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Political analysis and other daily rants on the state of the nation

Thursday | March 20, 2003

Iraqis start blowing oil wells

(Images are from the first Gulf War. Click on them to enlarge.)

Iraq has supposedly begun blowing oil wells, with at least three reported burning near Basra. The press is playing this as economic sabotage from a spiteful Saddam, but there are military reasons for blowing the wells.

The black smoke and soot hamper visibility from the air, making it more difficult to target defenders on the ground. Laser-guided munitions cannot follow their laser-pinpointed target through the haze. This would theoretically allow Iraqi forces to put up a stiffer defense on the ground. I doubt that will happen, especially since the Republican Guards -- the guys who will most likely put up a fight, have been pulled back into Baghdad. Rather, Iraqi saboteurs will likely be able to better harrass US troops and our supply lines under cover of the smoke, relatively protected from air attack.
US forces will also be traveling north to Baghdad. One of the side-effects of the botched Turkey deal was the need to channel the entire invasion through Kuwait. The burning oil wells will provide challenges to those troops, forcing them to travel through the choking, burning smoke. Those troops will face long- and short-term health risks from inhaling the smoke. Indeed, the burning oil wells in Kuwait are a a prime suspected cause of Gulf War Syndrome, which has afflicted tens of thousands of Gulf War I vets and killed thousands. Shorter term, the smoke can aggravate or inflict respiratory ailments on our soldiers.
And of course, having to trudge through this apocalyptic inferno on their way to Baghdad won't do wonders on morale.

But the biggest benefit for Iraq? It will slow down the US march north, and the entire Iraqi defense strategy is predicated on this very simple goal -- slow the Americans at all costs. It's not just the effect on troops, but equipment as well. The burning wells turn surrounding sand intro a sludgy, tarry substance that is hell on engines. And we'll have to endure these hardships on soldier and equipment through the duration of the war. In 1991, it took seven months to extinguish the oil well fires.

So Iraq will drag out the war. Bog the invadors down. Threaten their single logistical supply line. And there's no doubt that polluting that supply line north with choking, polluting smoke is a relatively easy way to slow any invading army.

Blowing the oil wells is the logical first step.

Posted March 20, 2003 10:00 AM | Comments (150)


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