Iraq war-raghu

People’s Democracy

Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 14

April 6,

Iraq War: Second Phase Unfolds


the US-led war on Iraq enters its third week, the contours of a revised
strategy, necessitated by the serious reverses suffered by US and British forces
due to fierce Iraqi resistance over the first ten days, are emerging fairly
clearly. The US-British campaign in this second phase is taking shape quite
differently from what had been planned and from how it had embarked a fortnight





both form and ferocity, the Iraqi resistance clearly took the Anglo-American
military command by surprise. In a sensational reversal of the classic guerilla
warfare strategy, enunciated for instance during the Chinese revolution, of
capturing the countryside and surrounding the towns, the Iraqi forces withdrew
from the countryside into cities and towns from where they attacked the
advancing US-British forces with artillery and mortar, ambushed flanking and
rear elements, and effectively blocked the forward movement of the much better
armed US and British armoured columns. In town after town along the Euphrates to
the west, in places such as Naasiriyah, Najaf, Karbala and Kut, US forces found
themselves forced into prolonged engagements, drawing them nearer and virtually
into urban centres and close-quarter combat in which their technological
superiority is virtually neutralised. On the eastern flank along the Tigris, the
British advance is stalled almost where it started, unable to proceed much
beyond Iraq’s second largest city of Basrah in the south near the Kuwaiti
border and Iraq’s only port of Umm Qasr on the Shatt-el-Arab waterway.

and British formations at the outskirts of each town are being pinned down by
Iraqi forces, defeating the original strategy of bypassing these urban centres
en route to Baghdad. Further advances are being prevented also by overstretched
supply lines caused by rapid and leap-frogging forward movement and by the
unanticipated resistance, disrupting what was planned to be a huge,
uninterrupted column of troops and armour all the way to Baghdad. 
Instead, Anglo-American force concentrations are highly dispersed with a
poor supply chain. The US 3rd Infantry and 7th Cavalry, which had raced ahead,
are stuck near Naasiriyah, almost 200 km away from rear supply echelons and
reportedly low on fuel, food and ammunition.

and Britain appear to be preparing for prolonged battles in each of these urban
centres even as they try to overcome resistance, wait for reinforcements, strive
to repair and consolidate supply lines and await a redrawn plan for an assault
on Baghdad.



the meantime, as sandstorms blowing across Iraq cleared last week, the US and
Britain stepped up aerial bombardment of Baghdad and all these towns. Sunday
witnessed the heaviest air strikes on Iraq to date. Over 1800 sorties, that is
more than 1 sortie each minute, were flown by US and British aircraft, compared
to a daily average of 1000-1500 sorties hitherto. Targets in and around Baghdad,
especially various points in the south of the city indicating the probable
direction of the final push, constituted over 60 per cent of these sorties
compared to around 20 per cent till the weekend. This sharp increase in aerial
assaults on Baghdad serves to make up for the present shortfall in US ground
assault capabilities and also seeks to avoid the mistakes made earlier in not
dealing properly with defences in Iraqi towns and cities. Apart from major TV
and telephone infrastructure in Baghdad which continued to be pounded for the
third day running, the aerial bombardment mainly targeted elite Republican Guard
units of the Medina, Hammurabi and Baghdad divisions seeking to degrade these
forces as well as artillery, armour and anti-aircraft capability defending the
capital. Iraqi commanders were forced elsewhere to disavow static and hard
defensive formations of tanks and artillery around major towns where they
extremely vulnerable to aerial attack.

same tactics are being adopted by US forces in other towns as well, with some
signs of success. In the past couple of days, very heavy fighting has taken
place in Najaf and Naasiriyah with US forces now being able to control several
suburbs and settlements on the outskirts, pushing the Iraqi fighters deeper into
inner-city areas. In Naasiriyah, US forces, otherwise concentrated mostly to the
south, attacked the town from the north, thus cutting off any possible retreat
towards or reinforcements from Baghdad, and have also secured a key bridge
across the Euphrates. US tactics now may well put into effect mini-sieges in
each of these towns, ringed by relatively lighter armour and forces in view of
degraded Iraqi defences, bottling Iraqi fighters in deep within the towns, and
wait out the situation pending the assault on Baghdad rather than venturing into
street warfare for total control of these urban centres. Recent foolhardy
tactics by Iraqi tank formations near Basrah to venture into open ground in
counter-attacks, where they were easily picked off by superior tanks or from the
air, are not likely to be repeated.

