Iraq: February 18, 2002

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Nothing Succeeds Like Success in Iraq- Another war with Iraq? It wouldn't be like the 1991 conflict. Today's Iraq is weaker militarily. Iraq's ground forces have shrunk to 400,000 men, 2,000 tanks, 3,000 other armored vehicles. Organized into 23 divisions and 11 brigades. Six divisions and four brigades belong to the Republican Guard, the best equipped and most loyal troops. There's no navy to speak of and fewer than 200 combat aircraft available for service. The anti-aircraft forces are in better shape, with ammunition and spare parts smuggled in since 1991. There are some 6,000 anti-aircraft guns (mostly low altitude 23-57mm) and several hundred missile launchers (mostly older Russian stuff) and nearly a thousand Russian shoulder fired Surface to Air missiles. Iraq has been trying real hard for the last ten years to shoot down an American aircraft over Iraq, without success. Morale is low among Iraqi troops. Memories of the hosing they got during the 1991 war, plus the efficient defeat of the Taliban in 2001, give Iraqi generals and troops little hope of winning many battles. Moreover, most of the armed forces are of questionable loyalty. Only the hundred thousand men of the Republican Guard, and a similar number in various police and security outfits, can be counted on to fight energetically. Everything depends on what kind of attack is made on Iraq.

Such an American attack on Iraq would have to depend on gaining the active support of the Iraqi people first. This would require the use of special forces and psychological warfare units. Unlike Afghanistan, you can't just send the special forces into Iraq. This is a country with a large and active police presence. There is a network of informers throughout the nation and several different secret police agencies (to keep an eye on each other, the army and everyone in general.) A lot of information on Iraqi police operations has been collected during the last 12 years, so the special forces wouldn't be going in blind. But there would have to be some backup on the ground. 

Since no one in the Gulf is in favor of invading Iraq (even Kuwait is lukewarm), the worst case is going in with only Kuwait on our side. Kuwait has only one major port, and not a large one at that. There is not sufficient fuel storage to support a large force. There is an infantry division's worth of equipment already in Kuwait (or on the way), and another set of equipment for a marine division to the south on ships based at Diego Garcia. Fly in the soldiers and marines and you have two divisions. The 101st Airborne division (actually an airmobile division with hundreds of helicopters) could have many of its units flown in. Moving in more divisions, especially units with M-1 tanks, would take a month or two. With a U.S. force of five division (five army, one marine), about 900 M-1 tanks, 600 warplanes, 400 helicopters and several thousand special forces and rangers, you could invade Iraq. 

But you would have to win quick, because the slender port facilities in Kuwait provide meager supplies, and low tolerance for casualties among American leaders and media. This would depend on taking advantage of that fact that Saddam's rule depends on the loyalty of only a fifth of Iraq's population (mostly Sunni Arabs from the Baghdad area.) The Shia Arabs of the south have rebelled against Saddam several times. U.S. troops would have to show up in Shia towns and villages before these Arabs would fight again.

The war could go something like this. U.S. warplanes would destroy the Iraqi air force and air defense system, particularly in the south. TV and radio transmitters would also be destroyed. After a two weeks of this, the commando solo aircraft would replace the Iraqi TV and radio and announce the coming free elections. U.S. ground forces would move into the south from Kuwait. Basra is the major city there, and is also an inland port. The Shia Arabs of this region are very anti-Saddam. The special forces would work with the local Arabs to establish working relationships and organize an "Iraqi Liberation Army" (ILA) Several hundred thousand men in southern Iraq have served in the Iraqi army, and have fought Saddams troops over the last decade. The ILA would provide the troops to occupy areas around Baghdad where Saddam still have some supporters. 

A month or two of organizing the ILA, while warplanes blast Iraqi military targets in the north, would be followed by the advance on Baghdad. It's unlikely that Saddam would use his Republican Guard to defend Basra. Southern Iraq is largely desert and leaves ground forces exposed to accurate attack from the air. In addition to the JDAM smart bombs used in Afghanistan, there are also smart bombs that carry hundreds of anti-tank weapons, plus SADARM, that carry fewer, but smarter, anti-tank weapon. Any time the Iraqis concentrate enough of their tanks for a battle, they would be hit from the air. On the ground, they face the M-1 tank, which is vulnerable only to mines (which can immobilize them) or top-attack missiles (which the Iraqis don't have too many of.) 

The Iraqis are not stupid, and already have experience with the M-1. If the Republican Guard stands and fights, it will probably do so inside towns or cities. Out in the open, Iraqi armor would be slaughtered. But even in urban areas, American tanks and warplanes can go in and destroy the Iraqis. More Americans will get hurt, but the Iraqis will lose. The idea is to use the psychological weapon as much as possible. Iraqis know that it's been over a thousand years since an Arab army defeated a non-Arab one. Iraqis remember that the last time Iraq was invaded, by two British divisions to overthrow a pro-German government in 1941, it was all over in a few weeks. Saddam's rule has been a disaster for 80 percent of the Iraqi population. Most Iraqis know that the Kurds in the north, who get their share of the "oil for food" money via the UN, are doing better economically than Iraqis in the south. This is because Saddam cannot steal most of the money to keep his followers happy and rebuild his armed forces. The American psychological warfare campaign will hammer away that Iraqis have a choice between an Iraq free of Saddam and corruption, or more of Saddam and the 20 percent of the population that supports him. Many Iraqi troops are expected to surrender. Many of these will be rearmed and join the ILA. If the Republican Guard remains loyal, the Americans and ILA will kill it. 

There will be post war problems with Kurdish separatists and many factions among Arab Iraqis. But the rest of the world will have little to complain about. No one will oppose a free Iraq. Nothing succeeds like success in Iraq.

 

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