Sunday, March 30, 2003

War in Iraq: Missile strike

A new phase of conflict

An Iraqi missile apparently blew apart a shopping mall in Kuwait City on Friday, escalating the conflict to a new level and reinforcing Iraq's image as a regime without conscience.

The Souq Sharq mall is a popular seafront retail area with stores, a movie theater and restaurants. It is located near Kuwait's parliament, Foreign Ministry and the emir's palace. The missile struck about 1:30 a.m. Kuwaiti time, when the mall was fortunately empty. Had it occurred during daylight hours it is likely there would have been a tremendous number of civilian casualties.

It is unknown if the missile intentionally targeted the mall, rather than the nearby government buildings, but the hit is in sharp contrast to the precision and care that coalition forces have been employing in strikes against Baghdad. The Iraqi missile reportedly was a Chinese-made Silkworm, which travels at an extremely low altitude and is therefore difficult to defend against. The Iraqis do not have the ability to precisely target such weapons, but that didn't stop them from firing it into a crowded population center.

This is a war in which American forces will seem to follow one set of rules, while the other side follows another. We will avoid civilian casualties at all costs, even while the other side pushes innocents into the streets as human shields. We will aim our missiles at clearly identified military targets and refrain from destroying the country's infrastructure as much as possible. The forces of Saddam Hussein will lob missiles into shopping malls.

These rules are unfair and hard to follow. They must seem particularly absurd to our troops in the field, who must abide by the code we have set for ourselves. Every soldier in our coalition who confronts surrendering Iraqis must wonder if they are really giving up, or preparing to stage an ambush. But these are rules that our forces have rightly been trained to obey. These tactics are what set us apart from our enemies.

In the end, they are likely to be what convinces the people of Iraq that we are different from Saddam Hussein.

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