Iraq: March 29, 2003


Where have all the flowers gone? When American troops entered Kosovo in 1999, Moslem Albanians cheered and threw flowers. When American troops entered Afghanistan towns in 2001, Moslem Afghans cheered and threw flowers. When American troops entered Iraq in 2003, Moslem Iraqis glowered and a few threw grenades. Unlike Kosovo and Afghanistan, the entry of American troops has not caused the bad guys to flee. Saddams security troops and Baath Party members have much to fight for and are willing to do just that. 

American generals have commented that the current resistance in Iraq was not what they encountered in their wargames. This is one of the weaknesses of the use of wargaming in the Department of Defense. There has long been a reluctance to diligently pursue "what if?" possibilities. Instead, it's more popular to test procedures. Nothing wrong with that, but the most valuable aspect of wargames is the ability to test enemy capabilities, not your own ability to perform complex military operations. Wargaming Saddam's government means taking into account changes since 1991. In the last twelve years, Saddam's rule has become more brutal and complete. The 1991 war did not go after Saddam's government officials and secret police. Those that were in Kuwait quickly fled back to Iraq. But now you have to fight these thugs and one thing American wargames should have explored more diligently was; what do you do if the thugs get organized and fight? That question now has to be answered while the shooting is going on.

The US plan, by all indications (force buildup and comments by senior officials) indicated a bold, quick decapitation attack. This type of operation depends on "maintaining the initiative." This means keeping your troops moving and constantly doing something before the enemy can respond. But the three day sandstorm, and the growing attacks on supply troops with irregulars has stopped the coalition advance. The initiative has been lost and it will be difficult to regain it. One way to do that is to make an attack on Baghdad from several directions. That may be what is in the works, as troops go after the armed Saddam loyalists down south, while continuing to move combat units closer to Baghdad.

What Saddam Learned from Serbia, Stalin and the SS

Saddam Hussein has always been a quick learner, and willing to change rapidly to survive. He seeks out nations in similar situations (ruthless dictatorships at war) and compares notes. He also looks at other brutal dictatorships of the 20th century and adopts techniques that worked for them. There are many examples. 

Serbia, whose former president is now on trial for war crimes, was engaged in ethnic cleansing and war with its neighbors through most of the 1990s. The Serbs became quite cozy with Iraq during that period. Saddam picked lots of useful information on dealing with American air power and manipulating the media. Serbia used masterful deceptions to save its tanks and artillery from U.S. smart bombs. The Serbs also modified their anti-aircraft defenses to down the first F-117 stealth aircraft destroyed in combat. Saddam has not had much success copying these Serbian success. But Saddam has, apparently pulled off another favorite Balkan trick. This is the "kill your own civilians to gain media sympathy" routine. In the early 1990s, during the Serbian siege of the Bosnian city of Sarajevo, mortar shells would sometimes fall into crowded market places, killing and injuring dozens. The Serbs, who were guilty of many atrocities, were blamed. But then some UN peacekeepers, while investigating the attacks, noted that the location where the shells landed indicated that they could only have been fired from Bosnian controlled territory. The Serbs were also known to use this trick, but as with much else in the Balkans, no one will admit anything. 

But now you have "American missiles" mysteriously going off in Baghdad market places. Foreign reports brought to visit the sight of the "American atrocity" have noted that the craters are shallow, unlike the deep craters U.S. bombs and missiles leave behind. There are also no fresh bomb or missile fragments to examine. One is left with the impression that these were car bombs, not smart bombs. The U.S. has also pointed out that most of the civilian casualties in Baghdad so far have been from Iraqi anti-aircraft shells and missiles falling back to earth. Iraq uses a lot of old, large, Russian anti-aircraft missiles. The SA-2, for example, weighs 2.5 tons at launch and carries 286 pound warhead. The SA-3 has a 132 pound warhead, and the SA-6 a 130 pound warhead. These missile warheads are supposed to go off in the air if a target is not found, but this doesn't always work. In that case, the missile falls to earth, where it's warhead usually goes off on impact. But the pinpoint accuracy with which "American missiles" hit "crowded Baghdad markets" in rapid succession is a little too coincidental, and has all the marks of a Balkans bombing scam. Anything to get a photo op of "American atrocities" to inflame Iraqis and overseas allies.

