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14 Questions

Sorting it out, looking ahead.

Times staff
Published April 3, 2003

If you have questions about the war in Iraq, please send them to:

1) Have any weapons of mass destruction been found?

No. U.S. commanders continue to warn of possible chemical attacks as troops get closer to Baghdad. On Wednesday, lead U.S. infantry units donned chemical suits after capturing a bridge just 40 miles southeast of Baghdad.

2) Are coalition soldiers expected to enter Baghdad soon?

Though reluctant to suggest a timetable, the U.S. military says ground forces have penetrated the defensive cordon - known as the "red zone" - around Baghdad. They report that they have destroyed one division of Saddam Hussein's elite Republican Guard protecting the city.

The 1st Marine Division has advanced to inside 20 miles of the capital. The closer the infantry gets to Baghdad, the tougher the fighting is expected to get.

3) How do coalition forces plan to attack Baghdad?

They say they plan a "synchronized" attack, involving the infantry, the Marines and the Air Force.

4) Would the war plan change if Saddam Hussein is killed or driven from power?

Regardless of whether Hussein is alive, the battle plan and the march on Baghdad are unlikely to change as long as the Iraqi military continues to fight.

When President Bush gave Hussein 48 hours to go into exile or face an attack, the president mentioned not only Hussein, but also his sons.

5) How many Iraqi soldiers and civilians have been killed?

Reliable figures are hard to come by. On March 31, several newspapers estimated that about 1,000 Iraqi soldiers and nearly 600 civilians had been killed, with 4,500 injured. The numbers must be viewed critically. For one thing, it is often difficult to distinguish Iraqi civilians from soldiers.

6) News reports cite the Republican Guard's elite Medina Division. What does Medina refer to?

The military division is named after Medina, a city of more than 600,000 in western Saudi Arabia. It is considered Islam's second-holiest place, after Mecca. Mohammed migrated to Medina in 622 after being persecuted by the Meccan establishment. It is also the site of Mohammed's tomb.

7) Under the Taliban in Afghanistan, women could not even show their faces in public. How are Iraqi women treated?

Unlike many countries in the region, Iraq's government is officially secular. Women can get full educations, run for office, drive and serve in the armed forces. Veils are not required. Recently some women have started wearing scarves over their hair - part of a religious upsurge that some attribute to hard economic times and government use of Islamic imagery to build public support.

8) Geraldo Rivera was asked to leave Iraq and Peter Arnett was fired. Is the embedding program, where reporters are assigned to units, not working?

Rivera and Arnett were not embedded. Arnett was stationed in Baghdad, and Rivera was following American soldiers on his own.

Another reporter, a freelancer for the Christian Science Monitor who also was not embedded, was asked to leave Iraq last week. The military said he revealed sensitive military information in broadcast interviews.

Embedded reporters must agree to ground rules, such as not disclosing information that might endanger the military. Approximately 500 reporters are embedded in Iraq.

9) Has France offered any help in the war?

France sent its first shipment of humanitarian aid to Iraq this week: 60 tons of blankets and food. The shipment was funded through donations.

10) Is the military using dolphins?

Yes. Dolphins are helping clear mines from the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr.

The dolphins are from the Navy's Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 3, based in Coronado, Calif. Nine have been flown to the region, along with a number of trained sea lions from the Navy's Mammal Maritime Unit in San Diego.

Dolphins are trained not to touch mines, but to mark them with floats. The dolphins use their highly developed sonar to detect objects in the water and on the sea bed. The sea lions are chosen because of their sensitive underwater hearing and their ability to see in low light.

11) We keep hearing about American and British soldiers being rescued behind enemy lines. How often has this happened?

Search-and-rescue teams have reportedly retrieved 67 soldiers. On Tuesday, an F-14 Tomcat fighter on a bombing mission in Iraq crashed because of mechanical failure. Both crew members were rescued via helicopter; neither was injured.

12) How has the war affected the stock market?

The market has swung wildly, often in synch with news from Iraq.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average stood at 8,521 at the end of the week the war started, when it appeared the U.S. coalition might have an easy time of it. The Dow sank to 8,145 at the end of the second week, when sandstorms and Iraqi resistance slowed coalition troops. As U.S. forces closed on Baghdad Wednesday, the Dow jumped 215 points, to 8,285.

13) Has Dick Cheney's old company really made millions on the war?

The Halliburton Co., which Cheney ran from 1995 through 2000, did not bid on the lucrative contract to rebuild Iraq after the war. But the company could do work as a subcontractor.

A company called KBR, a subsidiary of Halliburton, has business in Iraq extinguishing oil well fires under a previous Defense Department contract.

14) Is Britain the only other country joining the United States in fighting the war?

No. Australian soldiers have been fighting; this week Polish soldiers joined the battle.

15) Is Iraq destroying its own religious shrines? Allied troops are trying to leave sacred buildings unscathed as they root out Iraqi fighters in the holy Shiite cities of Najaf and Karbala south of Baghdad. But Iraqis firing upon coalition troops reportedly have taken cover inside a mosque that is one of the most important shrines for Shiite Muslims.

The concern is that Saddam Hussein's Sunni Muslim regime would try to provoke allied forces to attack such holy sites, thereby alienating the country's majority Shiite population.

- Information from the Associated Press, the BBC, the Guardian, the New York Times, Washington Post and the World Book Online Americas Edition was used by Times staff writer Stephen Hegarty in compiling this report. Researcher Kitty Bennett also contributed.

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