In a football metaphor instantly recognizable to Americans, President George Bush declared last week "we will now go the last 200 yards" to Baghdad as US troops tightened the noose around the Iraqi capital for the final assault. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld added characteristically, the army was within commuting distance -- closer "than many Americans are from their downtown offices." The prize of Baghdad may not be as easy as a typical American's commute to work but there was no denying that US forces had made swift advances, suffered few casualties and were within a few miles of the city. Shells were falling on the Saddam Hussein International Airport on the outskirts and the "dagger was clearly pointed at the heart of the regime," said Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks in Qatar. For the first time in two weeks Baghdad was dark and the Americans had the momentum.
Incessant questions about the war plan were drowned out by the "good news" of a daring rescue of injured Pvt. Jessica Lynch from an Iraqi hospital and the feeble resistance by Iraq's elite Republican Guards. It was dubbed a reversal of fortune. There was even a kind of welcome by the people of Najaf for the conquering battalions, a long-predicted gesture that had eluded the Americans so far. And when the chief Shia cleric asked his people not to "interfere" with US troops, it was a major psychological breakthrough for Washington. Pentagon said at least two of the three Iraqi divisions south of Baghdad were rendered "battle ineffective" and others appeared to have retreated into the city. A long column of burnt Iraqi armour, including the incongruous motorcycles, was proof of the decimation. In the15 days of this war, the US has unleashed 725 Tomahawk missiles and 12,000 precision bombs in an avalanche of heavy metal. An estimated 1,000 of Iraq's 2,500 tanks have been destroyed since the attacks began. The Iraqi regime is on the verge of imploding, the pundits predicted. But Gen. Richard Myres, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, warned that the most difficult battle still lay ahead -- urban warfare, more civilian casualties and a possible humanitarian disaster with 5 million people without water or electricity.