Russian dictator Joseph Stalin is another role model for Saddam Hussein. Stalin set up a police state that even the Nazis admired for its brutal and ruthless efficiency. Saddam particularly liked the Stalinist techniques of establishing informers in every neighborhood or apartment house. This, coupled with savage punishments for real or suspected traitors and their families, created a fear among the population that made rebellion difficult. More importantly, it created a group of thugs, torturers and secret policemen who were hated by the population. This hate was good for Saddam, for it insured the loyalty of these henchmen. If the Iraqi people got a shot at their oppressors, they would quickly kill them. In the early days of World War II, Stalin used his "organs" (as the Russians called the secret police and security forces) to restore order among the armed forces and population panicked by the rapid advance of the German blitzkrieg through western Russia. Some pundits point out that Saddam sees himself in the same position as Stalin, and is depending on his "organs" to use guns and threats to mobilize the troops and people to defend the country. What is forgotten is that in 1941, the Germans were initially greeted as liberators by the majority of Russian civilians. But the Germans were not there to liberate Russians, but to conquer Russia so they could enslave the population and steal their land. The Russian people soon turned against the Germans. But 24 years earlier, when the Germans conquered much of western Russia during World War I, the Russians under German control were allowed to govern themselves. There was no resistance to the Germans then (but there an invasion from Russia after the Germans left). So Saddam feels that if he can demonize the invaders sufficiently in the media, and keep his secret police and security forces forcing Iraqis to fight long enough, he can defeat the invaders. 

Saddam also learned from the World War II Nazi Germans, even though the Germans lost World War II. The Sunni Arabs of Iraq admired the Nazis from the beginning, in the 1930s. Much of the Nazi "National Socialist" philosophy was adopted by the Iraqi Baath party. Especially government control of most of the economy and hatred of Jews, and anyone who "is not like us." But Saddam was especially attracted to one uniquely Nazi institution; the Schutzstaffel ("SS"). The Nazis developed special police, security and military units composed of party members, and called it the SS. The majority of those in the SS were in the Waffen SS ("armed SS"), well trained, armed and motivated combat units. Saddam has done the same thing with his Republican Guard. But here he has gone the Nazis one better. While the Waffen SS never comprised more than seven percent of the German armed forces, the Republican Guard makes up over twenty percent of the Iraqi armed forces. Like the Waffen SS, the Republican Guard can be expected to stand and fight to the death. While the Republican Guard are much less capable soldiers than the Waffen SS, they are just as reliable. And Saddam no doubt takes some comfort from the fact that the Nazis formed three SS divisions from pro-German Moslems in the Balkans during World War II. 

As the old saying goes, you can learn a lot about a person by finding out who their heroes are.

Near the Iraqi city of Najaf, an Iraqi car bomb killed five American soldiers.

In Basra, it was discovered that some 200 local Saddam supporters were meeting in a multi-story building. Two smart bombs hit the building and destroyed it and, apparently, the people in it. A nearby church was unharmed.

While most media coverage has concentrated on southern Iraq, it appears that coalition special operations troops (rangers, Special Forces and commandos) have conquered most of western Iraq. This area is largely a desert, but it contains dozens of military installations and some small towns and villages. Most of the Iraqi troops in the area have been killed, captured or fled back towards Baghdad. U.S. forces control some 300 kilometers of the road that connects Baghdad with Jordan. This has long been a vital supply route for Iraq. Much of the weapons and military equipment coming in arrived via truck from Jordan. It's also been noted that the only traffic you hear about lately is that coming down the roads from Syria. At the moment, the roads to Syria and parts of the Iranian border, are the only ones the government controls. For the moment.

There are very few embedded journalists with the special operations troops, so little has been reported on what is going on where they operated. There have been reverses. A special forces A team was overrun by about a hundred Iraqi troops outside of Irbil in northern Iraq. 




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