On Point

Iraq March 2003, What Happens Next?

by Austin Bay
March 5, 2003would involve at least 200,000 U.S. troops. As of this week, the United States has 250,000 troops deployed in the region.

Is it D-Day? What happens now?

For starters, the deployment is already a successful campaign in the War on Terror. Al Qaeda cannot ignore the American build-up around Iraq, nor can Al Qaeda stand pat as the United States drives a sword into its support and funding network. The United States has created a situation where Al Qaeda either loses ideological credibility or must risk operations during a time of focused U.S. intelligence activity. Terror cells and Al Qaeda leaders become easier targets for CIA and police action.

Let me add two other points: (1) More troops could enter the region -- no general refuses another division -- but wargaming analysis indicates the 200,000 to 250,000 figure provides an initial overwhelming advantage in combat power plus reserves to meet the unexpected. (2) Turkey's failure to permit U.S. ground troops is a problem, but it isn't insurmountable. Even if there is no "Turkish front" with U.S. forces moving directly into Iraq from Turkey, a Northern Front is already active and has been since 1991, with the implementation of No Fly Zones to protect vulnerable Kurds. Credible reports going back to fall 2002 place U.S. special operations forces (SOF) in northern Iraq.

Turkey may have second thoughts. If Turkey does not fully support a U.S. offensive, it risks having less say in the affairs of a post-Saddam Iraq.

So here are some potential military options:

  • Don't attack, and withdraw. This is an option. Likely result? Saddam gets nukes. Prepare for a nuclear 9-11. This option also condemns another generation of Iraqis to regime-inflicted torture, rape and mass murder.

  • Psyops Triumph. Saddam quits Baghdad, by coup or negotiated exile. The presence of 250,000 troops creates pressure. CIA emails have rattled the Iraqi elite. Broadcasts and leaflet drops do affect Iraqi troop morale, especially when backed with air attacks that demonstrate U.S. firepower. This is where Turkey's failure to permit U.S. ground troops is particularly damaging; it lowers the psychological pressure on Saddam's clique.

  • Slow Roll. Astute observers argue this is already in progress, given the presence of SOF in Iraq. One analyst argues that the "creeping offensive" began in September 2002 with a heavy air attack on the H-3 airbase complex in western Iraq. As the "slow roll" accelerates, SOF and airmobile (helicopter) units occupy oilfields and religious sites to protect them. A hard rain of precision munitions smacks WMD sites, the Republican Guard and Special Republican Guards. U.S. armor links up with the lighter forces. The thrust to Baghdad is delayed, as Saddam's Iraq strangles in a noose of U.S. armor and airpower. Liberated Iraqis -- before BBC cameras -- demand the end of Saddam's regime.

  • Fast Roll. The Slow Roll accelerated, with armor units moving directly to isolate and destroy resistance near Baghdad and Tikrit.

  • Big Show, Version 1. This option requires U.S. troops moving out of Turkey. Armor seizes oilfields, armor and airmobile units seize cities, with Saddam's hometown of Tikrit a key objective. This "multi-axis attack" is designed to stop any use of WMD, freeze Iraqi resistance and also protect Iraqis seeking liberation.

  • Big Show, Version 2. No Turkish front, so the major thrust is armor moving from south to north. However, light units could link up with Kurd rebels in the north.

Use of WMD by Saddam loyalists remains the biggest concern, not only to U.S. forces but Iraq's neighbors and the Iraqi people. WMD, however, are an existing threat that eliminating Saddam diminishes. Given the Iraqi people's hatred for Saddam, don't expect Baghdad to become Stalingrad.

If a city fight develops, several analysts suggest the U.S. attack on Panama City in 1989 is a better historical model. Weakly defended and isolated buildings ripe for precision strike characterized that scrap. Republican Guards in "web defenses," where key military positions are sited near hospitals, schools and religious sites, and are then linked by underground tunnels, are another concern. However, executing such a defense -- once surrounded -- requires deeply committed troops, and that's something Saddam knows he doesn't have.

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