Iraq: March 19, 2003



There are indications that the invasion of Iraq may begin before the 48 hour deadline. In fact, the war has begun with the increased bombing in the non-fly zones and commando operations in the western desert and the southern Shia and northern Kurdish areas. But the US and British combat divisions are thought ready to advance before 4 AM March 20 (local time). 

The great unknowns of the looming Iraqi campaign is how well U.S. and British troops will be able to deal with Saddam's most powerful weapons. Most obviously, there are the chemical weapons. Troops are to enter Iraq wearing their cumbersome protective equipment. But troops cannot operate indefinitely like that. Even so, chemical weapons can be dealt with. In 1991, Iraqi artillery and bombers, the two methods of delivering chemical weapons, were largely wiped out early in the war. The same will probably happen this time. Use of chemical weapons, if at all, will probably be minor. But Saddam's other weapons are more troublesome. Many Iraqi troops have been ordered to disperse to residential areas, along with their tanks and other equipment. This presents some unpleasant prospects. While many of these Iraqi troops can be induced to surrender, and American leaflets and radio broadcasts in southern Iraq have been warning civilians to flee if the military set up shop next to their homes, some Iraqis will fight. Apparently, the policy will be to attack Iraqi troops sitting in villages. As the word gets around, this tactic would quickly be unpopular and Iraqi troops wanting to fight would find less visible positions.

Saddam's most fearsome, and unlikely, weapon, would be thousands of troops determined to resist in towns and cities, particularly Baghdad. City fighting is known to be vicious and costly. But American troops have been diligently practicing this kind of warfare, and the Iraqis have not. Even in Baghdad, Iraqi troops are not seen preparing for city fighting. Looks like another propaganda campaign with little foundation in reality. Those Iraqi troops who do choose to fight in the cities will face skilled and deadly attackers.

The war against Iraq actually involves troops from more than a dozen nations. Britain has mobilized 45,000 troops for the war, Australia has sent commandoes and support troops. Other nations have sent much smaller contingents. Bulgaria has sent 150 nuclear, chemical and biological defense troops. The Czech Republic has sent 358 nuclear, chemical and biological defense troops, Slovakia has sent 69 and Ukraine and Poland are each sending about a hundred. Spain is sending 900 troops for demining and humanitarian relief. Denmark is sending two warships, Hungary is providing support for training Iraqi exiles to accompany U.S. troops. Romania is sending about 300 logistical support troops. Latvia is sending a platoon of engineers. 

Opponents of Saddam Hussein's regime have intensified their open acts of defiance in the past week, with saboteurs carrying out attacks against Iraq's railway system and protesters openly calling for the overthrow of the Iraqi dictator.

The most blatant act of sabotage occurred when the Iraqi opposition blew up a stretch of track and derailed a train on the Mosul-Baghdad railway, 20 miles south of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. They left piles of leaflets by the side of the track, urging the Iraqi soldiers who were sent to investigate the explosion to join the "international alliance to liberate Iraq" from "Saddam the criminal". In another incident, a rocket-propelled grenade was fired at a train illegally transporting fuel from Baghdad to Syria. 

Demonstrations were also reported to have taken place in Kirkuk, where a crowd estimated to number 20,000 demanding Saddam's overthrow marched on the Baath party's main administrative headquarters. Three posters of the Iraqi leader were torn down and a grenade was thrown at the government building. One senior Baath official was reported killed in the attack. 

Prominent Iraqi exile Kanan Makiya, who's in close contact with the Bush administration and a leading advocate of democracy in Iraq, told the press that "there's activity in the streets actually every night in Baghdad - even a place that's as controlled and centralized as Baghdad. There are operations going on there, propaganda being disseminated, there are people being encouraged . . . to discourage their sons, their fathers, their cousins from doing anything during the war." - Adam Geibel

In a valley near the Iranian border near the town of Darbandikhan (about 200 km northeast of Baghdad), 600-700 soldiers of the armed wing of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) paraded for reporters. The Iranian-backed fighters are part of the 5,000-man "Badr Brigade" based in northern Iraq. Those seen by the reporters were in their late 30s and early 40s, wearing new camouflage uniforms and carrying small arms (including AK-47 assault rifles and RPGs). They also displayed a small number of off-road vehicles armed with antiaircraft and heavy machine guns. - Adam Geibel 

An online alphabetical guide to Iraqi groups involved in the opposition to Saddam Hussein.

Saddam Hussein and his son's have refused to leave Iraq and remain defiant. The Iraqi army is, however, disintegrating and the loyalty of the Republican Guard is in doubt. 




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