View Full Version : A Victory for the 1st Armored Division

06-28-04, 07:35 AM

From the Editor:

A Victory for the 1st Armored Division

By Ed Offley

After more than two months of armed rebellion in southern Iraq, radical Shiite Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr last week threw in the towel.

Blustering all the way, the hothead cleric announced a change of position: Instead of opposing the interim Iraqi government that is set to assume power next week, he now will form a political party that will participate in Iraqi civilian political affairs. But Iraqis and American troops know better why al-Sadr changed his mind.

Al-Sadr gave up because the 1st Armored Division squashed his ragtag militia like so many cockroaches.

As Washington Times Pentagon reporter Rowan Scarborough described it this week, “The Germany-based division defeated the militia with a mix of American firepower and money paid to informants. Officers today say ‘Operation Iron Saber’ will go down in military history books as one of the most important battles in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.”

The 1st Armored Division was not even in Iraq when al-Sadr attempted a mass uprising against the U.S.-led coalition on Apr. 8 following the seizure of his newspaper and the arrest of a key aide. The division’s troops and gear were in Kuwait preparing to redeploy to bases in Germany after a yearlong occupation tour in Iraq. But with an estimated 10,000 members of his militia threatening to seize power in the Shiite cities of Karbala, Najaf, Kufa, Diwaniyah and Kut, the order went out and Maj. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey’s troops raced back into southern Iraq.

And here they did the right thing. Dempsey and his deputies threw away the field manual and devised a brilliant cut-and-paste operation that combined brute force in direct fighting with the cleric’s gunmen, precision-guided fires to avoid damaging religious shrines and killing innocent bystanders, while utilizing information operations and old-fashioned cash bribes to entice other Iraqis to provide them with “actionable intelligence” against the militias. Like the Marines at Fallujah, they avoided getting bogged down in city street fighting.

It helped that within the Iraqi Shiite community, al-Sadr was more of a renegade than a true popular hero. He is still suspected of complicity in the murder of respected Ayatollah Abdel-Majid Khoei, a moderate Shiite cleric, in April 2003. Many Iraqis, angered over his militia's kidnappings and thievery, quickly volunteered as spies for the Americans, as did a few moderate clerics who publicly stayed neutral.

“Iron Saber” ran on four elements: massive combat power, information operations to discredit al-Sadr, rebuilding the Iraqi security forces that had fled during the uprising, and instigating civil affairs operations immediately after the end of armed clashes.

The campaign began with a move into Kut in early April, followed by an incursion into Diwaniyah. Then one of the division’s battalions sent a force of 18 M1A1 tanks into Karbala, where strict rules of engagement aimed to spare religious shrines. Then the 1st Armored’s soldiers moved into Najaf and Kufa, where al-Sadr and several thousand of his militia fighters still lurked.

“As soon as we finished military operations, we immediately began civil-military operations,” deputy division commander Brig. Gen. Mark Hertling told the Times. “We crossed over from bullets to money.”

Iraq is headed for initial sovereignty at the end of this month despite the ongoing ferocious insurgency by foreign jihadist fighters who even now are unleashing widespread violence across the Sunni Triangle. American and allied troops are still fighting and dying as they battle back. The surest bet is that Iraq will remain a violent and dangerous place for years to come.

But as the troops of the 1st Armored Division have shown, victories on the ground merely require the correct tactics. It is to their credit that Dempsey and his fellow generals came up with a workable plan.

Ed Offley is Editor of DefenseWatch. He can be reached at dweditor@yahoo.com. Please send Feedback responses to dwfeedback@yahoo.com. © 2004 Ed Offley.