Iraq: April 2, 2003


Coalition warplanes are flying 1500-2000 sorties a day, most of them against Republican Guard divisions south of Baghdad. While these attacks are largely with smart bombs, what makes them particularly lethal is smart target spotting. Special Forces patrols on the ground combine with JSTARS airborne ground radar, spy satellites and UAVs to track Iraqi troops on the ground much more precisely than during the 1991 war. Twelve years ago, the Iraqis were able to elude most of the bombs. According to prisoners of war and defectors, this is not the case in 2003. Republican Guard divisions find their casualties climbing and morale dropping. The coalition is keeping over a hundred bombers in the air 24/7, ready to drop smart bombs on enemy troops in contact with U.S. troops or seen moving from the air. Although the Republican Guard have dug their trenches in orchids, villages and anywhere there is cover, they are still spotted and promptly bombed. Most civilians have fled, warned by weeks of coalition radio broadcasts and leaflet drops to leave if they see Iraqi troops or equipment near them. The coalition was blunt with Iraqi civilians and told them that Iraqi troops would be bombed no matter where they tried to hide. For the Republican Guard troops south of Baghdad, that means there is no place to hide. Some Republican Guard battalions are beginning to disappear, from casualties and desertions. American troops are taking advantage of this by advancing north from Karbala and Nassiriya. A key bridge over the Tigres river was taken today as well, blocking the retreat of some Republican Guard units. Karbala is surrounded and American troops are moving north of it. 

The coalition tactic is to constantly probe Iraqi defenses, bombing or fighting Iraqi troops where they are found and be ready to move forward quickly where Iraqi resistance disappears (due to retreat or destruction of Iraqi troops). There are at least three American columns advancing on Baghdad. The U.S. army (3rd Mechanized and 101st Airborne divisions) are coming up towards the western side of the city. Two columns from the reinforced 1st Marine division are advancing towards the southern and eastern suburbs of the city.

Near Karbala and Kut, U.S. army and marine artillery combined with the aerial bombing of nearby Iraqi troops to allow a coalition advance against the Republican Guard. Now it becomes obvious, as it did in 1991, that the Republican Guard are not elite and well trained, but simply well paid and more loyal to Saddam. If the Republican Guards are thrown back trying to hold the line 80 kilometers south of Baghdad, many Saddam loyalists will rethink their willingness to resist. 

What is particularly disheartening to the Iraqis is that they can fight the coalition, but they find it almost impossible to kill or injure their better trained foes. Moreover, Iraq is under siege, with very little getting in. Most of Iraq's border crossings are observed, or controlled, by coalition Special Forces and commandos. 

Baghdad has had most major government buildings destroyed, including key telephone system targets. While the lights are still on in Baghdad, most of the phones no longer work. 

In northern Iraq, bombing has died down. A few hundred Iraqi troops desert each day, some of them going north to give up to Kurds and American troops. Interrogations of Iraqi prisoners and (for the most part) deserters is the most valuable source of information. Unlike 1991, the U.S. has a lot more Arab linguists this time and is able to question deserting Iraqi soldiers more quickly and in greater detail. This is providing useful information that is sent right back to coalition combat units, or warplanes heading north looking for targets. In addition to deserters, more Iraqi civilians are providing information on the local Saddam loyalists. In some villages and neighborhoods, coalition troops have encountered cheering crowds. This is because the local Saddam supporters have fled. 

In central and western Iraq, U.S. Special Forces have made contact with tribal leaders and won some of them over to the anti-Saddam cause. About a quarter of the Iraqi population has a strong tribal connection, and many of these have guns, legal or illegal. Iraqi tribesmen have been fighting with U.S. troops moving up from the south as well as Special Forces operating in the west. 

In the last 24 hours, fast moving coalition forces, and commandos, have captured at least half a dozen Iraqi generals, along with many colonels and the like who work for some of these generals. All of these officers are being interrogated about the state of Iraqi troops and combat capability, as well as Iraqis chemical weapons. 

In Basra, British troops continue to refine the successful tactics they have developed for countering the Iraqi use of (often forced) irregulars. The British clear the irregulars out of one neighborhood and develop more informers among the civilians who will identify where local irregulars, and Saddam loyalists, are headquartered. The British then go in, usually at night, and attack the irregulars. This has made it more difficult for the Saddam loyalists, as many of their core people have fled and it is harder to recruit new members, or even coerce local Iraqis, to fight coalition troops. Throughout southern Iraq, more Iraqi civilians are willing to provide information on where the Saddam loyalists are operating from, which usually leads to a precise attack on them. That, coupled with the general ineffectiveness of armed attacks on coalition troops, is inducing despair among Saddam supporters. 

The first members of the U.S. 4th Infantry Division arrived in Kuwait. Their equipment is days away from the Persian Gulf. 

The U.S. program to train Iraqi exiles to operate with American troops has ended. Two groups of Iraqi volunteers went through a month of training in a Hungarian camp. The U.S. never released numbers on the trainees, but local Hungarians estimate that the two classes comprised 50-100 Iraqis. Most of these volunteers are now with American units in Iraq, operating as translators and negotiators. Since all these people were born and raised in Iraq, they have been very useful. 


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