by Austin Bay
Aug 28, 2002
Hugging takes extraordinary discipline and commitment.
"Hugging" an enemy unit, that is, in close combat.
The "hugging" metaphor is, of course, a savage irony. Not even
bears hug with assault rifles -- only human beings are that violent.
Placing soldiers within 50 meters of the enemy and keeping them
there is a risky ploy. However, the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) evolved
"hugging" tactics to a high military art. Massive U.S. firepower, delivered
by artillery and aircraft, threatened maneuvering NVA units. Thus, the gutty
NVA tactic of getting close to U.S. infantry and staying close. U.S. fire
support then ran an increased risk of hitting U.S. troops. With U.S.
firepower constrained, the ground battle then became infantry against
infantry. Motivated and well-led NVA troops now had better odds and an
opportunity to send American soldiers home in body bags -- a key political
objective on the part of Hanoi's high command.
Thick jungles and sprawling cities ("urban jungles") give troops
lots of places to hide and "hug." And here lies -- in part-- Saddam
Hussein's hope, that Iraqi streets and alleys will be concrete Vietnams or
Mogadishus. That's certainly the tout and one rhetorically convenient to the
West's nouveau Neville Chamberlains.
However, the Iraqi military and the NVA have little in common,
particularly when it comes to the commitment and discipline required to
stick to a fight at close quarters.
The Iraqi Army of 2002, including the Republican Guard and
special units, is deployed not to defend Iraq but to oppress it. Yes, that
means it is deployed to defend Saddam's ruling cohort. Still, loyalty from
even elite units is bought with better bread and Mercedes-Benzes. When
someone else -- like Washington -- offers steaks and Porsches, as well as a
chance to remain alive, who's true to the Butcher of Baghdad? Recall Iraqi
troops' surrender to French photographers in Desert Storm.
Saddam's regime is brittle. The apt analogy is Nicolae
Ceausescu's vile Romanian dictatorship, a multitiered police state akin to
Saddam's. In late 1989, with the political context of the Cold War suddenly
shifting, Ceausescu's own secret police quickly put him in a grave. U.S.
strategy remains directed at provoking a Baghdad coup. Aggressive "war talk"
and troop movements promote that optimal result.
Still, if it came to shove and Washington were to invade, what
is Saddam's best bet to stop the U.S. military's speed, precision and
Last December, a group of civilian military analysts produced a
hypothetical Iraqi war plan. Similar "Iraqi op-plans" have been published
this summer. The group clearly leveraged U.S. Army strategic war games
conducted in the late 1990s that explored "web defenses." The analysts
proposed Iraqi webs composed of interlocking defensive positions sited in
urban zones. These featured air defense weapons beside mosques, tanks parked
beside apartment buildings, troops placed among schoolchildren, and command
bunkers built beneath museums and hospitals.
This cold gambit -- human and cultural shields -- was designed
to thwart U.S. advantages in long-range fire and create "targeting
dilemmas" -- e.g., are these people Iraqi civilians or soldiers? The
strategic objective was to buy Saddam more time to affect "world opinion"
and portray Washington as a heartless murderer.
Yet the key to making Saddam's spider web work remained loyalty,
and that, several analysts argued, he doesn't have.
The analytic group decided Saddam's best option to slow a U.S.
attack was chemical weapons delivered by SCUD missiles. War gaming indicated
if the United States had only Kuwait as a base, Saddam had a fair chance of
dousing air and logistics bases with persistent nerve agent. Iraq had the
capacity to strike one big target. U.S. basing out of Jordan and Turkey
radically reduced this Iraqi threat.
Firing missiles at Israel or other Middle Eastern countries is
also an option, but it's one Saddam already has, and it becomes more lethal
if the world waits until he acquires nukes.
The U.S. counter to the web and hidden SCUDs? Precision weapons
and high-speed helicopter-borne assaults on key nodes in the web, with rapid
armor follow-on. Critical immediate goals include destruction of command
centers, isolation of Iraqi leaders, and capture of chemical and biological
If the United States achieves those goals, the Iraqi Army will
collapse. Then, watch the Iraqi people welcome their liberators.