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Thursday | March 20, 2003

What happened to "Shock and Awe"?

After repeated boasts about "shock and awe" and MOABs and locus swarms and other horrific things soon the befall Iraq, the US has announced it is holding back that part of the campaign. This is kind of odd, since Bush promised that the armed forces would be allowed to prosecute their war unrestrained by political concerns.

Yeah, yeah, Bush was lying. But the fact of the matter is a major part of the invasion plan is now on hold. Why?

The official line is that the US is assessing its "decapitation" efforts, hopeful that Hussein is either dead, cut off from his troops, or losing control in an internal power struggle. Problem is, none of that matters.

The Iraq leadership knows that the US is gunning for them and that it can listen to any electronic conversation. As such, the leadership will be laying low. There is no need for them to issue any more orders. The entire defense of their country is now predicated on a guerilla structure -- loose bands of armed soldiers with responsibility for certain sectors of Baghdad. Runners can carry messages from one unit to another, eliminating any chances for electronic surveillance. Secure land lines may also be used for communication purposes. If one sector of the city falls, not a problem. Urban guerillas can quickly adapt and collapse on a target, or withdraw -- all on local initiative. Such strategies have been shown effective time and time again in modern urban warfare (from Stalingrad to Chechnya).

Killing Saddam is not enough to put an end to the war, especially so long as the Iraqis can keep spitting out body doubles to reassure the populace. And killing military leaders won't harm a war effort that is already, by design, decentralized.

During the first Gulf War, tens of thousands of Iraqi conscripts surrendered at first sight of allied troops. We are not seeing anywhere near those numbers, which is a cause for concern.

In the first Gulf War, Iraqi conscripts were thrown into trenches facing off against the gathering allied armies. They were pummeled from the air for weeks, and by ground artillery for days. They were hungry, ill-equipped and demoralized. It's no wonder they surrendered.

Today, early indications are that Iraqis will fight. They have been spared the weeks of bombardment (far more effective than any short "shock and awe" campaign could ever be), and frankly, are being deployed in a far more effective manner. They are no longer exposed in the open desert, easy pickings for US air power and superior armor, but dug in inside urban centers, where the Americans must face them man to man, rifle to rifle.

So it's laughable to see American commanders and politicians crowing about how "well" things are going. Of course they are -- they haven't hit Iraq's main defense lines yet. Granted, such platitudes are necessary to assuage a nervous US public and restive world audience, but for all practical purposes, such assurances are bunk.

What is more interesting, and most disturbing, are reports that some Iraqis are resisting the initial forays into Iraq. At this stage of the war, any Iraqi resistance is merely design to delay -- forcing invading troops to slow and proceed more cautiously, giving more time to defending forces in Basra and Baghdad. I would've assumed an easy trip north until US/UK forces hit the bridges. Even token resistance is disturbing and perhaps an early indication that Iraqi forces intend to resist more forcefully than expected.

Steve Guillard has put together some cool maps of Iraq.

I will be focusing on the "big picture" analysis of this war. If you want the blow-by-blow action check out The Agonist.

Update: Tacitus points out that there could be legitimate military reasons for the postponment of "shock and awe". He's right.

Posted March 20, 2003 05:45 PM | Comments (76)


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