the dogs of war- Raghu

People’s Democracy

Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 12

March 23,

The Dogs Of War



THE war on Iraq by the US and less
than a handful of allies, chiefly Britain, would probably have commenced by the
time this goes to press. With George Bush’s infamous 48-hour deadline almost
coming to an end, and massive troop build-up taking place in Kuwait just across
the Iraqi border and 35-25-metre wide gaps in the border fence having already
been made a fortnight ago for tanks to roll through, it is clear that, in the
cowboy language now current in the corridors of the White House and among US
president Bush’s closest advisors, the gun is cocked and only the trigger has
to be pulled. The hegemonic designs of the US have been clearly exposed when, in
open defiance of international law and the United Nations charter as made
explicit by no less than the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, the US and Britain
have decided to militarily attack a sovereign nation with the incredible demand
that its president leave office or face war! These self-proclaimed champions of
democracy have simply ignored the overwhelming opposition to this course by the
international community, and public opinion even in their own countries, with
over 60 per cent in the US and over 80 per cent in Britain opposed to the
impending war. At the time of writing, the Chief Weapons Inspector, Hans Blix,
has once again reported to the UN Security Council that the inspections had made
substantial progress, had been able to prepare a verifiable and credible
road-map towards full disarmament of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. All
sadly to no avail.


this article does not intend to discuss the political aspects of the impending
war on Iraq, which would surely be done elsewhere, but to discuss the probable
military course of the war and the major strategic implications of its aftermath
so that readers may be better placed to follow unfolding events in the coming
days and weeks.



first aspect to be clearly understood is the vast asymmetry between the military
strength of the US-British forces and that of Iraq. Nominally, the Iraqi army is
said to be 350,000 strong but a large proportion of these troops are known to be
untrained and poorly equipped conscripts whose preparedness and willingness to
face combat under present circumstances are not rated highly. Iraq’s military
strength in general has been severely depleted since the previous Gulf War of
1991.  Iraq’s veteran T-54 and
T-72 tanks and armoured vehicles are in poor condition and are down to a tenth
of the numbers it had a decade ago both because of the numbers destroyed then
and due to severe shortage of spares. Iraqi tanks are no match for their US
Abrams counterparts which can take the former out even before they themselves
are detected. Iraq’s best equipped and reliable forces are possibly its elite
Special and regular Republican Guard numbering about 85,000 in all, deployed
mostly in Baghdad and at Tikrit 160 km to the north-west, president Saddam
Hussein’s home town where many expect him to make his last stand.


Iraqi air force is worse off. Iraq is left with only 90 ageing MiGs of unknown
condition and combat worthiness, compared with 750 it had during the first Gulf
War, operating from just 10 air bases compared to 38 earlier. In any case, with
the rigid enforcement of no-fly zones by the US and Britain over many years in
the south and north of Iraq, and with overwhelming air-strike capability and
satellite-based intelligence, it is extremely unlikely that Iraqi military
aircraft will even be able to operate at all.


through the past several months of diplomatic attrition in the UN, US planes
have been striking at radar and other surveillance stations, air bases and
anti-aircraft positions throughout southern Iraq supposedly to enforce the
no-fly zone.  Even as this piece is
being written, US aircraft have dropped over 2 million leaflets in south and
south-east Iraq with total impunity warning Iraqi soldiers not to resist
invading US forces. Iraq may have a few short-range Scud missiles and a few
unmanned drones which are likely to be able to inflict any damage. 
With even the vintage but still deadly US B-52 bombers, not to speak of
the stealth-technology B-1s being able to operate beyond the range of antiquated
Iraqi anti-aircraft weapons, hampered by inability to use radar or other
detection systems because such use will immediately be detected and used for
pin-point attacks by the US,  Iraq’s
ability to offer any resistance  in
the air is virtually zero.


against this rag-tag military is among the mightiest military machine ever to
have been deployed in one theatre, all under the US Central Command or Centcom,
a uniquely US military institution with no forces of its own but with command
centres and numerous military units placed at its disposal and under its direct
command. Centcom is also simultaneously conducting operations in Afghanistan and
its commander, General Tommy Franks, is slated to head an “interim” US-led
administration in Iraq after its conquest. US forces are deployed strategically
all around Iraq giving the US  the
ability to launch simultaneous full-scale assaults from several directions.


