Iraq: March 31, 2003

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Intelligence reports (electronic eavesdropping and prisoner interrogations) indicate that families of senior Iraqi officials are attempting, or planning, to flee the country. Syria is the most likely destination, although with enough cash, Iran and Saudi Arabia are possibilities. 

Iraq's threat of hundred's of suicide bomber attacks has yet to materialize. A lot of this has to do with logistics. You have to acquire vehicles and explosives and figure out how to get your guy and his vehicle close enough to coalition troops to set off the bomb with any effect. But coalition security measures have been tightened, and Iraqi civilian vehicles that do not keep their distance and stop when ordered, are fired on. There will probably be more suicide bomber opportunities in liberated cities and towns, but in those cases, the local Iraqis are likely to report any suicide bombing operations. 

Mindful of boasts by pro-Saddam Arabs, coalition commandos in western Iraq have established check points on the few roads from Jordan. Anyone thought to be potentially hostile is turned back. The commandos in western Iraq are also moving their operations closer to Iraq, calling in air strikes on Iraqi military convoys it finds moving too far west of Baghdad. 

The Iraqi air force has not been destroyed. One Iraqi MiG-25 (a high speed recon aircraft that can carry weapons) was spotted in the air over coalition troops, but escaped and landed at an unknown location before coalition fighters could catch it. Coalition AWACS air control aircraft radars do not cover all of Iraq. There are areas north of Baghdad where you could hide warplanes in towns and villages, and use a nearby highway for landings and takeoffs.

US troops also spotted what appeared to be two ultralight civilian aircraft. Not sure who they belonged to, by the time coalition troops could confirm that they were Iraqi, the ultralights were gone. It is feared that the ultralights, crop dusters or civilian aircraft might be used for chemical weapons attacks. 

Pundits in the United States are now making much of the failure of the "Shock and Awe" blitzkrieg to immediately bring down Saddam's government. For the last two decades, there has been a debate going on in the Pentagon between the "Heavy Metal Crowd" (advocates of lots of tanks and firepower) and the "Jedi Knights" (pushing new technology and tactics, like "Shock and Awe" and what was done in Afghanistan). The Jedi Knights won the argument for what battle plan to use in Iraq, but now the Heavy Metal Crowd are striking back, feeding stories to journalists eager for a scoop and a scandal. But there's no scoop or scandal, as even the Heavy Metal Crowd recognizes that military technology and tactics are changing. The debate in the Pentagon is over how quickly it is changing and how much of that change should be applied to any new military situation. 

Another potential problem coalition commanders have to deal with is one or more Iraqi exile groups sneaking in and setting up a "Free Iraqi Government" in some liberated corner of the country. The original plan apparently was going to avoid this problem by going straight for Baghdad. But now, several other significant Iraqi cities are being cleared of their Saddam supporters, providing opportunities for impromptu "Free Iraqi Governments."


Forward to the Rear- The brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division that was thought to be held in reserve for an attack on Baghdad, has now been sent after Iraqi irregulars. In fact, most coalition troops are fighting the irregulars now. The decision was made over the last few days to go after the leaders of the irregulars and shut down these operations. Today, American troops in Najaf and Samawah killed over a hundred irregulars and captured fifty. The prisoners are particularly useful, because they tell of how much the local irregular units are being forced to fight, and how many are Saddam loyalists. As long as Saddam has been in power, Saddam has used a combination of rewards and terror to get people to do what he wants. The rewards of money and power motivate his key leaders, down the Baath party leader in small towns and villages. For anyone else who refuses to cooperate, threats to the individual and his family usually do the trick. However, many victims simply flee, which is why there are currently some three million Iraqis living in exile. Some don't get away, which is why Saddam has killed half a million Iraqis and jailed another 100,000.

In southern Iraq, the Baath Party organization was already there, guarded by secret police and thugs (the "Saddam's Fedayeen") used to terrorize those deemed insufficiently loyal. Over the last six months, the Baath Party and their henchmen were keeping a low profile in southern Iraq, not sure what the Americans were going to do. When the invasion came, the coalition troops went right by the cities and large towns. Saddam ordered his local followers to ambush and snipe at any coalition troops they came across. Saddam also ordered deserters from the army to be terrorized or executed, to inspire the others. Saddam's loyalists had an incentive to fight, for if Saddam fell, they would feel the retribution from the people they had terrorized for years. 

Saddam's strategy had some success, but at great cost to the Iraqis involved. For every coalition soldier killed, the irregulars lost over a hundred. The Iraqi soldiers were poorly trained, and the Saddam loyalists had been out of the army for years. The highly trained coalition troops initially treated the attacks as a nuisance. But now the irregulars are being hunted inside their neighborhoods. The British, especially the Royal Marine Commandos, led the move in this direction. Over the last week, attacks on the irregulars by British troops around Basra has put the irregulars on the defensive and yielded valuable prisoners (high ranking officers) and documents (indicating how the irregulars program is organized and working.) 

U.S. Marines raided into the town of Shatra, 30 kilometers north of Nassiriya, looking for the leaders of irregular units. Around Basra, British infantry are going into suburban towns were irregular headquarters are known to be. The coalition has a tremendous intelligence advantage, with round the clock electronic eavesdropping and UAVs overhead with night vision equipment. Moreover, an increasing number of Iraqi civilians, terrorized by decades of Saddam's rule, are coming forward with information about irregulars operations. 

Air attacks, with smart bombs and cruise missiles, continue against Baghdad and other cities in the north. The air attacks in the north are also against Iraqi army units in the field. Some of these attacks are being directed by Special Forces teams, as they were in Afghanistan. This has caused the Iraqi troops to keep pulling back. Moreover, thousands of Iraqi troops in the north are deserting, despite threats against their families for doing so.

Air attacks against Republican Guard divisions around Baghdad continue. The U.S. Air Force is trying to avoid the mistakes made in Kosovo in 1999. There, the Serbs managed to deceive the air force on a major scale, preventing all but a few dozen of their armored vehicles from actually being hit. The Serbs have openly shared information with the Iraqis on how they did this. All the Serbs did was systematically apply deception measures developed during World War II. The Iraqis showed they knew how to deceive bombers overhead during the 1991 bombing campaign in Kuwait. Whatever deceptions are used will be revealed when coalition ground troops go in an examine what was destroyed by them and what was eliminated earlier by bombs. 

Australian mine clearing ships continue to find more Iraqi naval mines around Umm Qasr. Security around the port is tight, as Saddam has apparently ordered his supporters to shut down the port at all costs. Saddam does not want a lot of humanitarian supplies coming in here, as that would make it more difficult for his loyalists to control the population. 

 

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