WASHINGTON (AP) - The Iraqi military is digging in to protect Baghdad in what U.S. officials describe as the biggest buildup of defenses around the city since the Gulf War.
Spurred to action by American threats of attack, Iraqi earthmovers are digging defensive positions for tanks, artillery and troops, defense and other officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Some military units are spreading out their heavy equipment to make it more difficult to target, and anti-aircraft defenses are being moved to improve the protection of the Iraqi capital from U.S. airstrikes, officials said.
"It's the largest defensive preparation since Desert Storm," said a Bush administration official. "The rhetoric they are hearing coming from the United States - they're taking it very, very seriously."
Saddam recently said he would take any fight with U.S. forces to the streets of Baghdad and other Iraqi cities, and U.S. officials acknowledge this is probably Saddam's best strategy in a new war. Some of the U.S. military's vast advantage in technology and training are mitigated when fighting in a city, rather than in the open.
Defending Baghdad proper is half of the Iraqi Republican Guard - three armored divisions that ring the city's outer reaches, officials said. The Republican Guard is considered the army unit most loyal to Saddam.
Its soldiers receive better equipment than the regular Iraqi army, although all of Saddam's military is suffering from a shortage of spare parts because of the partially successful U.N. embargo on weapons imports. All of its equipment is more than a decade old.
Republican Guard divisions are also better trained and led and are expected to hold out under fire longer than other Iraqi military units, who U.S. officials consider to be liable to flee or surrender. The divisions have 10,000 to 15,000 troops each.
Inside Baghdad itself are several paramilitary forces, the strongest of which is the Special Republican Guard. While these troops, numbering about 15,000 fighters, don't have many tanks or other heavy equipment, they are well-trained and extremely loyal to Saddam.
Many of the troops, and especially the officers, come from Tikrit and other towns from the confederation of tribes that backed Saddam's rise to power, U.S. officials said.
Another force in town are troops from the Directorate of General Security, something like a hybrid between the FBI and military police.
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