carrier groups, which means five aircraft carriers and 40 other heavily armed
frigates, destroyers and submarines are deployed in the Mediterranean north of
Iraq and the Gulf to the south-east ready to unleash hundreds of deadly cruise
missiles, more than 200 top-of-the-line strike aircraft and helicopters with
airborne troops. The main base for land forces is of course Kuwait where about
100,000 US troops and 25,000 British troops are massed in full combat readiness
along with 1200 tanks, 100 attack helicopters and 100 fighter aircraft. US
Centcom’s forward headquarters is in Qatar which is host to 1000 war
commanders operating from a fully computerised command centre, a US air force
base with over 100 fighters and a duplicate air force command centre.
Centcom’s forward naval HQ is in Bahrain, the US’ oldest ally in the region
since 1971, which hosts the US 5th Fleet and 4500 troops. 
The UAE is the Intelligence centre mainly through airborne reconnaissance
including U-2 spy planes, Global Hawk unmanned drones which can fly and gather
intelligence for 24-30 hours non-stop. Oman is the main British military base in
the region with a full Special Air Services (SAS) squadron apart from 10 US B-1


present, only the northern front is uncertain with Turkey still reluctant to
allow US forces to stage assault from its territory and its parliament for now
debating only allowing use of Turkish airspace by US planes from the
Mediterranean. The US however still has about 60,000 troops positioned in Turkey
but, at the time of writing, with war plans at an advanced stage, the US has
withdrawn its 6 billion US dollars to Turkey in exchange for full land, sea and
air access. The US is now ready to airlift these and other troops to airstrips
already prepared by the US in the Kurd regions in northern Iraq, which are now
virtually sovereign areas protected by the US no-fly zone and other military
assistance, and thus open up a northern front for its invasion of Iraq.


weaponry carried by the US forces is also awesome. Apart from the variety of
satellite-guided cruise missiles fired from aircraft, ships and even submarines
hundreds of kilometres away, US aircraft will be carrying their usual compliment
of massive firepower but also latest-generation “smart” bombs, so-called
because of their ability to seek out and strike targets, including moving ones,
with the help of satellite-based guidance systems. These bombs are smarter than
the ones used in the previous Gulf War over a decade ago which were laser-guided
and not as accurate as the present generation ordnance. Further, smart bombs are
likely to comprise about 80 per cent of US bombs compared to only 10 per cent in
the previous Gulf War. The US is also deploying Massive Ordnance Air-burst Bombs
or MOABs (nicknamed the “mother of all bombs”) which are 9.5 ton bombs, the
biggest ever made, packing a punch equivalent to a small nuclear bomb to which
it is also compared because it too is set off in mid-air, causes massive
destruction in a wide radius, complete with a mushroom cloud. MOABs will heavily
overshadow the earlier massive bombs such as the 6.5 ton Daisy Cutter which
caused such havoc in Vietnam and more recently in Afghanistan.

US is making much of the possibility of Iraq using chemical and biological
weapons. It has equipped its troops with counter-measures and is also preparing
to use “e-bombs” or massive electronic pulses to disable CBW firing and
delivery systems. Iraq continues to deny that it has any chemical or biological
weapons, and the UN inspections have also brought out that while Iraq may have
some CBW capabilities there was no evidence of CBW weapons or delivery
capability. And  since Iraq will
want to emphasise the wrong being done by the US, it does not appear very likely
that Iraq would use CBWs.  


great is the asymmetry between the rival forces, and so stark is the Iraqi
weakness in comparison with the US and British forces that, once the war starts,
no one will be in any doubt of the hollowness of US and British claims that Iraq
constitutes a “clear and present danger” to these countries leave alone to
global security, and therefore needs to be attacked. It will be clear
that, as former UN High Commissioner for Refugees Mary Robinson put it recently,
this is a war of choice not of necessity.



US is making no secret of its plans to launch the Iraq campaign with a massive
assault intended to overawe and shock the Iraqi forces and political leadership
into acknowledging the futility of resistance. The nature of the campaign will
be shaped by the immediate and strategic objectives of the US and also be the
kind of military capabilities it possesses. Of course, it is well known in
military history that even the best laid plans have had to be radically altered
due to unanticipated ground realities within the first week of the campaign. The
same may indeed happen in Iraq but, if not, the US-led assault is likely to take
the following course.

military campaigns even a few decades ago, the main objectives were to weaken
resistance by advance aerial or artillery attacks, seize territory through
ground troops and overwhelm the adversary in sheer size and firepower, a large
part of this being shaped by the fact that intelligence pertaining to actual
ground realities was weak. While today’s overall objectives may appear
similar, they take on a radically different thrust due to the “revolution in
military affairs” especially the unparalleled “situational awareness”,
that is, intimate knowledge of the adversary’s actions and capabilities. 

the Gulf War in 1991, missile strikes against strategic targets and waves of air
attacks which destroyed the Iraqi air force, anti-aircraft capabilities and a
sizable proportion of ground force assets, lasted all of 39 days followed for
just 100 hours by thousands of ground troops. This time, the doctrine is
“simultaneity” with overlapping air and ground campaigns.


at the outset, there will be hundreds of simultaneous strikes by missiles and by
“smart bombs” from aircraft and other Joint Direct Attack Munitions or JDAMs
on strategic targets throughout Iraq, including major garrisons, command centres
and possibly the Presidential Palace in Baghdad and other similar locations. It
is expected that more targets will be hit in Baghdad in the first 24 hours than
in all 43 days of the earlier Gulf War.

