THE war against Iraq has entered its most critical phase. Allied forces are just a few miles outside Baghdad, and their military might will ensure eventual success.

It is clear that both the US and Britain are still hoping the Iraqi army will capitulate rather than be defeated.

All along the expectation has been that troops would either surrender or turn against Saddam Hussein's regime.

After the resistance shown in Basra and other areas of southern Iraq, there is no guarantee that things will go to plan.

In Saddam's stronghold of Baghdad, the Coalition forces must prepare for a battle of attrition.

We hope against hope that overthrow of the regime will not be secured only after a street-by-street fight for control of the capital city.

While it is possible to limit civilian casualties with the use of smart bombs and missiles, heavy artillery, machine guns and grenades are less discriminating.

Civilian deaths on a large scale are the last thing anyone wants to see.

If they occur, it will be difficult for the US and Britain to avoid animosity from the Iraqi people.

With such widespread opposition it will be difficult for the Allies to portray themselves as liberators rather than occupiers.

And it will make plans for the swift transition from totalitarian to representative democracy even more difficult to accomplish.

Night of shame

WE kid ourselves if we take it for granted that football has rid itself of its hooligan element.

Last night's game between England and Turkey at the Stadium of Light should have been a sporting occasion for the North-East to celebrate.

Instead, this morning we reflect on a night of violence which has attracted as much attention as the match itself.

It is difficult to know what more can be done to eradicate the senseless minority who claim to be supporters of our national team.

But the police and football authorities have a duty to bring the thugs to justice.