Iraq: March 26, 2003

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So far, a week of operations in Iraq has left 20 U.S. troops dead (eight from accidents) and seven captured. This is much lower than the casualty rate during the 1991 war. Iraqi military combat deaths appear to be at least several thousand, and the coalition has taken 3,500 Iraqi troops prisoner so far. Millions of leaflets dropped in southern Iraq has urged Iraqi soldiers to stay in their camps, or just go home. Many Iraqi soldiers have taken the advice and deserted, in some cases killing officers who tried to stop them. Hundreds of Iraqi armored vehicles and trucks have been seen abandoned in the desert and towns. 

Coalition troops advancing on Baghdad were slowed down in the last 24 hours by severe sand storms, followed by thunder and lighting and heavy rains. Some fighting did continue, with several hundred Iraqi troops killed in a battle near al An Najaf. No coalition casualties were reported. 

The storms have grounded many helicopters, but many warplanes are able to fly above the storms and drop satellite guided (GPS) JDAM bombs accurately. Russian built GPS jammers were apparently also attacked and put out of action. The jammers were destroyed with JDAMs, which have an unjammable back up guidance system that is not as accurate (will land within 100 feet of the target, rather than 40 feet when the GPS is working.) With a 2000 pound JDAM, the difference in accuracy does not matter much. Bombers have been using more accurate laser guided bombs, especially when attacking enemy armored vehicles parked in residential areas. The laser guided bombs will land within 20-30 feet of the aiming point.

While combat troops are stalled by the storms, supply convoys are moving up with more fuel and ammunitions for the coming battle for Baghdad. This will probably take place with the week, depending on the unpredictable Spring weather.

American intelligence reports that the Republican Guard has been issued chemical shells for their artillery and told to use it if coalition combat units cross the "Red Line" (entering the suburbs of Baghdad.) To use chemical weapons within the suburbs or city itself would kill far more Iraqi civilians (and soldiers) than it would coalition troops (who are well prepared for chemical weapons.) Such use of chemical weapons would cause some coalition casualties, but would not stop the advance.

Coalition troops brought with them field hospitals, and hospital ships, containing several thousand beds, and medical staff to support them. These facilities have not been idle. As with the 1991 war, most of the people being treated are Iraqi soldiers or civilians. 

In Basra, and other southern towns, the British Royal Marine Commandos (RMC) have found an effective tactic to deal with resistance by guerillas. Most of these fighters are Saddam's supporters (local Baath Party, Fedayeen thugs, secret police) who normally run the area. The RMC raid the local Baath Party headquarters (usually a large, well fortified building) at night, kill most of the people inside and take the rest prisoner. This sort of thing demoralizes Saddam's loyalists (often causing many of them to flee for Baghdad) and encourages any local armed resistance against Saddam.

The Royal Marine Commandos have also been more aggressive in patrolling and keeping an eye on what's happening around them. They are disdainful of U.S. Army procedures, that put more emphasis on the use of aerial reconnaissance, armored vehicles and air power. But, then, the Royal Marine Commandos are commandos.

Marines fighting around An Nasiriyah, found thousands of Iraqi gas masks and chemical suits. They also seized a hospital that was clearly being used for military purposes (a serious violation of the Geneva Conventions that give hospitals immunity from attack.) Iraqi troops have been fleeing the advancing marines, apparently aware of who was attacking them and what had happened (it was not good) to Iraqi troops who stood and fought the marines. 

As more Iraqi military bases and industrial parks are overrun, an increasing number of suspicious bunkers and carefully hidden (from aerial observation) buildings are found. Chemical detection teams are moving about these sites checking for the presence of chemical or biological weapons.

In central Iraq, a U.S. F-16 mistakenly bombed an American Patriot missile battery radar, thinking it was an Iraqi radar. The Patriot units are moving north with the troops to provide protection from Iraqi missile attacks. The Iraqi air force appears to have been completely destroyed.

Overnight, Iraqi television facilities were bombed, but Iraqi television was back on the air within three hours using backup sites. Only the main TV studios were hit, in Baghdad near the Ministry of Information. The entire Iraqi mass media operation comprises dozens of targets, particularly transmitters and satellite communications facilities. The coalition said that this attack was not primarily against Iraqi mass media, but against Iraqi military communications and command operations.

Armed Shias came out of nowhere and began attacking armed Saddam supporters in Basra. British troops quickly established contact with the Shias and coordinated the British and Shia attacks on the secret police and Baath Party militia. The Shia rebelled in 1991, but Saddam eventually put this down and inflicted savage reprisals. The most active Shia opponents, who survived this, fled to Iran. Here, these rebels have been organized into light infantry units. But so far, these Iranian supported Shia rebels have not been active and are not thought to be behind this uprising in Shia Basra. But some Shia in southern Iraq were known to still have their weapons, carefully hidden for over ten years. If coalition troops get the word out in Iraq that armed Iraqi resistance has begun, this would encourage other Iraqis to take up arms against Saddams thugs.

Saddam has dominated Iraq by cutting deals. Think of it like a large criminal gang. You support the "Boss of Bosses" (Saddam) and you get some bit of business (smuggling, taxing a local area, a cut of "Oil for Food" loot) in return. Most Iraqis do not have jobs, because Saddam has nationalized most large companies, and the UN oil embargo has shut down many others. So a government job is a major perk, and buys the loyalty of an entire family. There are also purely criminal operations working for Saddam. Chief among these are "Saddam's Fedayeen." These guys are pure street thugs who do dirty work (kidnapping, murder, beatings, intimidation) that the secret police can't, or won't, handle. In return, the Fedayeen are allowed to run various rackets or even get a government job. The tribes of Iraq (there are over a hundred) dominate politics in the south and out west. Actually, just about everyone in Iraq, including the Kurds, can tell you which tribe or clan they belong to. But at least a third of the population depends on tribal leaders for social services (justice and welfare) and Saddam has many tribal chiefs on the payroll. However, Saddam is no dummy and knows that the tribal chiefs main loyalty is to tribal welfare, not whoever is bribing the chief. 



 

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