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The war so far

That war has surprises, often unpleasant, should come as no surprise. The war in Iraq is no different.

Coalition war planning had not fully anticipated guerrilla attacks by the paramilitary Fedayeen, the use of civilian shields, false flags of surrender, the ambush of supply convoys and the extent of the obstacles caused by Turkey’s refusal to cooperate. Indeed, the Turkish refusal itself was apparently a prewar surprise, although it probably shouldn’t have been.

What had been billed as a straightforward military operation suddenly seemed perilously complex.

But coalition partners President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair had a point last week when they bristled at suggestions that the coalition attack had somehow stalled or bogged down. This was the same day that U.S. paratroopers seized an airfield, Iraqi troops abandoned a key strong point in the north, the advance guard of another 100,000 to 120,000 reinforcements arrived in Kuwait and the thrusts in the south made gains despite problems.

Even the Iraqi defense minister concedes that Baghdad could be surrounded within 10 days.

The coalition is fighting a desperate regime with its back to the wall, facing a choice of being strung up by its own people or standing in the dock of a war crimes tribunal.

And not all Iraqis have ignoble motives. Under the old rubric &uot;my country right or wrong,&uot; many may fight the foreign invaders out of misguided patriotism.

Saddam Hussein’s strategy now seems to be to hunker down in Baghdad and hope to win on global television the victory he can’t win on the battlefield.

Perhaps he truly believes if he holds on long enough, dramatic images of coalition-caused civilian deaths will mobilize the world to bring a halt to the war, an act of appalling cynicism from a government whose military shot Iraqi civilians trying to flee Basra.

Bush and the coalition have gone too far down the road to Baghdad to turn back now. The humanitarian hope has to be that Iraq will soon reach the "tipping point," that middle and lower echelons will begin deserting Saddam as they realize the regime is doomed and that the coalition is not miraculously going to go away.

The outcome is not in doubt, only the length of time it takes to get there. And that should be no surprise.