Almost a week into the invasion of Iraq, a coalition force that was deliberately kept smaller than some Pentagon officers recommended is fighting under constraints designed to minimize world condemnation and avoid alienating Iraqis the Bush administration wants to liberate. Coalition troops limit fire to avoid killing civilians, and forces deliberately steer clear of destroying electric plants and other infrastructure vital to daily life. There are already signs the limits are jeopardizing allied lives. Restrictions on the use of firepower against Iraqi defenders have prolonged battles, endangered supply lines and possibly contributed directly to casualties.

Army Apache helicopters, for example, encountered withering ground fire in a nighttime engagement Monday south of Baghdad, in part because the Apache crews were ordered not to attack the power grid in the area. Lights from streets and buildings made it easier for Iraqi gunners to spot the aircraft against the night sky. One Apache was downed, its two-man crew taken prisoner.

[…] Well aware of the coalition’s self-imposed constraints, Iraqi forces are exploiting them, violating the laws of war by placing fighters among civilian populations, shedding uniforms for civilian clothes, using ambulances to send military messages and even firing on U.S. troops from hospitals and homes. […] Tactics used by the Iraqis have included parking fighter jets in cemeteries, using civilian vessels to lay sea mines, signaling surrender and then opening fire, and using women and children as human shields to get closer to allied forces…. [USA Today, 3/26/03]

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