Iraq may favor a city war, Stalingrad-style
Hussein's strategy has US soldiers armed with medieval-era tools to storm Baghdad
WASHINGTON — In the war zone today, some American soldiers are armed with battle-axes, battering rams, and grappling hooks. No, it's not a time-warped trip to the Middle Ages or Monty Python play acting, but recognition that war with Iraq - before it's over - could well involve the kind of fighting that has to deal with Saddam Hussein's own battle plan.
Driven more by necessity than boldness, the Iraqi dictator's strategy is a kind of throwback, experts say. It involves static warfare - what some call a "hedgehog defense" - rather than the "maneuver warfare" preached and practiced since World War II. And it relies on what could be Iraqi advantages in city fighting - hence the medieval weapons to break down doors and scale walls to get on rooftops in order to root out enemy soldiers in close combat.
The idea is not to defeat the American-led forces on the battlefield, but to make the fight so costly for them - in terms of publicly abhorrent civilian losses as well as military casualties - that a negotiated cease-fire either preserves the regime or gives Mr. Hussein the opportunity to declare "victory" and leave Iraq with his life and his liberty.
To succeed, Hussein has to accomplish three things, says George Friedman, head of Strategic Forecasting Inc. in Austin. He will have to maintain sufficient troop morale to get through the first days of withering aerial bombardment; resist US ground forces in those first days by inflicting enough casualties to at least slow down those attacks; and thereby be able to claim that the US is not invincible so that he can inspire further resistance as troops surround Baghdad.
"Hussein appears to reason that if he can create strongholds that cannot be reduced from a distance and which must be seized by US ground forces - even if the casualty ratio is tilted heavily against Iraq - then Iraq can reach a threshold that will force a cease-fire," observes Dr. Friedman in a recent analysis in STRATFOR Weekly, one of his company's publications.
The main tactics in such a strategy are concealment (which worked to a certain extent for Serb forces in Kosovo), hardening of key targets (command bunkers and chemical weapons sites), and mixing military forces with the civilian population.
All of this depends on morale - the willingness to die for cause or country. Conventional wisdom has been that many Iraqi forces would either desert or surrender. But, says Friedman, "History is littered with false assumptions about the enemy's morale."
While military officials and most observers predict a fairly quick defeat of Iraqi forces, there could well be surprises along the way.
"We have no business underestimating this enemy," Lt. Gen. William Wallace, commander of Army forces, told his troops in a prewar briefing this week.
Among the possible surprises:
• The toughness of Iraqi antiaircraft fire, particularly since it's now concentrated in and around Baghdad - described recently by one US Air Force general as a "hornet's nest."
• Belief that the "shock and awe" of an initial attack by Cruise missiles and aircraft "can only do so much," as military analyst Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution in Washington puts it, after which the effort will rely on ground troops who've never seen combat before.
• That the late arrival of the Army's 101st Airborne Division and the nonarrival of the 4th Infantry Division (due to Turkey's lack of cooperation) could make even regular Iraqi troops more than simply "speed bumps," as some US officers had predicted.
Retired Navy Captain and Pentagon strategist Larry Seaquist says allied commanders will have to watch out for other things as well: "A strategically significant failure of the US military to operate on the humanitarian side. Remember how the first day of 'bombing' Afghan villages with food packets was never followed up. And a major attempt, with Al Qaeda and Saudi Wahabbi backing, to establish fundamentalist Islamic leadership, said 'democratic' leadership to invite us out."
Some experts warn that Hussein's focus on an urban defense could undercut US advantages.
"As the Germans found at Stalingrad, city fighting reduces advantages in long-range gunnery, maneuver, armored warfare, and air power - all advantages we could have over the Iraqis but that would be diminished in their urban areas," writes Kenneth Pollack in his recent book "The Threatening Storm."
"Cities are great 'levelers' in that sense," warns Mr. Pollack, a former CIA analyst who focused on the Persian Gulf. "The great question mark will be Baghdad."