Correcting Myths about the Persian Gulf War: The Last Stand of the Tawakalna

By Bourque, Stephen A. | The Middle East Journal, Autumn 1997 | Go to article overview

Correcting Myths about the Persian Gulf War: The Last Stand of the Tawakalna


Bourque, Stephen A., The Middle East Journal


Several myths about the Persian Gulf War still linger years after its conclusion. One is that the ground war was a relatively simple, high-tech campaign; another is that the air campaign essentially destroyed the Iraqi Army; and the third and most important is that the Iraqi Army did not fight, but simply surrendered at the approach of the Allied Coalition's forces. This paper argues that the Iraqi Army, and especially the Republican Guard, fought bravely but ineptly against the overwhelming combat power of a better trained and equipped US Army.

This article attempts to dispel a number of myths about the way the Iraqi Republican Guard fought during the Gulf War of 1991. The Republican Guard has been President Saddam Husayn's premier striking force and one of the pillars upon which the continuation of his regime has depended. It was formed in the 1970s as a small force to defend the capital and the president. At that time, only men from Saddam Husayn's hometown of Takrit were eligible for membership. During the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, the regime opened the Guard to college students from throughout Iraq. Most of these recruits, who had enjoyed college deferments, had never been part of the grueling defensive warfare on the Iranian front. Trained only in offensive warfare, their high motivation was obvious in the decisive victory over Iran on the Faw Peninsula. During the war the Iraqi High Command retrained, re-equipped and enlarged the Republican Guard so that by 1990 it had grown to three armored-mechanized divisions and five infantry divisions. The three armored mechanized divisions included the Tawakalna Division, which fought against the entire US 7th Corps as described in this article; the Medina Armored Division, which battled the 1st US Armored Division on the afternoon of 27 February 1991 west of the Al-Ruqta oil field; and the Hammurabi Armored Division, which fought against the 24th US Mechanized Division at Al-Tawr al-Hammar, on 2 March 1991, after the cease-fire.

BACKGROUND TO THE US-REPUBLICAN GUARD BATTLE

Allied Coalition air forces began the war against Iraq on 17 January 1991. Using every variety of aircraft, from the French Mirage to the US B52, they subjected Iraqi military and civilian targets to one of the most intense air operations since World War II. By 24 February, in spite of the damage that air power had inflicted on the Iraqi Army, Saddam Husayn had not ordered his army out of Kuwait. Air operations then took on a new character. In addition to continuing their raids deep into Iraq, Coalition pilots began to provide close air support to the Coalition's attacking ground troops. Using primarily A-10 Thunderbolt aircraft, these pilots joined with US Army attack helicopters and long-range field artillery in attacking Iraqi Army units beyond the range of front-line ground troops.'

After six weeks of air bombardment, the ground war between the Iraqi and the Coalition forces began on 24 February 1991 with an attack by the Coalition forces across the Saudi Arabian border into Kuwait and Iraq. By 26 February, the front extended over 350 miles from the Euphrates River in the north, south to the Iraq-Saudi Arabian border and east to Kuwait City. During the ground offensive against Iraq, the Coalition was divided into two army-sized commands. In the east, in a sector that extended from the western Kuwait border to Kuwait City, was the Joint Forces Command (JFC) under HRH General Khalid bin-Sultan. This command consisted of three corps-sized commands: Joint Forces Command-North, US Marine Corps-Central Command, and Joint Forces Command-East. In addition, the JFC contained soldiers from Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and other Muslim forces from around the world. The army command in the western portion of the sector was the US 3rd Army under Lieutenant General John J. Yeosock. It consisted of two corps, the 7th and the 18th. The 7th Corps under Lieutenant General Frederick M. Franks, Jr. …

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