Iraq: March 27, 2003


Three days of sand storms, the worst in living memory, have halted the coalition advance on Baghdad. While the storm raged, coalition trucks brought more fuel and ammunition forward. Three divisions sit in a semicircle around Baghdad, about 80 kilometers outside the city. There's not really a lot standing in their way. A French TV crew got lost, while traveling with an American combat unit, and simply drove into Baghdad (where they found a hotel room and decided to stay for the attack on the city.) And today dawned sunny and clear. Coalition helicopter gunships, grounded by the sand storms, are flying again. There are over a hundred of these AH-64 Apache gunships operating in Iraq. Some Iraqi units are coming out of the towns and villages they have been taking shelter in, and battles are breaking out south of Baghdad. 

While the sand storms raged, the Iraqis were reported trying to move large columns of troops (a few hundred vehicles) south from Baghdad towards Basra. This report proved to be the result of some excitable journalists hungry for a hot headline. However, a smaller column (about a hundred vehicles) left Basra for the Faw Peninsula south of the city. In that case, the column was quickly spotted by coalition recon aircraft or UAVs. JDAM bombs, guided by satellite, can be dropped through sand storms. 

The casualties have been low, by any standard. Coalition forces have so far suffered sixteen killed in action, 26 killed in accidents. Iraqi says 132 Iraqis have been killed by coalition air attacks. Several thousand Iraqi troops appear to have been killed in combat, often from the air. Reporters have, collectively, seen hundreds of dead Iraqi troops. Coalition losses, in absolute and relative terms, is much smaller than during the 1991 Gulf War. 

Iraqi irregulars continue to attack coalition troops, with little effect. While this gets the journalists excited, many of them don't note that these attacks result in few coalition casualties, and enormous Iraqi losses (often all of the attackers.) Much is made of these irregulars "tying down coalition troops." The reality is different, as even support and supply troops are armed and are able to fight and defeat the Iraqi irregulars. Moreover, the irregulars aren't as irregular as they appear. Those that have been captured (uninjured or after being wounded) have indicated that they often belong to local Baath party or Iraqi government groups that are, in effect, defending their livelihoods. If Saddam losses control of the country, hundreds of thousands of Saddam supporters all over Iraq will lose their jobs. And many of these fellows have run their corners of the country with great brutality and can expect violent retribution if they stick around. The British have advocated going after the local Baath Party headquarters in each town and city, as this appears to be the center of any local armed irregulars. The U.S. Marines appear to be going for this approach in some cases. All coalition troops are much better trained than their Iraqi counterparts and these attacks keep the coalition troops on their toes. All coalition troops have the equipment (night vision devices) and weapons to deal with anything irregulars have throw at them so far. But there are other tactics the irregulars can use, like remotely controlled bombs next to roads, that are more difficult to deal with. The irregulars have also been using abandoned military equipment, like truck mounted rocket launchers and artillery, to make unexpected, but inaccurate, attacks on coalition troops. While the irregulars are not organized, they do have military training because nearly all Iraqi men serve a few years in the military. So in any group of a hundred Iraqi males, you'll find a few who know how to operate a tank or artillery.

Iran has forbidden the thousands of armed Iraqi Shia anti-Saddam fighters in Iranian camps from entering Iraq and joining the fight against Saddam. Since the end of the 1980-88 war with Iraq, Iran has given shelter to anti-Saddam groups, but has only allowed them to stage small raids inside Iraq. But now Iran is holding back these Shia groups until Saddam is overthrown. Then these armed opposition groups will try and enter Iraq and that may cause problems. 

The first food aid for Iraqis arrived via truck from Kuwait. Moving aid in via ship at Umm Qasr has been held up for 24 hours because there are still naval mines being cleared. 

A battalion of the U.S. 173 Airborne Brigade parachuted onto a friendly airfield in northern Iraq. This was apparently a PR exercise, as the troops could have been landed via transports and walked off the aircraft. The 173rd is a small unit (two parachute battalions and support units) normally stationed in Italy. There are also hundreds of Special Forces and CIA personnel in northern (Kurdish controlled) Iraq. Turkey has agreed to stay out of northern Iraq, apparently as long as the United States kept the Iraqi Kurds from establishing an independent Kurdish country. 

As more Iraqi territory is overrun, more evidence of Iraqis using schools, hospitals and Mosques for military headquarters, barracks and weapons storage is being found. 




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