Iraq: March 25, 2003

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Why hasn't the Iraqi mass media been destroyed, in order to get Saddam and his propaganda off the air? Probably because we expect to be using it shortly, and to repair damage from a bombing campaign would take months, and costs tens of millions of dollars. During that time, it would be difficult to communicate to the entire Iraqi population. But probably the most important use of Iraqi broadcasting facilities would be after the capture, or death, of Saddam Hussein. You would want to get that news out to Saddam's murderous followers as soon as possible. Because once they saw that their boss was gone, most of these thugs would lose their will to fight.

Speaking of mass media, there is an interesting gap developing between how the mass media sees the progress of the war and how the military (and anyone with a knowledge of military history sees it.) In five days, coalition forces have marched across the country to the outskirts of Baghdad with minimal resistance. At least two Iraqi divisions have melted away, several Republican Guard divisions have been chopped up from the air and all other Iraqi divisions have stayed away from coalition ground units. This is, by historical standards, a remarkable military operation. But in the mass media you get the impression that, because there has been some Iraqi resistance, the coalition effort has been a failure. This odd situation developed because the media incorrectly developed the idea that Iraq would fall immediately. The coalition military leadership knew that Saddam's followers had everything to lose, including their lives, if Saddam was forced out of power. While many of Saddam's thugs could be expected to flee, many would stand and fight and there would be resistance. Moreover, in the past the Iraqis had proved resourceful, clever and, at times, brave. But at the same time, the people of Iraq had not been noted for military accomplishments. It's been several centuries since anyone in Iraq could claim any significant battlefield accomplishments. And in the past 70 years, Iraqi combat capabilities could best be described as dismal. Moreover, after what Saddam has done to Iraq, how many do you think are willing to die defending him?

The coalition plan for ending the war appears to be one of decapitation. In other words, get inside Baghdad, get Saddam and Saddam's supporters will collapse. This is a reasonable plan, because Saddam has built a one man dictatorship. No "central committee" here. Saddam's designated successors are his two sons, neither of whom have their fathers talents for survival. American generals have, in the past week, hinted at "lots of surprises" and getting troops to the outskirts of Baghdad is not one of them. Operations in the city are another thing. Kept carefully out of the media has been many of the operations of over a thousand Special Forces and commandos known to be in the area. The only commando operation to, so far, get any attention was a raid on some Iraqi offshore oil facilities and the seizure of airfields in western Iraq. U.S. Navy SEALs and Polish commandos were involved off shore, and unidentified "special operations troops" out in the desert. 

But where are the rest of these super soldiers? Some have been rumored to be moving about inside Baghdad. Some may be in northern Iraq. Most likely, many of the commandos are doing what they are trained to do. That means long range scouting, preferably deep in enemy territory. Like Baghdad. And what would they be looking for in the city? Saddam's many hiding places and how Saddam and his key aides are moving about. 

When coalition divisions move on Baghdad, the best use of commandos would be for them to attack inside the city while the combat divisions attack from the suburbs. This is classic commando work. In conjunction with the U.S. Army's Airborne Rangers, a brigade of paratroopers and the 101st Airmobile division, a rapid and powerful attack could be made on many areas in Baghdad simultaneously. This is real "shock and awe." It might even work.

But these operations are risky and don't always succeed. But if commandos are to be used in a big way, Saddam is the kind of "high value" target that you would aim for.

The U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry division and the U.S. Marine 1st Division are within a day's march of Baghdad. Both divisions are wiping out small units of Baath Party loyalists in cities they are passing. In most of the smaller towns and villages, they are met with smiles and cheers. You can always tell which places the secret police and Baath Party have fled. British units are going into Basra to clear out secret police units and to insure that relief supplies get in and electricity and water supplies are restored. With a population of about 1.2 million, it is the largest city in southern Iraq.

The coalition bombers are now concentrating on military targets and, apparently, targets discovered by commando teams all over Iraq. 

Saddams use of secret police and Baath Party officials to force army units to fight (or be shot) has had some success in southern Iraq. The Saddam loyalists, and impressed troops are not numerous, perhaps a few thousand men, but they have long range weapons like artillery and mortars and this is forcing coalition troops to go into Basra and other southern cities to clear them out. But because the enemy forces are so small, not a lot of coalition forces are being detached to take care of them. 

Coalition commanders refuse to answer media questions about where the coalition airborne forces are (the 101ths Airmobile division and one brigade of paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne division) and what they are going to be used for. But all indications are that these troops are going to be used for some kind of surprise attack in and around Baghdad. 

The US Congress has been asked for $75 billion to pay for the war in Iraq, which, according to that request, will last a month.

The Patriot missile that shot down a British Tornado fighter over the weekend did so because of a software problem that ignored the Tornado's IFF signals (that the Tornado was friendly) and instead had the Tornado showing up on the Patriot radar as an enemy missile or aircraft.

More Special Forces and commandos are showing up in Kurdish controlled northern Iraq, where they will either help defeat about a thousand Islamic militants near the Iran border, keep the Turkish army from entering Iraq and setting off battles with the Kurds, or assisting with an Afghanistan like advance south using Kurdish militias and bombers over head. Or all three.

Not heard from, but much in evidence, are ground reconnaissance aircraft like JSTARS and Predator drones. These are observing vehicle traffic in much of Iraq, round the clock. Some of the Predators are armed with Hellfire missiles, which have been used against anti-aircraft guns that were threatening Predator operations.

 

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