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Winds of war

Planners say attack will be fast, furious

WASHINGTON — The nation's top military officer said Tuesday that the Pentagon's war plan for Iraq entailed shocking the Iraqi leadership into submission quickly with an attack "much, much, much different" from the 43-day Persian Gulf War in 1991.

Gen. Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, declined to give details, but other military officials have said the plan calls for unleashing 3,000 precision-guided bombs and missiles in the first 48 hours of a short air campaign, to be followed quickly by ground operations. Myers warned that the U.S. attack would result in Iraqi civilian casualties despite the military's best efforts to prevent them.

"If asked to go into conflict in Iraq, what you'd like to do is have it be a short conflict," Myers told reporters at a breakfast meeting. "The best way to do that would be to have such a shock on the system that the Iraqi regime would have to assume early on the end was inevitable."

On the diplomatic front, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said Tuesday that he was "increasingly optimistic" about securing a majority of nine or more votes on the U.N. Security Council. "We don't know whether we have nine votes or 10 votes, or more," he said. The administration is likely to call for a vote next week, officials said.

But in Paris Wednesday, the foreign ministers of France, Germany and Russia said at an emergency meeting that they will "not allow" passage of a U.N. resolution to authorize war.

At the White House, spokesman Ari Fleischer said, "Don't leap to conclusions about the final vote. You will continue to hear various statements by various people around the world."

"What you are observing is a fluid situation as different nations make different statements that all lead up to the one day which is the most important day, which is the day of the vote," Fleischer said.

Bush was meeting behind closed doors Wednesday afternoon with Cardinal Pio Laghi, a former papal nuncio to the United States, who said he would relay Pope John Paul II's admonition that pre-emptive war with Iraq has no moral justification. Laghi is also an old Bush family friend.

"I'm here on a peace mission and I don't consider war to be inevitable," Laghi told Italian daily La Stampa in an interview from Washington published Wednesday. "It is a very complicated task at this point, and we do realize the president is faced with very difficult decisions. But we have hope."

Myers, the JCS chairman, also said disarming Iraq would define victory, not capturing or killing President Saddam Hussein. He said that U.S. forces would open a second front from the north against Iraq, with or without Turkey's help. "It'll be tougher without Turkey, but nevertheless it'll happen," he said.

Still, the White House kept up the pressure on Turkey, saying for the first time that Turkey would not receive $15 billion in grants and loans now that its Parliament had turned down a request for tens of thousands of American troops to use the country as a base to attack Iraq.

With 200,000 American military personnel in the gulf and 60,000 more on their way, Myers declined to give a timetable for war other than to say that the military was ready to attack on President Bush's order.

But many diplomatic and military issues remained unresolved. With the northern-front issue unsettled and one leading alternative — deploying the 101st Airborne Division from Kuwait — still one to two weeks from being in place, some military officials said any attack could be delayed until late March.

That could fit with emerging diplomatic and military timetables. A vote late next week in the Security Council would roughly coincide with the arrival in Kuwait of many of the 101st Airborne's helicopters. Other units in Kuwait could deploy north faster, if needed.

In Iraq, meanwhile, demonstrators clad in white pledged to become martyrs for their country on Wednesday, parading through the capital The 90-minute parade on a major Baghdad street came as U.N. weapons inspectors returned Wednesday.

Contributing: Associated Press