On Point: Iraq March 2003, What Happens Next?

by Austin Bay
March 5, 2003

Eleven months ago, I wrote a column that said an attack on Iraqwould involve at least 200,000 U.S. troops. As of this week, the UnitedStates has 250,000 troops deployed in the region.

Is it D-Day? What happens now?

For starters, the deployment is already a successful campaign inthe 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 itssupport and funding network. The United States has created a situation whereAl Qaeda either loses ideological credibility or must risk operations duringa time of focused U.S. intelligence activity. Terror cells and Al Qaedaleaders become easier targets for CIA and police action.

Let me add two other points: (1) More troops could enter theregion -- no general refuses another division -- but wargaming analysisindicates the 200,000 to 250,000 figure provides an initial overwhelmingadvantage in combat power plus reserves to meet the unexpected. (2) Turkey'sfailure to permit U.S. ground troops is a problem, but it isn'tinsurmountable. Even if there is no "Turkish front" with U.S. forces movingdirectly into Iraq from Turkey, a Northern Front is already active and hasbeen since 1991, with the implementation of No Fly Zones to protectvulnerable 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 fullysupport a U.S. offensive, it risks having less say in the affairs of apost-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 condemnsanother generation of Iraqis to regime-inflicted torture, rape and massmurder.

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

  • Slow Roll. Astute observers argue this is already inprogress, given the presence of SOF in Iraq. One analyst argues that the"creeping offensive" began in September 2002 with a heavy air attack on theH-3 airbase complex in western Iraq. As the "slow roll" accelerates, SOF andairmobile (helicopter) units occupy oilfields and religious sites to protectthem. A hard rain of precision munitions smacks WMD sites, the RepublicanGuard and Special Republican Guards. U.S. armor links up with the lighterforces. The thrust to Baghdad is delayed, as Saddam's Iraq strangles in anoose 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 movingdirectly to isolate and destroy resistance near Baghdad and Tikrit.

  • Big Show, Version 1. This option requires U.S. troops movingout of Turkey. Armor seizes oilfields, armor and airmobile units seizecities, with Saddam's hometown of Tikrit a key objective. This "multi-axisattack" is designed to stop any use of WMD, freeze Iraqi resistance and alsoprotect Iraqis seeking liberation.

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

Use of WMD by Saddam loyalists remains the biggest concern, notonly to U.S. forces but Iraq's neighbors and the Iraqi people. WMD, however,are an existing threat that eliminating Saddam diminishes. Given the Iraqipeople'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 defendedand isolated buildings ripe for precision strike characterized that scrap.Republican Guards in "web defenses," where key military positions are sitednear hospitals, schools and religious sites, and are then linked byunderground tunnels, are another concern. However, executing such adefense -- once surrounded -- requires deeply committed troops, and that'ssomething Saddam knows he doesn't have.

To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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