Baghdad 2003 - Grozny 1995 or Manila 1045?
by Tom Holsinger
April 4, 2003
The coming battle for Baghdad might be ghastly depending on whose vision of urban warfare is proven correct - newly developed concepts by American and British forces, Al Qaeda's based on Russia's 1995 attack on Grozny, or the US Army's "knock 'em all down" technique used in World War Two. It is also possible that we will see a repeat of the 1945 siege of Manila, in which thousands of cornered foreign terrorists murder as many Iraqi civilians as they can while the US Army methodically annihilates the terrorists at relatively little cost to Americans. Japanese forces murdered most of the 100,000 Filipino civilians who died in Manila. Foreign terrorists using Iraqi poison gas could better that total in Baghdad.
But we won't see an Iraqi theory of urban warfare, or anything like the horrendous urban battles fought between the World War Two Nazis and Soviets. Iraqi forces to date have at most skirmished with American and British forces, generally under threat of immediate execution by Baathist loyalists (not Saddam's - he seems to be dead). Baathist grip on Iraqi forces is increasingly shaky as Americans close in on Baghdad, and is likely to entirely evaporate when we enter the city. Iraqi military and regime protection forces are melting away far more from desertion than from casualties or capture. They're just going home as the regime's end becomes more obvious.
But thousands of Islamic terrorists have recently arrived in Iraq to fight Americans. Some Arab tyrannies, notably Syria's and Iran's, are happily exporting inconvenient people to Iraq in this fashion, knowing those won't be problems at home after we kill them. Such tactics are time-honored in the Middle East - 2 Samuel 11 (David, Bathsheba and Uriah) - and elsewhere. A notable recent example is the 1968 Tet Offensive when the North Vietnamese expended their southern brethren (the Viet Cong) in head-on attacks against American and ARVN forces. It was a two-fer - that both broke American will and removed a potential post-war threat to Hanoi's rule of the South.
Al Qaeda intervened in Somalia 1992-93 to fight American forces (Blackhawk Down), and in Chechnya 1995 to fight Russian forces attacking Grozny. Al Qaeda claimed a victory both times, and it is such purported victories which drive intervention in Iraq by Islamic extremists, analogous to the Spanish Civil War's International Brigades, but with far less training, organization and discipline. We encountered many such, chiefly Pakistani, in Afghanistan where they were at most target practice.
The chief role of such idiots, as for their International Brigade equivalents, will be propaganda for their faction. They'll just get themselves killed, but hope they'll take a fair number of Americans with them, based on experience fighting equally incompetent Russians in Grozny. That won't happen - there just aren't enough suicidal Islamic idiots in Baghdad to be more than a nuisance to American forces, save that they'll murder thousands of Iraqi civilians when they get desperate while their mere presence will require our first significant urban combat in over 50 years.
But the idiots aren't the only Islamic volunteers - there are many well-trained Islamic terrorists in Iraq who were reasonably effective in Afghanistan. There will be a real fight for Baghdad if there are enough of them, which is definitely possible, even after Iraqi resistance ceases.
The Marines and British ground forces have been preparing for this type of fight for years. The British have significant experience in urban low-intensity combat from fighting Irish terrorists, and developed doctrine for it that they are now demonstrating in Basra. The Marines have historically been doctrinally innovative, and Baghdad will be the first live-fire test of their new urban doctrine.
The US Army recently developed urban doctrine, based on Israeli experience against the Palestinians will likewise will see its first test in Baghdad, but that is not its only urban combat doctrine. The Army's World War Two urban doctrine remains the most effective known. Here's how they all work.
Traditional - slow methodical removal of enemy forces from the urban terrain, which required vast trained, motivated forces that suffered significant casualties. Trying to speed it up only increased friendly casualties. Civilian casualties/material destruction were horrible.
US Army 1944-51 - methodical removal of the urban terrain, by leveling buildings with explosives while plugging underground utilities with concrete or welded-shut manhole covers. This technique was developed at Aachen in 1944 (80% of all buildings destroyed) and used in Manila in 1945, plus Seoul during the Korean War. This was performed moderately quickly with low casualties to moderate size, well-trained and equipped forces. Civilian casualties were moderate (excepting Manila due to Japanese slaughter of civilians) and material destruction was total.
1995 Grozny - thousands of untrained conscripts drove vehicles through Grozny's streets while being shot at from cover, until their superiors were fired. Then Russian artillery slowly, spasmodically, destroyed the city. Russian casualties were moderate, civilian casualties were bad and material destruction was horrible.
New British - the attackers raid crucial defending positions - C3I & supply, bivouacs, etc., from secure bases outside the urban area, until the defenders' will and/or ability to resist is broken. The enemy forces are the objective, not occupation of the terrain. This is slow and requires development of precise targeting information by highly trained intelligence teams and forces. Friendly and civilian casualties/destruction are minimal.
New American - the Marine version is similar to the British but seems more energetic and hasty, an example being planned insertion of live-bait forces into enemy-held areas to attract attacks that will hopefully be ambushed by covertly inserted Marine forces. I'm not familiar with the Army's version, but it undoubtedly involves more engineers and firepower.
We might not have the time necessary for these new doctrines if the Baathist regime folds soon, as the holdout terrorists might then start slaughtering civilians or using chemical weapons (same effect) to force us to go in quickly. If that happens, the US Army's old reliable technique will be used as many thousand fewer civilians will die from our firepower than at terrorist hands.