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On Point

Iraq - No Discipline, No Loyalty, No Win

by Austin Bay
Aug 28, 2002

Hugging takes extraordinary discipline and commitment.

"Hugging" an enemy unit, that is, in close combat.

The "hugging" metaphor is, of course, a savage irony. Not even bears hug with assault rifles -- only human beings are that violent.

Placing soldiers within 50 meters of the enemy and keeping them there is a risky ploy. However, the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) evolved "hugging" tactics to a high military art. Massive U.S. firepower, delivered by artillery and aircraft, threatened maneuvering NVA units. Thus, the gutty NVA tactic of getting close to U.S. infantry and staying close. U.S. fire support then ran an increased risk of hitting U.S. troops. With U.S. firepower constrained, the ground battle then became infantry against infantry. Motivated and well-led NVA troops now had better odds and an opportunity to send American soldiers home in body bags -- a key political objective on the part of Hanoi's high command.

Thick jungles and sprawling cities ("urban jungles") give troops lots of places to hide and "hug." And here lies -- in part-- Saddam Hussein's hope, that Iraqi streets and alleys will be concrete Vietnams or Mogadishus. That's certainly the tout and one rhetorically convenient to the West's nouveau Neville Chamberlains.

However, the Iraqi military and the NVA have little in common, particularly when it comes to the commitment and discipline required to stick to a fight at close quarters.

The Iraqi Army of 2002, including the Republican Guard and special units, is deployed not to defend Iraq but to oppress it. Yes, that means it is deployed to defend Saddam's ruling cohort. Still, loyalty from even elite units is bought with better bread and Mercedes-Benzes. When someone else -- like Washington -- offers steaks and Porsches, as well as a chance to remain alive, who's true to the Butcher of Baghdad? Recall Iraqi troops' surrender to French photographers in Desert Storm.

Saddam's regime is brittle. The apt analogy is Nicolae Ceausescu's vile Romanian dictatorship, a multitiered police state akin to Saddam's. In late 1989, with the political context of the Cold War suddenly shifting, Ceausescu's own secret police quickly put him in a grave. U.S. strategy remains directed at provoking a Baghdad coup. Aggressive "war talk" and troop movements promote that optimal result.

Still, if it came to shove and Washington were to invade, what is Saddam's best bet to stop the U.S. military's speed, precision and synergistic violence?

Last December, a group of civilian military analysts produced a hypothetical Iraqi war plan. Similar "Iraqi op-plans" have been published this summer. The group clearly leveraged U.S. Army strategic war games conducted in the late 1990s that explored "web defenses." The analysts proposed Iraqi webs composed of interlocking defensive positions sited in urban zones. These featured air defense weapons beside mosques, tanks parked beside apartment buildings, troops placed among schoolchildren, and command bunkers built beneath museums and hospitals.

This cold gambit -- human and cultural shields -- was designed to thwart U.S. advantages in long-range fire and create "targeting dilemmas" -- e.g., are these people Iraqi civilians or soldiers? The strategic objective was to buy Saddam more time to affect "world opinion" and portray Washington as a heartless murderer.

Yet the key to making Saddam's spider web work remained loyalty, and that, several analysts argued, he doesn't have.

The analytic group decided Saddam's best option to slow a U.S. attack was chemical weapons delivered by SCUD missiles. War gaming indicated if the United States had only Kuwait as a base, Saddam had a fair chance of dousing air and logistics bases with persistent nerve agent. Iraq had the capacity to strike one big target. U.S. basing out of Jordan and Turkey radically reduced this Iraqi threat.

Firing missiles at Israel or other Middle Eastern countries is also an option, but it's one Saddam already has, and it becomes more lethal if the world waits until he acquires nukes.

The U.S. counter to the web and hidden SCUDs? Precision weapons and high-speed helicopter-borne assaults on key nodes in the web, with rapid armor follow-on. Critical immediate goals include destruction of command centers, isolation of Iraqi leaders, and capture of chemical and biological weapons dumps.

If the United States achieves those goals, the Iraqi Army will collapse. Then, watch the Iraqi people welcome their liberators.

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