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Allies looking at new options

CAMP DOHA, KUWAIT — The U.S. military now faces a series of difficult calculations in its efforts to overthrow Saddam Hussein and his government.

A clear way to accomplish this goal is to attempt to advance quickly to the outskirts of Baghdad, destroy the Republican Guards that are defending the approaches to the capital and then win the fight inside the city.

Once Saddam is deposed — a fight that could be difficult in the streets of the capital — the Fedayeen and other paramilitary forces that have been attacking allied troops as they head north would find themselves cut off from the main source of their power. In this view, the paramilitary forces would be defeated by U.S. and British troops or destroyed by Shiites eager to settle scores after decades of repression. A new order would be established in Iraq from the inside out.

But there is another possible approach, one that commanders have indicated in recent days they might favor. That is to defer the rush to Baghdad and to focus instead on ridding Iraqi cities in the south of Fedayeen fighters. That would make it easier for the United States to run supply lines north and encourage the Shiites in the south to throw off the yoke.

In addition, the United States could take advantage of the delay in attacking Baghdad by bringing in additional forces from the United States and readying them for combat to build up its offensive punch.

American and British forces could also start providing food, medical assistance and other help to Basra and other southern cities, a move that would establish a positive model for what the United States hopes to do in Baghdad and thus provide an incentive for Baghdad residents to cooperate with U.S. forces. A new Iraq would be created from the outside in.

As the war approaches its most critical phase, military planners are also mulling a hybrid of these two approaches, some kind of strategic third way.

Traditionally, the American way of war is to keep up pressure on the enemy. Waiting for more divisions to arrive is not an attractive option for a force that is schooled in offensive operations and seeks to keep the initiative.

Avoiding a prolonged war, no doubt, is also part of the U.S. diplomatic strategy. Still, striking without waiting for reinforcements entails more risk. Allied commanders may now be tempted to finesse such a choice. They may decide to try to reduce the problem from the Fedayeen in the southern cities even as they advance on Baghdad, in effect resigning themselves to a multi-front war.