Iraq: January 20, 2003

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Despite their dismal performance in the 1991 war, Iraq did have a military strategy. But it was more political than military, because the Iraqis knew that if the Americans fought, they would defeat Iraq's armed forces. Iraqi military strategy was based on avoiding combat and working on American public opinion. Saddam believed then, and still believes, that if he can kill enough American troops, U.S. politicians will be forced by popular disgust to withdraw. Saddam bases this belief on what happened during the Vietnam war, somehow missing the point that it was eight years and over 50,000 American dead before the United States pulled out of South Vietnam. While you would think that the performance of U.S. forces in 1991 had changed that opinion, the 1993 loss of 18 American soldiers in Somalia, and rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops, restored Iraqi faith in their original belief. Beyond that, Iraqi tactics tried to take advantage of fortifications and fighting in urban areas to maximize the losses of attacking Americans. This didn't work in 1991 because American forces prevented Iraqi units from moving into urban areas, or out of their fortifications once the Iraqis had been surrounded. Also, it was feared that the Iraqis would make a last stand in Kuwait City. But this brought out another characteristic of the Iraqi armed forces; most Iraqi troops were not eager to make a last stand for Saddam. 

In 2003, the Iraqis have made plans for keeping their troops out of deserts or open areas and fighting from areas containing lots of civilians. For the last decade, Iraq has regularly placed their anti-aircraft weapons and radars in civilian areas. This has not saved the Iraqis from getting bombed. In some cases, American warplanes have used concrete filled smart bombs. These weapons would destroy missile launchers or radars without an explosion. Drop a ton of concrete on anything and it is destroyed. The Iraqis have been seen parking armored vehicles in villages or city residential neighborhoods. Same with aircraft and other military vehicles. But until the battle actually begins, most Iraqi troops stay in their barracks. It's easier to control them that way, as Saddam knows that public opinion is largely against him. Mixing the troops with civilians when there's no fighting going on just risks mutiny or desertion.

But when the invasion begins, the Iraqi units will be first told to surrender or die, and then bombed if they don't respond favorably. This message has been regularly delivered by radio and leaflet drop since last year. Even the Republican Guard is no longer trusted, only the "Special Republican Guard" division is allowed inside Baghdad. Saddam also has several hundred thousand secret police and armed Baath Party loyalists inside cities. But these men have also been warned that resistance is death, and surrender will help them beat a war crimes rap. While there are some Iraqis who will fight to the death for Saddam, no matter what, their number is not expected to be large. How does anyone know this? Simple, just look at Iraqi history. You can get Iraqis to be bloody minded enough to run a police state, but when it looks like there's a chance of defeat, flight is the usual response. This happened in southern Iraq when the Shias rebelled in 1991, and when the Kurds up north got American air power behind them. The speed and enthusiasm with which Iraqi surrendered in 1991 is another example of this. When the British invaded in 1941, even though outnumbered three to one and facing an Iraqi population that was behind their government, resistance collapsed in three weeks. Ten years of embargo and Baath Party tyranny has not made most Iraqis any more enthusiastic about dying to defend Saddam. 

Iraqi does have a military strategy, but their main problem is being able to execute it in the face of Coalition interference. Even the use of chemical or biological weapons is problematic. The United States has said it will retaliate harshly if that happens. How many Iraqis are going to test American resolve in that department. In the end, Iraq is depending on dead Iraqi civilians and world public opinion to save them. That's a risky gamble, and one that few Iraqis, or Americans, think will work.


 

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