retaining forces around each town while simultaneously pushing forward on
Baghdad will require much larger troop and armour concentrations. These are
expected to be provided by a fresh induction of about 1,20,000 US troops
including 30,000 of the hi-tech and highly mechanised Texas-based US 4th
Infantry, all of which, however, will take close to two weeks to be fully
positioned for combat inside Iraq.



forces in the south also appear to be registering some minor but perhaps
significant gains. With tactics similar to those discussed above, in Basrah
British troops are patrolling areas in the city suburbs and outskirts gradually
increasing the area under their influence. Al Faw peninsula and the Rumeilla oil
fields are also “secure but not safe” as British commanders put it. Late
Monday, Britain claimed to have taken the nearby town of Zubayr after heavy
fighting, but similar claims made earlier turned out to be false. In Umm Qasr,
while the town itself has not been secured, British control over surrounding
areas appears strong enough for them to be prepared to open a fresh water
pipeline from Kuwait which will bring in 2.6 million litres of badly needed

fronts are also likely to open up in the coming days. In northern Iraq, where
Turkey refused to allow US troops to operate from its soil, heavy aerial
bombardment in the north especially of the strategic town of Kirkuk early last
week was followed by landings of troops and armour at nearby Harrir airbase in
preparation for opening up a new front from the north. Iraqi forces patrolling
ridge lines in Kalak on the “red line” on the 38th parallel, separating the
autonomous Kurd areas stretching to the border with Turkey, have been heavily
pounded from the air and have tactically withdrawn into Kirkuk following the
strategy which has worked well elsewhere in south and central Iraq. With
continued aerial bombardments in the north in the strategic oil-rich regions
around Mosul, in Sham Shamal near the Iranian border in the north-east, in Erbil
near the now established US airbase at Harrir, the US military is well placed to
establish a strong base in the north for launching operations from there. With
Iraqi forces in the area having no anti-aircraft defences and no positions on
the surrounding high ground, the US is starting to bring in tanks, armoured
vehicles and heavy artillery aboard C-17 Globemaster transporters from Germany
and elsewhere.

at this rate, however, building up a brigade-level force could take upto two
weeks which is increasingly looking as the time threshold for a concerted push
on Baghdad itself. Mystery surrounding a phantom-like column, with no
“embedded” reporters or other press reports about its doings, pushing up
further to the West than the main column moving up the Euphrates, also appeared
to be clearing up last week. The whereabouts of the 101st Airborne Division, a
key US offensive formation whose arrival in this theatre early this month
convinced most military observers that the US invasion was indeed imminent, were
also not clearly known. In a significant development, the 101st late last week
appeared in the west of Karbala, closer to Baghdad than any other US formation
till then, having come across the western desert from the direction of Saudi
Arabia, thus signaling the potential opening of a western front and an assault
on Tikrit and other important towns in that region.




heightened US-British aerial attacks, moving closer to populated areas, hitherto
mostly by missiles and smart-bombs but increasingly using cluster bombs and
normal munitions from B-52s and close-quarter attacks by Cobra and Apache
helicopters, are bringing in their wake even greater civilian casualties than
have been seen to date. Two not-so-smart bombs have hit crowded market places in
Baghdad during the past week, killing over 100 innocent people including women
and children. Iraqi spokesmen have said 460 Iraqi civilians have so far been
killed in US-British attacks.

civilian deaths and casualties, and destruction of civilian property, have been
graphically brought into people’s homes by Iraqi TV and by numerous Arabic TV
channels, notably Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya. These have inflamed public opinion
in the world, especially in neighbouring countries from where 4,000
suicide-fighters are said to have reached Iraq to join the resistance against
the invading forces. This is also hardening opposition to the US-led invasion
within Iraq, even among those who have little love lost for Saddam Hussein or
his Ba’athist regime.

