Iraq: March 20, 2003


:  With reports of B-52 bombers taking off from British bases hours earlier, the air attack on Iraq began about dawn (6 AM) Iraq time. There were three separate waves of  attacks, at 5:35, 6:00 and 6:36 AM (local time). The initial attack, at least on Baghdad, was not large. About three dozen cruise missiles hit places that senior Iraqi leaders were thought to be staying in the capital. There was a lot of anti-aircraft fire over Baghdad, but apparently no coalition aircraft. This attack was apparently a special one, to take advantage of information about where some senior Iraqis would be. Attacks were not supposed to start until later today.

For the first day or so, most news reports on operations against Iraq will be mostly speculation. Reporters with coalition military units are not allowed to send out information for the first day or two after the fighting begins.

The number of Iraqi troops crossing the border to surrender in northern and southern Iraq increased. On the Kuwait border, Iraqi deserters indicate that most members of the Iraqi 51st Infantry division are waiting for the first opportunity to surrender. Many others, including officers and NCOs, had already deserted north, into Iraq. 

US and British ground forces moved right up to the border in southern Iraq. Basra, the second largest city in Iraq, is 60 kilometers distant. Baghdad is 540 kilometers northwest of Baghdad. Since the troops cannot just sit there for long, right out in the open, they will probably cross the border when nightfall comes again today. 

The general plan for attacking Iraq involves psychological warfare, which has been going on for most of 2002, to demoralize the military and civilian leadership and convince most to switch sides before the fighting begins. Iraqi exiles have been organized to form a post invasion government, and the younger ones trained to work directly with coalition troops as translators, scouts and negotiators.

The military invasion would begin with thousands of smart bombs being dropped on anti-aircraft, air force and headquarters targets. GPS guided JDAM and JSOW smart bombs allow this to be done in any weather and, perhaps equally important, simultaneously. All those bombs hitting in a short period of time (minutes, in some cases) enhances the psychological effect. Simultaneous strikes also increase enemy casualties, as there is less warning to take cover. US heavy bombers (B-1, B-2 and B-52) can carry up to 24 one ton bombs each.

While this is still going on, coalition ground forces would start entering southern, northern and western Iraq. Some would come in via helicopter, especially against isolated airfields and bases in western Iraq. Some paratroopers would be dropped on more distant targets. British and American marines and armor units could quickly advance on southern Iraq's major city, Basra. The Turks have been told not to enter northern Iraq, as the Kurds there have said they would fight any Turks coming in. The Kurdish militias in the north have placed themselves under American command. There are US Special Forces in northern Iraq to work with the Kurds, Turkomen and other minorities up there.

Western Iraq is mostly desert, where coalition Special Forces and commandos have apparently been operating since late February. 

The advance towards Baghdad would be up the Tigris-Euphrates valley, which is where most Iraqis live. Deals, some already in the works since 2002, to get Iraqi tribal, political and military leaders and groups to switch sides would be brought to a conclusion as coalition tanks moved to, and into, Baghdad. If there is any significant resistance in Baghdad, special street fighting equipment has been brought into Kuwait and thousands of American troops have undergone intensive city fighting training.

The US Special Forces will play a crucial role in the campaign, since they have the skills, and in some cases, contacts, to work with the various armed factions in Iraq. There are armed and militant Shia groups that could get feisty. While the Kurdish militias are well organized, there are other groups with a militia tradition (the Assyrians and Turkomen) are not. The Special Forces will be doing most of the talking with these groups in order to keep the peace. 


US and British Forces

3rd Infantry Division (4 brigades), 101st Airmobile Division (3 brigades), 1st Marine Division (4 brigades), 82nd Airborne Division (one brigade).  

British 7th Armored Brigade, Royal Marine Commando Brigade, 16th Air Assault Brigade. 

Several thousand Special Forces and commando troops.

Over 900 warplanes, with the final number being close to 1,000 (on land and aboard carriers.)

4 Mechanized Infantry Brigades
3 Air Mobile infantry brigades
1 Airborne infantry brigade 
4 Marine brigades
3 British brigades

Several thousand Special Forces, Rangers and commandos.
Some 800-1000 warplanes. 





Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contribute. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   contribute   Close