Situation Is Weird, But Dangerous

War Diary: Wednesday, April 9, 2003
Apr 10, 2003

There is a simple question before us. What happened in Baghdad today? To hear the media tell it, the war is over. To hear the administration tell it, the war is not over and there may still be hard fighting ahead. The media and the administration have been out of sync since the beginning of the war. Before the war, the administration was warning that the Iraqis might resist, while the media were speculating that the war could be over in days. When it turned out that the Iraqis were resisting, the media wondered whether the administration's war plans were in a complete shambles. The administration has steadily warned of manageable difficulties, while the media have been manic-depressive. We tend to buy the administration's side of things at this point.

At times like this, it is best to get back to basics, to what we know. U.S. forces do not occupy Baghdad. In certain areas of the city, defenses appear to have disintegrated. In other areas of the city, fighting still seems to be taking place. In yet other areas of the city, which U.S. forces have not yet penetrated, the status of things is unclear. But on the whole, there appears to have been a qualitative change in Iraqi resistance.

What caused this? It was not simply the effectiveness of U.S. operations. Resistance appears to have diminished in areas that U.S. forces had not yet engaged. Something seems to have happened on the Iraqi side. A number of possible explanations present themselves:

1. Saddam Hussein and his senior staff might have been killed in the U.S. air attacks. As the news of this swept the Special Republican Guard over the past 24-48 hours, a defeatist attitude set in and many abandoned their positions.

2. Hussein might have made a deal with the Americans. There are rumors sweeping the Middle East that the Russians brokered a deal between Hussein and the Bush administration that, in return for safe passage, Iraqi forces in Baghdad would not resist. Some rumors are that the Russians evacuated Hussein and other leaders to Damascus -- in the convoy that was attacked on the way out of Baghdad -- and that Hussein is already in Moscow, but that no deal has yet been made. Others say that Hussein is in the Russian Embassy in Baghdad awaiting safe passage. The permutations of this rumor are endless, but the basic line is that the Russians brokered a deal: Hussein's life for capitulation.

3. The battle of Baghdad might not have been the main battle of the war. The Republican Guard and Special Republican Guards have withdrawn to the north of the city, where they will move toward either Tikrit or toward the oil fields around Kirkuk, where about six regular army divisions are deployed. In this scenario, the Iraqis always had intended to hold up the Americans in Baghdad, but to force the main battle in the north, after exhausting U.S. forces and forcing them to fight on extremely long supply lines. Hussein is in the north, not in Baghdad, commanding the final battle that he hopes will end in a cease-fire.

4. The defenders of Baghdad simply were not prepared to fight and die to save Hussein, and abandoned their positions. Hussein is now scampering for his life.

5. The battle of Baghdad is in a temporary lull. The Republican Guard and Special Republican Guards are dug in and waiting in the residential neighborhoods and will come to life when dismounted U.S. infantry enter their areas.

The fact is that any one of these theories could be true, or it may be a combination of them. What we do know is that about a quarter of the country is still unoccupied and that, at least on paper, there are a lot of Iraqi troops still deployed. We think that that is why the U.S. Department of Defense is warning that there could be tough battles ahead. The situation is weird, but dangerous.