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Micromanaging the Air War
Reconstruction on the downtown Jumhuriyah bridge over the Tigris.
Air Force leaders learned from human intelligence reports that Iraqi communications cables might be running under some Baghdad bridges and that the regime might be using the cables to transmit launch orders to Scud missile units attacking Israel. So U.S. air war planners added four bridges to the target list: The Jumhuriyah "Republic" bridge, 14 July Bridge, the Al Ahrar Bridge and the Shuhada Bridge.

The 14 July Bridge, nearest to the riverside Republican Palace, was the first to be attacked, on Jan. 29. The next day, the Air Force targeted the Al Ahrar and Jumhuriyah "Republic" bridges.

The attack on the Al Ahrar Bridge, near the Mansour Melia Hotel didn't go well. Two stealth fighters missed with both pairs of bombs. As a result two civilian building were unintentionally hit. Not far away on Nahre Street in the old market quarter, the Central Bank of Iraq's record-keeping center, a three-story building next door to the main headquarters was demolished. Across the street, the five-story foreign payments and credits branch was gutted.

The Nasiriyah bridge

Out of the limelight a week later the Nasiriyah bridge, essential for car and foot traffic in the southern Iraq town, was destroyed by Royal Air Force fighters in a rare daylight attack. Some 40 Iraqi civilians were killed or injured in that Feb. 4 attack, although Baghdad radio claimed that hundreds of civilians had died. The Baghdad propaganda machine rushed journalists to the scene the day after the attack.

Though the Nasiriyah controversy had nothing to do with Baghdad, Washington placed restrictions on bombing the Iraqi capital as a result. Gen. Colin Powell told air and land war commander Norman Schwarzkopf that further bombing of Baghdad bridges was not worth the propaganda risks given the shaky intelligence. Schwarzkopf in turn told Gen. Glosson, the head of the war planning center in Riyadh, to hold off bombing any more urban bridge targets. The Baghdad campaign was beginning to crumble.


© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post

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