well.

This is one of the advantages the Iraqis will have if it comes to house to house fighting.

The US and Britain have not had diplomats on the ground in Baghdad for 12 years now, so their intelligence may be out of date.

Coalition's firepower

However, there will be disadvantages for the Iraqis regarding urban warfare.

However [Iraqis] feel about a policy that seeks to overthrow the government, and no matter how careful the targeting of the bombardments, the reality is that huge weapons are being used
They have technologically inferior weapons, and they are open to surveillance from the air.

If water, electricity and supply routes are cut off - if it turns into a classic siege - it will be very difficult for the Iraqi military, as well as for the Iraqi people.

It is hard to tell what the citizens of Baghdad really think of the war because this is a very controlled society.

From what I have seen though, I think that people are genuinely afraid of the consequences of a siege of Baghdad.

'Huge weapons'

There are likely to be more civilian casualties, particularly if the coalition forces try to minimise their own losses by continuing bombardments.

What is certain is that the longer the war goes on, the more the people of Iraq are being affected.

However they feel about a policy that seeks to overthrow the government, and no matter how careful the targeting of the bombardments, the reality is that huge weapons are being used.

Property is being damaged, and there have been a couple of tragic incidences when large numbers of civilians have been killed.

More than 400 cruise missiles and bombs have smashed into this city.

The people of Baghdad are traumatised, and frightened of what is still to come.

The movements of those reporting from Baghdad are restricted and their reports are monitored by the Iraqi authorities.

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