THE IRAQ CONFLICT: The Military Conundrum: Can Allies Avoid a Battle of Berlin? ; MILITARY ANALYSIS
Bellamy, Christopher, The Independent (London, England)
AS US FORCES edged closer to Baghdad yesterday, their advance slowed by a sandstorm, the armoured battle in the open that would have suited US commanders failed to materialise. No surprise there. The Iraqi forces protecting the capital - the "elite" Republican Guard divisions, (although such terms are relative) - appeared to be digging in, to wait for the Americans to come to them. It is a sound strategy. The Americans are either going to have to attack Iraq's best regular soldiers in defensive positions, or halt short of the city.
The British and US plan is to encircle and cut off the city before launching any assault in the urban area. Sooner or later they may have to mix it with Iraqi infantry in the streets. As an experienced commander said yesterday, there is a "density problem". In other words, not enough Allied troops. Cities with millions of people absorb soldiers like sponges with millions of holes. The Allies had hoped to avoid a Stalingrad on the Shatt al Arab waterway.
Although the Republican Guard largely escaped from the Kuwait theatre of operations in 1991, the mauling that their less well trained, equipped and supplied Iraqi army colleagues suffered at the hands of British and American forces will not have been lost on them.
Forward defence, primarily west and south of Baghdad, is therefore an unlikely option. Instead, it looks as if the Iraqis will use a strategy of urban warfare in and around all their cities, towns and villages. This negates the technological advantages of the British, American and Australian troops.
Three of the six Republican Guard divisions - the three armoured ones of 10,000 to 12,000 men each - are in the Baghdad area. While Iraqi army units are all reported to be at 50 per cent strength and lacking spares for half their vehicles, the Republican Guard are at more like 80 per cent strength. The Medina Division, which was to the west and has, we are told, been attacked by US helicopters, is moving to the south. The others, to the south and east, are the Baghdad and al-Nida divisions.
Unlike in 1991, the Republican Guard will not avoid conflict. British and US commanders believe that if the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime is imminent, the Republican Guard's only option is to fight. But that argument applies to tens of thousands of people in Iraq, and is not good news for the invaders.
Behind the Republican Guard are four brigades of the Special Republican Guard - 20,000 to 25,000 troops - who are either inside Baghdad or in President Saddam's home area of Tikrit. They are likely to be the last element to give up the fight.
There was some positive news for Allied commanders yesterday. Umm Qasr, the deep-water port necessary for reinforcement and humanitarian aid, was declared "safe and open". But Basra was declared a "military objective". At first, the British and US troops operating on the right flank had hoped its population would welcome them. When they did not, the British and US command decided to isolate it. …