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The coalition forces are now in the middle of the inevitable triangle - one side is the humanitarian aid, including distributing food and water to the civilian population, another side is suicide bombings against coalition forces, and the third side is jumpy, trigger-happy soldiers at checkpoints.

It's a difficult reality, which the IDF knows from Lebanon and the territories, and it will continue in Iraq as long as the war goes on, and maybe even after the departure of Saddam Hussein.

Yesterday's incident near the checkpoint outside Najaf, where seven women and children were killed by American soldiers, made the reality facing the coalition tangible. In addition, the Iraqis said yesterday that two buses carrying human shield peace supporters was hit in an air attack. That's possible, but it is also possible that the buses were filled with volunteers trying to join Iraqi military forces. The first reaction was shock, but with it came a quick response from commanders, who even before the investigation began said the soldiers were defending themselves. Everyone, of course, was thinking about the four soldiers killed a few days earlier at a checkpoint.

It's clear that the American and British will now closely examine their rules of engagement in various circumstances, while at the same time guaranteeing they don't make things easy for Saddam's people planning new suicide bombings.

This is the start of a long road, and much now depends on how long the coalition forces remain in Iraq and whether they become what is considered an occupation force. There are experts claiming that even if Saddam is eliminated and Baghdad is occupied, the guerrilla and suicide operations against the American and British forces will continue. That's not necessarily true, however. A lot depends on how the coalition forces behave in the upcoming stages of the war.

It's certain that Saddam Hussein and his people will take advantage of these incidents, and not only in their propaganda campaign aimed at the Arab states and Europe. It's fuel for the organizers of demonstrations against the war and for those trying to draw a direct parallel between the plight of the Iraqi population and the Palestinians.

But it is also a convenient reality for Iraqi strategy, because as the triangle of help, threat and fear continues, it will create a division between the coalition forces and the civilian population, bringing to Iraqis a sense of occupation. Therefore, more suicide bombings can be expected in Iraq.

The civilian population, of course, will pay the price of the war. That is unavoidable. The regime leaders are operating out of deep bunkers, are relatively protected, and don't move between the military checkpoints in the battle zones. That's how it was in the first Gulf War, even though most of the battles were fought in Kuwait.

During one of the bombing raids on Baghdad in the first Gulf war, a bomb penetrated a large bunker where the air force was certain some senior commanders and officials from Saddam's regime were hiding. The bomb blew up on the bunker's first floor, killing more than 400 civilians whom the air raid's American planners did not know had found shelter there.

The Iraqis say that so far 589 civilians have been killed. Obviously, many were killed in air raids on Baghdad and other areas. And just as obviously, the Americans and British are not seeking out Iraqi civilians to kill. However, even if the Iraqi casualty figures are exaggerated, it should be remembered that this is still an early stage in the war.