We now know the Iraqi leaders interpreted the light bombing to mean they were relatively safe. Washington was squeamish about casualties, American and Iraqi alike. Although the United States would have been delighted if the regime were swept away, Iraqi leaders were assured by key coalition partners France and the Soviet Union that the dismantling of Iraq was not an objective of the war. Thus Saddam Hussein figured that all he had to do was evacuate the most important and obvious targets, lay low for a few weeks, and wait for the United States to finish its display.
The most intense attack on Baghdad leadership, in fact, occurred on the war's final day, when 21 bombs were dropped on Baath party headquarters. At the time, the buildings were empty, an illustration of how the ruling clique was spared the most painful effects of the war.
The Iraqi armed forces certainly took their lumps in the war, but that damage was inflicted to the south, far from Baghdad. And though there were pockets of devastation in such southern cities as Basra, the Iraqi civilian population was largely spared the physical devastation of urban bombing.
However, the people of Iraq did suffer significantly, from power outages and systems failures caused by bombing attacks on Iraqi infrastructure.
U.S. air-war planners believed that disabling public facilities such as electric power plants would reverberate against the Iraqi leadership. But there is no evidence that bombing against these targets made any difference to the regime. And because Baghdad was only occasionally targeted, the regime never had to contend with civil chaos and unrest in its capital.
Desert Storm did provide the first real-time test for "smart weapons." These marvels a product of computer-age electronics allowed Gulf War target planners to think like surgeons who seek maximum effect from minimum damage. A single bomb targeted at the critical center could knock out an entire communications facility or even a large bridge. However, the carefully chosen Baghdad leadership targets including three-dozen government and military headquarters and command posts could not be so easily disabled. The leadership was able to play a shell game where top-ranking officials hid in innocuous residential areas and changed their positions regularly.
In five months of preparation, the coalition built an armada of almost 2,000 fighters and bombers in the region surrounding Iraq. The list of Iraqi targets grew from 84 facilities to some 480 on the eve of the war and more than 1,200 by war's end. The targets included airfields, air defense installations, military support facilities, weapons of mass destruction, Scud missile sites, bridges, communications complexes and electrical generating and transmitting facilities. Government command centers and other facilities in Baghdad were also pinpointed.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post