The latest military hardware and electronics, coupled with control of the skies and massive firepower, have given the allies an overwhelming advantage in the land offensive against Iraqi troops, military analysts said.

The apparently rapid crumbling of Iraqi resistance to the ground assault followed a month of devastating air bombardment.Military analysts said early forecasts by allied air commanders that air power alone might ensure victory for the first time in modern warfare were not very wide of the mark.

"If we had attacked a month ago on the ground, it could have been tougher," said Hans Binnendijk of the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London.

"Air power softened up the Iraqis and helped break down their command and control."

Reports from the allied front indicate that air supremacy allowed armored battle groups to advance quickly, while attack helicopters and tank-busting aircraft freely targeted Iraqi armor once it emerged from its bunkers.

With the cream of the Iraqi air force removed to neutral Iran, apparently for safekeeping, allied aircraft have roamed freely over the battle zone.

Military sources said the Iraqis' command and control systems were so damaged by the bombing that messages were being sent by car and motorcycle.

The allies were meanwhile drawing a detailed picture of the battlefield from spy satellites and AWACS radar reconnaissance aircraft.

Crucially, allied commanders were able to use infrared and thermal-imaging equipment in their tanks to advance at night.

"We took full advantage of our night-fighting capability," said Lt. Gen. Sir Peter de la Billiere, the commander of British forces in the gulf.

Military analysts believe that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, guided by his experience in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, may have miscalculated the strength of the allied ground thrust.

Waves of Iranian soldiers died attacking fortified Iraqi defenses, but the allies took only hours to blast through similar Iraqi fortifications.

Before the war started 41 days ago, Saddam had the fourth-largest army in the world and put more than 500,000 troops and some 4,500 tanks with massed artillery in and around Kuwait.

His air force of around 700 planes included modern Soviet-built Mig-29s and French Mirage F-1s.

Paul Rogers, a defense analyst with Bradford University's department of peace studies, said the allies' use of massive firepower to breach the Iraqi line was critical.

He said napalm, cluster bombs and fuel-air explosives devastated Iraqi front-line troops, which "made the assault much easier than expected. Saddam Hussein clearly underestimated that."

Analysts said Saddam's Feb. 15 announcement that he was prepared to hand back Kuwait might have hurt Iraqi troop morale as much as the weeks of allied bombing.

Iraqi troops may have decided there was no point fighting for territory their leader was ready to abandon, they said.

Rogers added that the real battle of the war may just be starting.

"Kuwait was something of a sideshow," he said. "I would be very surprised to see any U.S. decision to stop fighting."