Thursday | April 03, 2003
Where is the Iraqi Army?
As long as the Republican Guards are compelled to fight in a fairly conventional style, they are doomed—even when faced with lighter-than-desired U.S. forces. There is no reason to doubt this morning's report from U.S. Central Command that the 1st Marine Division has "destroyed" the Republican Guard's Baghdad division on the southeastern outskirts of the capital. We will probably soon hear similar reports about the 3rd Infantry's assault on the Medina division to the west. Basically, if the Republican Guards remain dug in, they will be outmaneuvered; if they venture out to fight, they will be outgunned; whatever they do, they will be bombed and strafed from the air.
None of this means the road to Baghdad is now the proverbial cakewalk. The Army and Marine supply lines are still stretched thin and may stretch thinner as the troops and tanks roll on, tempting further guerrilla strikes and ambushes from the flanks and the rear. The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that elements from several Republican Guard divisions, which had been deployed north of Baghdad, have moved to the south—in some cases abandoning their armored vehicles and, like the Fedayeen guerrillas, firing machine guns and grenades from the back of pickup trucks. It is hard to see how such tactics can succeed in the long run, but they can slow the American advance and divert U.S. troops into the grim attrition of "search-and-destroy" missions, which have never been our strong point.
I simply don't know and cannot add up where these reports of big Republican Guard divisions are.
I find it extraordinary to believe they would be heading south, out into the open, to meet this advancing 3rd Infantry division. It's something that every single senior Iraqi official - who keep speaking to us on a daily basis - says they will not do.
But where are they? I've travelled north, south and west through this city. The American soldiers are knocking on the door. You go to the gates of Baghdad - the main arterial routes - and you find nothing. Where are the tanks, where are the check points?
You do find little pockets of soldiers, not just regular troops, but Baath party militia, secreted into shops, cafeterias, into the neighbourhood. This to me is going to be much more a picture of what the Iraqi leadership has in mind.
I believe that they will try to draw the American forces into street fighting where young soldiers from Minnesota or Manchester will have to find their way through Mansoor district, Academia district, though all these Baghdad neighbourhoods.
This two-pronged advance on the Iraqi capital by the Americans is being seen as a remarkable piece of modern manoeuvre warfare.
Senior British commanders who've been watching this are actually remarkably impressed by how the Americans have put this together.
But there is something of a puzzle. Where has the Iraqi opposition gone to? The Republican guard has not put up the expected levels of resistance.
Maybe this is an indication of how badly they've been hit from the air, perhaps it has just melted away to take up further positions closer to Baghdad.
This has been a phantom army. Iraqi regular army units also seem to have disappeared. The Americans do want to catch the Republican Guard before they got back to Baghdad, they know once they get to the outskirts they will have to halt.
People here are telling us that there is no intention to turn Baghdad into Grozny - a reference to the Chechen capital which has been levelled by the Russians forces.
If Saddam is really a student of Stalin, he will have noted two attacks, the 1941 Offensive outside Moscow and Operation Uranus outside Stalingrad, took place with reserves held from the line and sprung during bad weather. Saddam's intel knows the US units are at the end of their ropes. They need to refit and resupply and have used up their last combat power getting to the edge of the city.
Whole units are missing from the battlefield and that has to concern CENTCOM planners. Whole divisions are gone. The arrogant and clueless Richard Perle says they've gone home. He's an idiot. They've done no such thing. If they did, you'd see signs. Abandoned equipment, lots of surrenders, the surrender of cities or even the beginnings of civil war as the regulars shot it out with the Baathists.
Instead, they're nowhere to be found.
My bet, they're hiding in the close suburbs of Baghdad, maybe 100,000 men. Now, they may not be there. But if Saddam is a student of Stalin and not insane, he's got a plan for a counterattack when the US is least able to reply. Kaplan isn't wrong when he says the Republican Guard isn't all that elite, but they have unit cohesion and discipline. So they didn't run away.
Saddam has used very small forces to tie down US troops. Only in Basra is there a sign that whole divisions have been used. So, unless Perle is right, and that would be a first, where IS the Iraqi Army?
Posted April 03, 2003 06:35 AM | Comments (216)