Iraq: March 22, 2003

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The U.S. 3rd Mechanized division continues its advance through the desert and is expected to reach the outskirts of Baghdad this weekend. Along the way, about 100 kilometers north of Kuwait, the division seized a military airfield (apparently undefended) and are preparing it for use as a base. 

The 101st Airborne division has entered Iraq, although it is unknown where many of the division's 270 helicopters are headed inside Iraq.

One entire Iraqi division, the 51st Mechanized, has surrendered outside Basra. The city itself is nearly surrounded by coalition forces. Groups of Iraqi troops have been seen parking their vehicles in accordance with instructions on surrender leaflets dropped recently. Advancing coalition troops are finding lots of empty Iraqi trenches and fortifications, as well as abandoned tanks and military equipment. The leaflets advise Iraqi troops to stay in their camps or barracks, which saves coalition troops the hassle of penning them up and taking care of them. It's much easier for small units of military police to visit the Iraqi troops in their camps and arrange for the delivery of food and medical care. As in 1991, a lot of Iraqi troops are just going home. This may be more frequent this time around, because in 1991, Iraqi deserters had to risk a fatal encounter with Saddam's secret police while traveling home. In 2003, many of the secret police will be deserting as well.

The American and British troops advancing towards Basra are encountering a few groups of Iraqi troops that resist, and are quickly overcome. Coalition troops are taking oil fields in southern Iraq, including the largest one in the country. Some seven oil wells have been set on fire (out of over a thousand in the country.) So far, two U.S. Marines have died in combat, and another 20 or so were killed in flying accidents. With over 200,000 troops in action, this is an extremely low casualty rate. 

In north Iraq, dozens of missiles or smart bombs have been seen going off around villages held by Islamic radical Kurds of the Ansar al-Islam organization. There are thought to be U.S. Special Forces involved helping Kurdish troops destroy Ansar fighters. At the same time, the Turks have sent about a thousand commandos into northern Iraq, despite American requests that they do not. There are already about a thousand troops in the area, and have been there for some years. American Special Forces in northern Iraq will have their hands full keeping Kurds and Turks from fighting each other. 

The air campaign picked up, with over 300 cruise missiles and over 1,000 smart bombs dropped in one night (Friday night, Saturday morning). Warplanes used included F-15E two seat bombers, F-16 fighters as well as B-1B, B-2 and B-52 heavy bombers and F-117A stealth aircraft. Some of the B-2's came from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, most came from some 30 bases in the Middle East. The Navy aircraft came carriers in the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean. Targets appeared to be military headquarters, long distance communications and anti-aircraft defenses. The national leadership is having a harder time communicating with the armed forces and secret police, and the U.S. is taking advantage of this by increasing negotiations, and attempts at negotiation, with Iraqi generals and government politicians. So far, the use of Iraqi exiles to establish contact with Iraqi leaders has had some success. Negotiations are becoming more frequent and intense. Saddam may well be injured and incapacitated, as the initial missile attacks do appear to have hit a command bunker full of senior Iraqis meeting with Saddam. As more Iraqi troops surrender and more Iraqi territory is overrun, more negotiations will succeed. Despite the hundreds of bombs that fell on Baghdad, the lights stayed on.

Coalition troops appear to have seized two airfields in western Iraq. Special Forces and commandos have been active, but quiet about exactly what they are doing.

 

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