Armor-tipped infantry columns would blast into the heart of Baghdad along several corridors and swiftly isolate key areas from the rest of the sprawling city. Company-size infantry units - Marines and light infantry from the 101st and 82d Airborne Divisions, supported by tanks - then would attack the areas where Hussein and others were hiding.
One expert familiar with the planning of such an operation said it would require lightning strikes from rooftops, sewer tunnels, and "entryways" blasted into the sides of buildings by the tanks. Three to four days probably would be needed to plan the operation and rehearse it, and four or five days to carry it out, he said.
It is not clear whether the intelligence available from the Iraqi capital is sufficient, in quality or quantity, to support such an operation, one senior Bush administration official conceded, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Another official said the attempt to kill Hussein and decapitate the Iraqi regime with an air strike on a suburban Baghdad bunker last week largely failed because U.S. bombs and cruise missiles did not attack a structure next door where Hussein and others apparently were.
Essential to the plan's success is the air and ground campaign against the two Republican Guard divisions blocking the two main routes into the city from the south. If substantial numbers of the two divisions' 16,000 men succeed in retreating into the city, the plan could be doomed before it is launched.
But another senior administration official, who also asked not to be identified, said that while air and satellite reconnaissance was partly blinded during yesterday's intense sandstorm in Iraq, U.S. official believe that the Medina and Baghdad Republican Guard divisions withdrew at least some of their troops and equipment into the capital.
The American plan also would require close cooperation among air, ground and special-operations units, and those tactics have yet to be tested in battle.
The units committed to the fight cannot be left alone to finish the job against elements of three Republican Guard divisions and four Special Republican Guard brigades, as well as Fedayeen guerrillas and Baath Party fighters. Constant surveillance will be required, with rapid-reaction forces standing by to reinforce the small units in the city.
"You are going to have to kill their combat capabilities," one military expert said. "If you kill the Medina Division, but Saddam's best people are still roaming the battlefield, you have not succeeded. At best, this is going to be a very delicate operation."
A retired Army general said that one key Air Force mission was to prevent Republican Guard elements from withdrawing into Baghdad, but that apparently it had failed.
While American planners envision a swift surgical strike that decapitates the Iraqi regime, Hussein's strategy so far has been to withdraw his best forces into the heartland in the hope of fighting the battle for Baghdad on his home turf and his own terms. He apparently dreams of turning Baghdad into Stalingrad or Beirut or even Grozny, the capital of the rebellious Chechen republic that Russia has never been able to subdue.
The Battle of Stalingrad, which raged from August 1942 to February 1943, sealed the defeat of Nazi Germany. The fighting destroyed the city, and division after division on both sides. At its height, one 20,000-man Soviet army division was wiped out in three weeks. A single Russian sniper killed 242 Germans during the course of the battle.
British historian Antony Beevor said Hussein was obsessed with Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin and would love to see Baghdad turned into Stalingrad on the Tigris River.
The last time American forces fought a pitched battle for a city was in Hue, during the Tet Offensive in South Vietnam.
In a battle that lasted from Jan. 31 to Feb. 26, 1968, the Marines fought an estimated 10,000 Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops in the ancient imperial capital. When it was over, 142 Marines had died, hundreds more had been wounded, and Hue City had been reduced to rubble.
Quoting Napoleon, World War II Army Gen. George S. Patton once said that the key component of any battle plan was "l'audace, l'audace, toujours l'audace." There is ample audacity in the American plan for seizing Hussein's capital with a force as small as the one the Pentagon is employing.
Contact reporter Joseph L. Galloway at email@example.com.