vast asymmetry between the US-British and Iraqi military has forced the latter
to adopt any means to counter it, chiefly withdrawing inside urban centres and
drawing US-British fire into populated areas. Some civilians have attempted to
flee Basrah and Iraqi paramilitaries are rumoured to be preventing any further
exodus, but no similar incidents have been reported elsewhere. Much to the
chagrin of the US-British axis, Iraqi anger remains directed against them and no
“uprisings” have taken place. But it would be well to remember that,
guerilla tactics and anger against a foreign invasion apart, Saddam Hussein is
no Mao Zedong or Ho Chi Minh and the Ba’ath Party does not hold the same place
in Iraqi hearts as the patriotic and revolutionary forces did in China or

and British fatalities admitted to date number 76, an extremely high figure
considering the sanitised, remote-controlled campaigns the US is known to prefer
and has got used to in Kosovo and to a lesser extent in Afghanistan. With the
kind of close-quarter battles likely to take place in the coming weeks,
especially if street-fighting were to ensue in Baghdad and other cities,
Anglo-British deaths and casualties are likely to be considerably higher.
Casualties and deaths from “friendly fire” are also likely to increase
beyond the high figures already witnessed. In the past week, British tank
formations have fired at each other near Basrah, US fighters have shot at their
own Patriot missile systems, over a dozen American soldiers were wounded by
“friendly” machine gun fire and late Friday night 2 US soldiers were killed
while sleeping after being run over by US tanks! At one stage, more British
soldiers had been killed in “friendly fire” than in engagements with Iraqi
forces! The closer US-British and Iraqi forces get to each other around urban
centres, with more close-quarter engagements and aerial strikes by the former,
the higher are likely to be friendly fire casualties. US forces in particular
seem to be over-reliant on technology, perhaps trained too much under simulated
conditions, and appear to get anxious and error-prone in actual combat.

casualties in particular may significantly influence domestic opinion in the US.
Already a perceptible shift has been reported in US surveys which show that,
whereas support for the war since it started still hovers around 70 per cent,
those believing it would be short and effective have dropped to 36 per cent from
a similar figure. The nervousness and defensiveness of the US military and
civilian defense leadership is readily visible in recent press interviews and
appearances, with defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld in particularly having come
under severe criticism in wide sections of the press. With the original strategy
having clearly gone wrong, resulting in a much longer campaign and more US
casualties, finger pointing has already started with the military blaming the
CIA for not having supplied intelligence about the surprise package of the war,
the Fedayeen Saddam, with Rumsfeld being blamed for imposing himself upon
military planners and Colin Powell being blamed for mishandling the diplomatic
front. One could see more of this in days to come unless things turn around on
the battlefield.



another intriguing aspect of the war is gathering momentum. Food, water and
other essential humanitarian aid is beginning to enter Iraq, currently in a
trickle but soon perhaps in greater quantities. The British ship Sir Galahad
first sailed into Umm Qasr last week with food and water. On Sunday, the first
UNICEF convoy entered from Turkey into Iraq, at Solopi.

issue of humanitarian aid, which several correspondents have described as
perhaps the most important weapon for the Anglo-Americans in the Iraq war, is
gaining importance with each passing day. US and, till now, mainly British
forces are distributing food, water and other supplies under armed protection,
with reportedly mixed response. The aid is being taken, of course, but not
without suspicion, even hostility, towards the invading forces and the very act
of bringing aid while continuing to bomb towns and cities with considerable
destruction of civilian lives and property.

role of the UN in handling and distributing humanitarian assistance in the
coming days will take on considerable significance with strategic consequences.
The Security Council resolution adopted unanimously re-starts the oil for food
programme suspended abruptly on commencement of the invasion by the US and its
allies, but under the UN alone rather than under the UN and the Iraqi government
as before. Many factors, apart from the need to reach assistance to the
beleaguered Iraqi population, such as wanting to re-unite the UN and increasing
its role in Iraq, may have prompted countries such as France, Russia and China
to go along with this resolution. But Iraq has opposed, indeed denounced, it as
a tacit acceptance if not endorsement of the US-led invasion.

secretary general Kofi Annan had earlier stated that the onus for humanitarian
assistance lay squarely upon the “occupying forces” under the Geneva
convention but will now be called upon to implement this UNSC resolution without
the support of the Iraqi government! UN spokespersons are already saying the UN
will distribute aid in “secure” areas, which can only mean areas under
control of US-British forces and mostly free of hostilities. In such an
eventuality, UN-administered relief will be seen virtually as part of the US-led
campaign. If UN relief workers do not feel safe in other areas, then they cannot
themselves distribute supplies. In this case, will they, or perhaps more
important, will they be allowed to, distribute them through the Iraqi
government? What will be the stand and role of UN officials, of the anti-war
Security Council members and other countries on this question? Will the US and
Britain use this developing situation to their advantage or will the majority in
the international community opposed to this illegal war be able to turn the
tables? The role and standing of the UN, the shape of geo-political alignments
both during and after this war and its very outcome war could be determined by
answers to these questions