Allied forces commander Gen H. Norman Schwarzkopf won his spurs in the Vietnam jungle.

The Iraqi chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Hussein Rashid, earned fame as a tank commander in the Iran-Iraq war.With coalition forces bearing down on Iraqi-occupied Kuwait, they are locked in a showdown of the allies' air power and technology against Iraq's battlefield experience and elaborate defensive strategy.

Decisions made by these two men - with nearly 2 million soldiers between them - will be crucial in coming days.

"I'm not going to fight his war. I'm going to fight our war," Schwarzkopf declared last month as the Iraqis hunkered down behind bunkers and defense lines in southern Iraq and Kuwait.

Nicknamed "Stormin' Norman" for his quick temper, the burly four-star U.S. general is described by military experts as an outstanding strategist and perfectionist who demands total commitment from his soldiers.

A 34-year army veteran, he won two Purple Hearts in Vietnam as an infantry battalion commander. In 1983, he was given command of the 24th Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Ga., one of the first U.S. units deployed in the Persian Gulf last August.

As head of the Florida-based U.S. Central Command, Schwarzkopf was in command in Saudi Arabia from the beginning of the troop buildup.

Last fall, he said his plan to defeat Saddam Hussein's forces would be "to suck him into the desert as far as I could" from his fixed defenses.

"Then I'd pound the living heck out of him. Finally, I'd engulf him and police him up," he said.

His strategy before launching the ground offensive was to erode Iraq's military machine through an around-the-clock air campaign that chased the Iraqi air force from the skies, chewed up Saddam's supply lines and wore down his ground forces.

In launching the ground assault Sunday, Schwarzkopf apparently stuck to the strategy military analysts expected: avoiding massive casualties by refusing to charge the Iraqi defense line head-on.

He apparently sent U.S. and British armored divisions around the Iraqis' western flank, bypassing defense lines - in one operation ferrying 2,000 troops 50 miles into Iraqi territory by helicopter - to cut off Saddam's troops.

At the same time, U.S. Marines and other coalition forces drove into southern Kuwait, reportedly linking up with airborne troops outside of Kuwait City. In addition, an amphibious assault force of 17,000 Marines was at Schwarzkopf's disposal in the Persian Gulf.

Rashid's plan - if indeed it is his and not Saddam's - has been to let the allies come to him, absorb their assault, then seek to hammer them in a counterattack by Saddam's elite Republican Guard.

Rashid is the former commander of the 150,000-man Republican Guard, which is mostly entrenched along the Iraq-Kuwait border south of Basra, the Iraqi headquarters in the Kuwait theater.During the early stages of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, Rashid commanded Iraq's 3rd Armored Division. Unlike many of Saddam's armored commanders, he showed considerable tactical flair in the 1980 invasion of Iran. In 1985, he took charge of and expanded the Republican Guard.

Under Rashid, the Republican Guard launched a series of lightning offensives in April 1988 that finally helped persuade Tehran to seek a cease-fire.

First, through skillful use of deception, mobility and chemical weapons, the guards swiftly recaptured the Faw peninsula, which the Iranians had seized in February 1986. Over the next three months, the Republican Guard spearheaded offensives that drove the Iranians out of the swampy Majnoon oilfields north of Basra and other territory they had captured.

The Iraqis eventually fought their way into Iran and seized about 400 square miles of territory.

Rashid was promoted to commander of the 1st Corps in northern Iraq and later deputy chief of staff in charge of operations.

Last November, Saddam sacked his chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Nizar al-Khazraji, and appointed Rashid in his place.

That was a significant move. It put a gung-ho commander in as Iraq's top military man after Saddam himself, underlining the Iraqi leader's decision to fight.

It also tightened the inner circle around the Iraqi leader with trusted men. Like all Saddam's close associates, Rashid comes from Tikrit, the Iraqi leader's hometown north of Baghdad.

Rashid is a member of Iraq's Kurdish minority - many of whom are fighting for more autonomy from Baghdad.