will be almost immediately followed by the other element of the US military
doctrine for the Iraq campaign, “vertical envelopment”, that is to drop
troops behind Iraqi lines by parachute and helicopter and seize key targets such
as airstrips, oil fields etc.  The
idea of this highly “kinetic” campaign is to shock and overawe the Iraqis
and make them realise the futility of resistance. US leaflets are warning Iraqi
military formations to turn their weapons towards the ground, the classic
military gesture of surrender, and not adopt aggressive postures in which case
US forces will simply pass them by towards their goal!

ground troops will then advance, now mostly from the South but to a lesser
extent from the North as well, in a pincer movement. Ground troops accompanied
tanks, armoured vehicles and heavy artillery including multiple rocket
launchers, with appropriate air cover, will move along the Tigris and Euphrates
rivers which run through Iraq roughly north-east to south-west through the upper
and lower portions of the country.  This
trajectory will bring the troops through major towns and strategic
installations, skirting the former if necessary, to Baghdad, with one flank of
each pincer protected by the great rivers. 
The major oil fields and refineries will be prime targets for immediate
capture and control, such as Basra and Ulm in the south-west near the Kuwaiti
border and the strategic towns of Kirkuk and Mosul in the Kurd areas in the
north. If all this goes to plan, the US expects to have control of about 75
percent of Iraq in the first week or ten days.



to say, this frenetic campaign with heavy aerial bombardment, even if it prompts
mass surrender by Iraqi forces as the US hopes, is going to take a heavy toll
including of civilian lives and property, euphemistically termed “collateral
damage” in military terminology. 

major US worry is its own casualties caused by “friendly fire” that is, by
its own forces, due to the simultaneous ground and air attacks. In the first
Gulf War, it is estimated that 38 out of a total 145 US dead were killed by
friendly fire. This figure could go up manifold this time around.

is also estimated that in 1991, 3500 Iraqi civilians died in the US-led
invasion. No one dares to guess what this figure could climb to this time.
Experience in Afghanistan has shown that even several super-smart cruise
missiles, as much as 10 per cent by some estimates, missed their targets by
several kilometres, and one shudders at the possible toll taken by hundreds of
such munitions raining down upon Baghdad and other towns and cities. And if,
contrary to expectations, street battles take place in major towns and cities,
civilian casualties will be much greater. US problems on this front will this
time be compounded by the presence of Al Jazeera, the independent
Arabic-language TV channel, which will bring these civilian casualties to the
attention of the whole world. Perhaps an even bigger incentive for the US to
minimise collateral damage is the fact that, given its unilateral action, it
will probably have to bear almost all the estimated 9 billion US dollars in
post-war reconstruction, a task for which Europe contributed significantly the
last time around. The US may try to minimise collateral damage by using
delayed-fuse ordnance. Similarly, “Bugsplat” software is said to be used by
the US military to predict the impact of hitting specific targets and thereby
take advance action to minimise collateral damage, but none of these will help
when targets are missed altogether. Nothing is as perfect or sanitised as it
appears on paper or on video monitors, certainly not in war.


course, it is far too early to predict, even hypothetically, the course of
events after the war since the war itself may bring many surprises. However,
some tactical and strategic developments appear clear or at least highly likely.

is a huge chasm between the 41-nation coalition led by the US and sanctioned by
the UNSC during the first Gulf War to liberate Kuwait, the wide coalition forged
in the “war against terror”, and the present US-Britain axis waging an
illegal war on Iraq. No amount of signed statements by a handful of virtually
client states in Eastern Europe can mask the naked truth that the US is today
unimaginably isolated in the international community. The gulf between the US
and major European powers is especially wide and will not narrow down easily,
more so as it has been widening on major global issues ever since the advent of
the Bush administration such as on global treaties on greenhouse gases and
climate change, de-mining, monitoring of chemical and biological weapons
programmes, international court of justice, the list is endless. The enormous
and wilful damage inflicted by the US and Britain on the UN and the rule of
international law will not only have its own dangerous consequences but also
widen this gulf between the Anglo-American coalition and “old” Europe.

war on Iraq will also have strategic ramifications in the region and even within
Iraq. Even close US allies in the middle-east such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan
are opposed to the US policy and have not allowed their territory to be used for
war. Extremism and fundamentalism is likely to be spurred on by the US invasion
and subsequent occupation of Iraq. Within Iraq itself, ethnic and sectarian
cleavages may open up dangerously in the Shi’ite-dominated south and
south-east and the Kurdish-dominated north, with Iran and Turkey respectively
tempted to fish in these troubled waters. The present dispensation in the region
is likely to be profoundly affected with unpredictable consequences.

US has let loose the dogs of war. And the world will be quite a different place
after this one.