How the Resistance Movement Caught Allies in a Trap
Christopher Bellamy ñ The Independent 25 March 2003
As the Battle for Baghdad gets under way, the Iraqi defensive strategy is looking increasingly sound. In his speech yesterday, Saddam Hussein said the
invaders were "trapped" by heroic Iraqi resistance. In a way, he may just be right.
The pace of the US 3rd Mechanised Infantry Division's race up the Euphrates and towards Baghdad has been almost unprecedented in the history of war.
But as this mighty armoured force heads for the capital, its main supply route looks increasingly vulnerable. The Iraqis have let the Americans, and,
to a lesser extent, the British, roll over them and then appeared behind the invaders in small groups to harry them from the rear.
The US and British formations pressing towards Baghdad and held on the Euphrates and Tigris have had to "reconsolidate", and go into all-round
defensive positions to guard against opposition coalescing behind them. In that sense they are, as President Saddam put it, "trapped".
The left flank of the Allied thrust has gone extremely fast; the right, far more slowly. The Iraqis have therefore achieved exactly what they need:
they have identified the main enemy thrust. The Iraqi generals, including quite a few trained at Sandhurst, know what to do next. Counter-attack the
isolated spearhead with a massive armoured reserve. Of the Republican Guard Force's six divisions ñ the only Iraqi divisions to be at full strength ñ
three are in the area around Baghdad. A full-scale armoured battle is probably what the US planners want, because they would win it. The Iraqi
generals know full well what happens when T-72s and BMPs come up against M1 Abrams and Bradleys, Apaches and A-10 Thunderbolts. That is why, so far,
the Iraqi strategy of avoiding large-scale battle has been so successful. But the appearance of the Americans, tired and at the end of their supply
lines, outside Baghdad might be too great a temptation. The resulting contest could be symbolic, with shades of the Battle of Kursk in 1943.
The Allied attack, indeed, has much in common strategically with the German assault on Soviet Russia in 1941 and, from an operational viewpoint, with
the invasion of France in 1940. In the former, the Germans, neglecting their flanks, tore across Belgium and northern France to the sea in a few days.
Guderian's crossing of the Meuse at Sedan is considered to be the master-stroke which made this possible, and it is no coincidence that, before the
present war broke out, US armoured divisions were instructed to study it. By a strange coincidence, the crossing over the Euphrates at Nasiriyah is
much the same distance from Baghdad as Sedan is from Paris. In 1940, the British and French attempted to cut the advancing German spearhead off with a
counter-attack from north and south. In fact, only the British attack, at Arras, had any chance of success. It failed, partly because they lacked air
support, but gave the Germans, including Rommel, a real shock. The US commanders are no doubt confident that their overwhelming air superiority and
the complete "transparency of the battlespace" will mean they can identify and destroy any Iraqi counter-attacks.
The comparisons with 1940 are ultimately comforting to the American and British forces. Those with 1941 are less so. As they fanned out into the vast
spaces of the western Soviet Union, the Germans encircled vast numbers of Soviet troops. But many of the troops were able to work their way out, and
others, left behind by the swift German advance, joined local people to form partisan units. That is exactly what seems to be happening in southern
Iraq at the moment.
The Allied commanders must be worried at this continued resistance around and behind their advanced forces. They could deal with it, if they were more
brutal in their use of the available weaponry or if they had more troops. If such resistance continues it will be necessary to deploy more troops,
either regulars or reservists, or to use Iraqi units which have come over to the Allies for rear-area security.