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The Invasion of Iraq Has Probably Begun
by Tom Holsinger
December 19, 2002
America's conquest of Iraq will be a gradual process, not an event, and has probably begun. Air patrols and related bombings have increased significantly and are hitting areas and target types which were previously ignored. Some of the latter attacks, i.e., on underground fiber-optic communication cables, require such precise targeting that it is likely the bombing was guided by covertly inserted ground troops using laser target-designators.
The plan here resembles the story of boiling a frog - increase the water temperature quickly and the frog will hop out. Increase the temperature slowly and it will sit there without realizing what is happening to it. American military operations, and ground force levels, in Iraq may gradually increase until surrender is only a formality.
More dramatic and less auspicious things might happen too, or instead, but it should be easier to track events from apparently unrelated facts if this pattern is kept in mind. Other patterns can overlay it and recognition of those would also enhance understanding of events.
Knowledge of military details is critical. One of the most important is the 120 mile combat radius of action of the Army's standard UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter in the assault transport role. Direct helicopter assaults are normally not possible into many or most of Iraq's most important areas because those are more than 120 miles from where we can base helicopters in Kuwait, Turkey and the northern Iraqi no-fly zone.
But Saudi Arabia has recently given the United States permission to overfly Saudi airspace, and Baghdad is only 170-180 miles from the closest portion of Saudi Arabia. That is still out of Blackhawk range, but American plans to covertly insert supply and refueling dumps into Iraq prior to overt hostilities can solve that. More than secrecy protects those - Iraqi officials are reluctant to notice them for various interesting reasons. American helicopter assault forces could take off from Kuwait or Quatar, make one-way flights to unofficial refueling bases in Saudi Arabia (assuming they don't start there while Saudi officials look the other way), fly from there to secret refueling bases in Iraq and then assault directly into Baghdad on the first day of the invasion's overt phase.
These significant changes bring almost all of Iraq into direct range of American heliborne assault. It is now possible for the United States to strike effectively on the ground throughout Iraq's strategic depth at the onset of hostilities.
The United States does not have the heliborne forces to hit everywhere at once, but can hit almost anywhere with about an airmobile division equivalent on the first day (the "inside-out" plan with a real punch). That, with the usual overwhelming airpower and a second, air-transportable, division flown into captured airfields on the second day, is more than enough to shatter potential Iraqi resistance immediately, even without a reinforced corps advancing up the Euphrates from Kuwait. We might not use this plan, but certainly have the capability now.
The strategic picture changed dramatically with Saudi permission to use its airspace. Recent news stories about Saudi officials' involvement with Al Qaeda terrorists, especially the 9/11 hijackers, should be reconsidered as successful pressure by the U.S. government to achieve its strategic objectives. Qualms about the ability of the Bush Administration in such matters should vanish too, but won?t.
The Administration's decision concerning UN weapons inspections should be viewed in light of this demonstrated competence - just doing their job tells us where Saddam's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) aren't. We're using the UN for our own purposes, which includes deception of Saddam Hussein and psychological warfare against his underlings. An ideal American victory would consist of Saddam's assassination before the invasion followed by a relatively bloodless occupation and creation of a US military government to reconstruct Iraq as we did 57 years ago in Germany and Japan. Saudi access makes this feasible - Saddam's henchmen have no chance whatever now and know it.
Assuming Saddam somehow survives to opening day, he is unlikely to outlive it. A minimum period for the duration of Iraqi resistance is two days - that long due to delays in communicating surrenders. A reasonable maximum is the number of days necessary for an American armored division in quasi-combat formation (prepared for light scattered resistance) to make an unopposed motor march from Kuwait to Tikrit, Iraq (likely only one brigade would actually do it).
At this point it appears the only significant resistance American forces might encounter would come from Al Qaeda terrorists in Iraq. Saddam's remaining loyalists weren't selected for their fearlessness or military ability (such traits threaten him). Al Qaeda has demonstrated both traits, and cares less than Saddam about Iraqi civilian casualties.
Worse, Al Qaeda might obtain Iraqi WMD, either at Saddam's orders or by seizing depots whose guards have run away, and use those on American forces AND on Iraqi civilians. Al Qaeda took a major political hit from the rejoicing of Afghanistan's people upon liberation by American forces, knows the same will happen in Iraq and is aware that America plans to make Iraq a showcase for Arab democracy. Murdering thousands of Iraqis - perhaps a million in worst case anthrax and smallpox scenarios - and contaminating large urban areas would inhibit these American goals.
American forces and equipment in the area would also face a lengthy decontamination process in the event of widespread WMD use by Al Qaeda or (far less likely) Saddam's few real diehards. The Bush Administration's reluctance to deploy really large American forces to the area might be due to fear of this.
The Administration has shown great strategic ability so far. Events are on track for a 2-7 day conquest of Iraq within a month if Saddam is not assassinated first. The big question is possible use of Iraq's WMD by somebody.