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Clark: More urban fighting possible

CNN analyst retired U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark
CNN analyst retired U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark

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(CNN) -- As the Bush administration said Saddam Hussein's regime appeared to be crumbling Wednesday, questions loomed about what might be next for U.S.-led forces north of Baghdad where the Iraqi president's popularity is said to be high.

CNN military analyst, retired U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark, offered his expertise in an interview with CNN's Miles O'Brien.

O'BRIEN: Three northern cities I want to talk about: Tikrit, Kirkuk and Mosul. Let's take Tikrit first. Last I checked on Tikrit, the Adnan Division of Iraq's Republican Guard was there defending, among other things, a huge palace compound in Saddam Hussein's hometown. His tribe is there. And it's obviously a well-fortified place.

Do you suspect that the Republican Guard there is a true fighting force still and something to be reckoned with?

CLARK: I think it's been heavily worn by attrition. What we don't know -- and perhaps the men and women at U.S. Central Command do know -- is what's happened to the stream of instructions and any command-and-control coming out of Baghdad.

We have to assume that something dramatic happened in Baghdad that shattered the resistance there. Perhaps Saddam Hussein was taken out. If he was -- or if the demoralization from Baghdad seeps out into Tikrit -- there could be little fight in Tikrit. But the United States military wouldn't be able to proceed on that assumption. U.S. forces would have to proceed there with the assumption they would indeed have to fight. And it could be another urban fight.

O'BRIEN: On that ominous note, let's move up to Kirkuk, also still controlled at this point by the Iraqis. This is a very significant place, because it is home to northern oil fields. The concern is that these are not secured by U.S. special operations or any other entity that would be allied with the coalition.

What's the strategy there, do you suppose?

CLARK: U.S.-led forces will go in and secure the oil fields first. Presumably, they've been rigged for demolition and perhaps the Iraqi order to execute didn't come.

But there's also likely to be ethnic tensions around Kirkuk, because this has been an area that's been under contention between the Kurdish factions and the Sunni factions allied with Saddam. There's been resettlement in the area. Some people have lost their homes here and in Mosul. And so we just don't know how this will work out.

O'BRIEN: At the airfield at Kirkuk there are a lot of fortified bunkers there. Do you suppose that that is something that is the focus of attention of special operations right now?

CLARK: My guess is, that was the focus of attention, Miles, of the precision airstrikes. We saw many of them from over the horizon and reflected at night in the cameras of some of the reporters out there in the north. My guess is, they've been taken out. Those are the first targets normally.

Gen. Wesley Clark was NATO supreme allied commander from 1997 to May 2000. He was also the commander in chief of the U.S. European Command. In 1999, he commanded Operation Allied Force, NATO's military action in the Kosovo crisis. Clark later wrote about his experiences in "Waging Modern War." He is one of CNN's military analysts, along with retired Brig. Gen. David Grange and retired Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd. Their briefings will appear daily on CNN.com.

EDITOR'S NOTE: CNN's policy is to not report information that puts operational security at risk.


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