Saddam Hussein's forces appear to be digging in for a dogged defense that could drag American troops into high-risk urban combat if war breaks out.
Saddam has vowed that if it comes to war, the Iraqi people will fight to the death.
"We will die here," he told CBS' Dan Rather in an interview late last month. "We will die in this country and we will maintain our honor — the honor that is required … in front of our people."
And it appears he is getting ready for a final defense. A noteworthy development in recent days, experts say, is that the division of Iraq's elite Republican Guard based most closely to Iraq's northern border with Turkey has moved south.
Significant parts of the Adnan Republican Guard division, based near the northern city of Mosul, have been seen moving toward Tikrit, Saddam's hometown 100 miles north of Baghdad.
Dozens of tanks were being transported by truck from Mosul, and armored personnel carriers were moving both ways along the route, travelers told The Associated Press. Both tanks and anti-aircraft guns were dug in at a long string of deep trenches with only their turrets exposed near Tikrit, The AP reported.
The troop movement is widely believed to be part of an effort to protect the Iraqi dictator's power centers — as well as a reflection of both Saddam's strategic and tactical planning.
U.S. military planners had wanted to base combat troops in Turkey in order to attack Iraq from the north. But Turkey's delays in answering the request is believed to have caused some trepidation among military planners. The main thrust of U.S. forces could now come from the south.
The Iraqi repositioning would leave only one full Republican Guard division in northern Iraq, even though Iraq faces not only the threat of U.S. and Turkish forces from the north, but insurgents from its Kurdish minority as well.
Seven of Iraq's regular army divisions remain in the north, but they are not as well-equipped and trained as the Republican Guard, experts say.
Fear of Another Mogadishu
Analysts point out that by concentrating forces around his main power bases, Saddam could draw U.S. forces into dangerous urban combat, where they risk high casualties and a greater likelihood of killing civilians.
"[Saddam] looks at the country and what he's facing," said Toby Dodge, author of Iraq at the Crossroads: State and Society in the Shadow of Regime Change. "He's going to pull the army back into the city where U.S. forces will pay a higher price for collateral damage [and get] the war machine worn down."
The prospect of urban warfare recalls the U.S. debacle in Somalia. U.S. forces deployed to make sure food aid reached famine victims, but they became embroiled in hostilities with Somali warlords. An October 1993 clash in Mogadishu, the capital, killed 18 U.S. personnel and left dozens of others wounded. Pictures of Somali fighters dragging the body of an American soldier through the streets of Mogadishu sparked a public outcry in the United States.
Saddam has urged people to dig foxholes in their yards, and his military has dug new fighting positions for tanks and artillery on all approaches to Baghdad.
The Pentagon says some of these positions are right next to homes and schools — difficult for U.S. forces to target from the air.
A senior defense official told The Associated Press last week that Saddam has concentrated a substantial number of forces around the Baghdad area.