The Final Assaults
Bomb damage assessments from Washington had labeled the Baath as "lightly damaged" by earlier Tomahawk and stealth attacks; a suspected bunker under the palace had not been penetrated. Air Force planners lobbied for the palace to be bombed, even suggesting that pilots deliver bombs "through a side portico."
A ferocious weather system forced the cancellation of all Stealth drops in Baghdad on the 41st night, the only occasion during the war for such a large-scale abort. A massive armada was sent to Baghdad once the weather cleared just hours before the cease-fire, and 21 bombs were dropped on the downtown Baath Party complex.
Destruction of the offices were important to Gen. Glosson and his still Baghdad -obsessed planners to end the American war effort. Gen. Glosson pleaded with Schwarzkopf as the ground war loomed, "... What a symbol ... for the people of Iraq. I don't know how we cannot destroy it."
Party rule and the Baathist grip were hardly synonymous with the now vacant office block. All around the city, other offices remained up and running. Outside the capital, the fabric of Baath and secret police control remained unscathed.
At the air war's end, the Muthenna airfield in Baghdad was also again on the target list. The runways and some aircraft suspected of providing VIP transport were still unbombed, intelligence analysts said. Believing that Saddam Hussein might try to flee the country from the downtown airport, the transport planes were some of the final aimpoints for the Baghdad campaign. Having failed to kill the Iraqi leader or foment unrest or revolt in the center, the U.S. Air Force bombed the vehicle for escape.
One hundred hours after U.S. and coalition forces stepped across the Kuwait border to eject Saddam Hussein's army from the country, the war was over: The Iraqi military machine never lived up to its billing and chemical weapons were never used. Right to the last moments, though, airpower's capability again was on display, as word and images of a "highway of death" began to filter from the battlefield.
Almost 10 years have gone by and the end of the war is still debated: The failed Baghdad campaign to take out the Iraqi leadership and the deadly display on the last days of the war blemish an otherwise spectacular demonstration of superior military equipment, strategy and leadership.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post