CAMP DOHA, Kuwait — American and British commanders say that they are devising a strategy intended to defeat the Iraqi military without completely destroying it, and to limit damage to Iraq's infrastructure.
Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, the commander of allied land forces if the United States leads an invasion of Iraq, said he and other commanders are devising procedures for Iraqi units to signal their intention to stay out of the war.
"If they show the right signals and do not want to be part of a defense of Saddam's regime and weapons of mass destruction we will do everything in our power to not target either with air or ground those formations," McKiernan said in an interview.
The strategy is intended, commanders said, to speed the allied advance toward Baghdad by enabling American and British forces to bypass Iraqi units that have opted out of the war. The plan also reflects the calculation that American and British forces are more likely to be welcomed by Iraqis if they triumph with as little death and destruction as possible. Allied commanders would need that public support if they are to administer and rebuild Iraq once President Saddam Hussein is deposed. They are even considering using some existing Iraqi forces to remake the military once Saddam is gone.
"At the end of this we want to have an Iraq that is a viable country to build up," McKiernan said. "I personally can see a utility of the Iraqi military for the future of Iraq. No doubt about it."
Air and ground commanders have been studying which units are most likely to fight. Some units may be attacked because they are in the direct path of the allied invasion force if and when it drives into Iraq.
"There are some units that are more likely to fight than others," said Leaf. "The Republican Guards are more likely to fight than the regular army. There are some units that are positioned closer to friendly forces and are more likely to still be coherent, cohesive units before they have an opportunity to completely capitulate. How do you balance the risk between the fact that the U.S. and coalition land forces are going to wing up in contact with these units and would like them just to surrender? We are going to have to make some difficult choices. And sometimes we are going to simply have to destroy equipment and destroy Iraqi soldiers."
American aircraft have been dropping leaflets urging the Iraqi military not to resist. But the allied forces have yet to spell out the precise procedures the Iraqis should adopt if they wish to avoid a confrontation with the American and British forces. One concern, a British officer said, is that Iraqi forces loyal to Saddam could turn the strategy around on the United States and feign surrender only to attack allied forces.