Iraq: April 6, 2003

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After sixteen days of combat, U.S. forces have suffered 234 combat casualties (65 killed, 154 wounded, eight missing and seven prisoners.) Another 14 have died in accidents. Casualties continue to be about five per day per division, a lower rate than the 1991 war and only about two percent of the losses suffered by American divisions during World War II for similar operations. The reasons for the remarkably low casualty rate are better training, tactics and protective equipment. Eleven aircraft, mostly helicopters, have been lost (destroyed or severely damaged), as well as twelve armored vehicles. The aircraft and armor losses include accidents and enemy fire. 

In northern Iraq, a U.S. warplane bombed American Special Forces and Kurdish militia by mistake, causing several deaths and many injured. The American troops were moving on the road in vehicles. There have been several (3-4) such incidents so far in the war, and many close calls. The battlefield is a chaotic place, and much effort has gone into eliminating these friendly fire incidents since the 1991 Gulf War. No one has yet come up with a perfect solution yet, and probably no one ever will.

The unexpected, April 4th, removal of the commander of one of the three U.S. Marine regiments advancing on Baghdad has been explained. The division commander expected much more aggressive leadership from Colonel Joe Dowdy, the commander of the 1st Marine Regiment. It was Dowdy's first combat command and he favored a more careful approach that minimized friendly casualties. The marine riflemen under his command knew and appreciated this. But the culture of the marines is one of more aggressive action, as least according to Dowdy's boss. This situation may have been made worse by the fact that the U.S. Army 3rd Mechanized division was the first into Baghdad. While no one officially spoke of any "competition", the issue was tossed about jokingly, or seriously, by pundits, reporters and some of the troops over the last two weeks.


Over the last two days, U.S. warplanes and troops from the 101st Airborne division raided Republican Guard troops north of Karbala. Helicopters landed the U.S. soldiers after bombers had hit Iraqi vehicles and dug in troops. Iraqi trucks and armored vehicles cannot move without the risk of being seen by American reconnaissance aircraft or UAVs overhead. Once spotted, a smart bomb could show up within minutes. Coalition bombers constantly patrol overhead, waiting for Iraqi targets to be spotted from the air, or from the ground by coalition troops. Airmobile troops from the 101st Airborne are being sent in now because many of the Republican Guard troops are moving about using civilian vehicles. It's also been noted that many of the remaining Republican Guard troops are officers, and some of these are useful as prisoners for interrogation. Smart bombs can't take prisoners, paratroopers can.

Overnight, more coalition artillery moved up and began hitting targets inside Baghdad. More armor and mechanized infantry battalions have also moved to the outskirts of the city. The city is sprawling, like Los Angeles, with lots of wide boulevards and clumps of high rise buildings. Lots of places for Iraqi artillery to set up and fire at American troops on the outskirts. But U.S. aerial reconnaissance is persistent. Iraqi armored vehicles that come out into the open for too long are shelled or bombed. If a building is identified as a military target (an ammo dump, headquarters or barracks), it is hit. Iraqi troops try to keep their combat vehicles inside industrial buildings or garages, and have the troops live among civilians in residential areas. Military headquarters are usually put in hospitals, schools or mosques. 

Secret negotiations continue with members of Saddam's government. Many officials and military officers have surrendered, and interrogations of them indicate growing chaos at the top. Saddam's government is a family, or clan, operation, and most of these people have blood on their hands. Paranoia and coalition forces closing in have paralyzed the Iraqi leadership. The most they can do is dream up ever more implausible reports explaining why coalition forces are not inside Baghdad. Some family members are threatening to shoot those who attempt to flee. But many senior officials are running for Syria or friendly embassies in Baghdad. Coalition negotiators are trying to collect sufficient good information on the movements, and hiding places, of senior Baath and military officials so bombing attacks and raids by commandos or armored troops can capture or kill some of these people. The goal is still decapitation. Knock out Saddam and his key aides, and most of the armed Saddam loyalists will either surrender, or desert. 

Thousands of, mostly Arab, volunteers have found their way to Iraq to undertake suicide attacks on coalition forces. At least 600 of these volunteers were killed when their camp outside Kut was bombed. More have apparently died as they made futile attacks on coalition combat troops. Most of the volunteers apparently have no military training, and the Iraqis just give them weapons, brief instruction on how to fire an AK-47 or RPG, and show them were coalition forces are. The American troops report these armed men running, or driving, towards them, and getting quickly mowed down. The volunteers are lousy shots, and inflict a few casualties on coalition forces by pure chance. A few of the volunteers have been able to attempt suicide bombing attacks, but coalition security is tight and is catching, and killing, these bombers before they get close enough to cause casualties.

Two decades of propaganda portraying Saddam Hussein as a heroic leader of the Iraqi people has left most Iraqis disdainful, but has convinced a minority of Iraqis that Saddam is a great man, persecuted by evil foreigners. How many Saddam true believers there are is unknown. But these are the men who will fight to the end. Many are becoming disillusioned and deserting, but there will probably be a least a few thousand who will fight to the end. 

In southern Iraq, the British are beginning to organize local Iraqis to run parts of Basra and provide some local security. British troops have systematically destroying Saddam loyalists in Basra and other southern Iraqi cities. Today, British armor units went right to the center of Basra to kill or capture hostile Iraqis.

The coalition military government, waiting in Kuwait, is expected to move into Iraq and start operating within days, or a week. 


Australia's 2,000 troops in Iraq include;

1st Squadron SASR (Special Air Service Regiment commandos)
4th Commando Company 3 RAR (Royal Australian Regiment)
Detachment 5 Aviation Regiment (Blackhawks, Chinooks)
RAN (Royal Australian Navy) Mine Clearance Divers
three RAN Vessels
14 AF18-A Hornet (from 77 Squadron) RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force)


 

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