Iraq: March 23, 2003

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The Iraqis know how to play the "Shock and Awe" and Effects Based Warfare" game. Their media pronouncements make much of the armed resistance in the south, claiming that the Iraqis fighting there are part of a six million man militia that is sworn to fight to the death. These claim to have several American soldiers as prisoners, as well as pictures of destroyed American tanks. Both of these claims are likely bogus, but they play well in the Arab media (which is even less devoted to accuracy and follow-up than the Western media.) This is a classic example of aggressive Iraqi use of the media in a way that will resonate in the Arab world and among anti-Western populations. 

Captured Iraqi soldiers around Basra report that a hundred or so Republican Guards were doing the fighting in the area. This explains the odd situation where the vast majority of Iraqi troops are surrendering or deserting, yet small numbers are fighting to the death. But coalition troops have seized the huge oil fields, containing half of Iraq's oil, around Basra, as well as the pumping and shipping facilities. 

The Iraqi strategy of using small groups of Saddam loyalists to fight everywhere makes sense. There are few coalition ground troops, certainly not enough to occupy the towns and cities they are passing by, or through. This is causing problems. You've got to get someone into the Iraqi populated area, because the ruling Baath party has armed activists everywhere. These men will either continue to cow the population, or get involved in a battle with local Iraqi rebels (especially in the south, where most of the population is Shiite and very anti-Saddam.)

The 3rd Mechanized division continues moving towards Baghdad, and is now within about 200 kilometers of the city. Special Forces and commandos are seizing airfields and other facilities. Actually, in most of these operations, the Special Forces are operating as commandos, one of the many jobs they are qualified to carry out. In many cases, the commandos appear to be looking for chemical and biological weapons as well as senior Iraqi leaders. Not much is being said about these operations, mainly because they depend so much on secrecy and stealth to succeed. 

The media has had a hard time with new terms like "Shock and Awe" (invented by an American) and "Effects Based Operations" (invented by a Brit to mean the same thing). This is understandable, for many in the military are a little perplexed as well. In reality, both of these terms are new ways to describe the 70 year old "Blitzkrieg." This form of "lightning war" using mechanized troops and warplanes, was first formulated and practiced in the 1930s. Played out in Iraq, the aircraft drop smart bombs and the ground troops move faster than they did during World War II. The major change is the role of the media, which can broadcast instant reports of news as it unfolds, and plays a larger role in shaping events. "Shock and Awe" has as much to do with headlines as it does with bombs. The new blitzkrieg also has access to better intelligence collection, and the speed that this information is distributed to the troops. And then there's the "battlefield Internet," which, while still under construction, is being used in Iraq. All this is complicated by the fact that there are two separate wars going on simultaneously. The most obvious one is purely military, visible as exploding bombs and armored vehicles racing across the desert. Then there is the psychological warfare campaign, waged via email (between American and Iraqi generals), leaflets (showing Iraqi troops how to surrender) and pronouncements (about how we will deal with post-Saddam Iraq.) It's a war of nerves between the coalition and the thousands of senior Iraqi military officers. 

In Baghdad, reporters were allowed to see some of the civilian casualties of the bombing. There weren't many casualties and some reporters noted that many of the wounded were hurt by anti-aircraft shells that fell back to earth. This has always been a major cause of casualties in cities defended by anti-aircraft guns. Most of the civilian casualties during the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor were from those fragments and bullets coming back down.

The 4th Infantry division, originally scheduled for movement through Turkey to northern Iraq, are now having the ships with their weapons and equipment moved from the coast of Turkey, through the Suez canal to Kuwait. They will arrive in about a week after waiting for several weeks in the Mediterranean while Turkey decided not to help.

It's feared that a Patriot surface to air missile battery shot down a British Tornado fighter-bomber and killed the two man crew. The likely cause would have been a defective IFF (identify, friend of foe) transmitter on the Tornado. If the aircraft was brought down, this would be the first time the Patriot shot down an aircraft under combat conditions (it has been done in tests.) British scientists invented the IFF device during World War II, to prevent friendly fire incidents. But there's always been problems with faulty IFF devices leading to friendly fire anyway.

In the north, last nights American bomber and missile attacks apparently killed about 150 members of Ansar al-Islam and an allied group in the same area. Now, American warplanes are coming in and dropping 2000 pound smart bombs, apparently under the direction of U.S. Special Forces. It appears that Afghanistan tactics are being used here, with Ansar and it's friends being fought as if they were Taliban.

 

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