View Full Version : Iraq: the Dog That Didn't Bark? or Was It Muzzled?

04-16-03, 07:05 AM
Iraq: the Dog That Didn't Bark? or Was It Muzzled?
Tue April 15, 2003 04:21 PM ET

By John Chalmers
DOHA, Qatar (Reuters) - There were no chemical weapon attacks, there was no "war within a war" between Turkey and the Kurds, no refugee crisis, no mass destruction of oil wells, bridges or dams and there was no "Stalingrad" urban bloodbath.

Was Iraq the dog that didn't bark?

With U.S. Marine chemical warfare experts in Baghdad now turning decontamination kits into hot showers for the troops, the worst-case scenarios predicted before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq less than a month ago look ridiculously overblown.

And yet U.S. military planners say that were it not for the lightning speed of their push forward and the potent combination of arms -- from devastating air power and disruptive special forces to intelligence and psychological operations -- those scenarios might well have come to pass.

War commander General Tommy Franks applied many of the lessons learned in the Afghanistan conflict of 2001 to Iraq. Among these was the extensive use of special operations forces, teams of 10 or 12 people who -- according to one source -- waged "a guerrilla war of their own."

"The special operations raids early on destroyed command and control centers, they seized oil infrastructure, they took airfields, they began to establish a presence inside of Baghdad and get the targeting information we've used..." said Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

He told a briefing on the war in Washington that the juxtaposition of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's ideas for "innovation and special operations" with the military's preference to go in big and strong and conventional had worked.


The command structure of now-deposed President Saddam Hussein's giant military machine was modeled along Soviet lines: it was one where divisional commanders waited for orders and were not expected, perhaps not trusted, to take initiatives.

And so by quickly ripping Iraq's command and control capability to shreds, the U.S.-led forces reduced the chances that orders to use weapons of mass destruction or blow up bridges, dams and oil wells would ever reach its front lines.

Planners believe their leafleting campaign may also have made Iraqis decide against torching oil heads or destroying bridges, many of which they say were rigged with explosives.

Some Iraqis captured in the southern oil fields were reported to have told U.S. forces they had been persuaded by air-dropped exhortations not to squander their country's wealth.

The disintegration of Iraq's command and control meant that the U.S.-led forces were always 48-72 hours ahead of their enemy, which never had a real-time picture of the battlefield.

And so Saddam, if he was still alive, was probably astonished to find U.S. troops at the gates of Baghdad so quickly.

Brookings Senior Fellow Kenneth Pollack says the Iraqis made the same miscalculation in the 1991 Gulf War.

"The Iraqis plan for a certain kind of war and they always expected to have more time to make decisions and shift forces than was actually the case," he told the Washington briefing.


Lacking direction and battered from the air and ground, the formidable line of Republican Guards with which Saddam had hoped to defend the southern outskirts of Baghdad collapsed and pulled back in disarray to set up hasty defenses within the city.

Pollack said U.S. forces saw that Saddam's elite troops were on a back foot and, instead of digging in for a siege, they dashed into the capital before the Iraqis could prepare an urban battlefield.

Military officials boast that Franks's readiness to look for opportunities like this to press forward rather than stick to rigid timelines -- another lesson from Afghanistan -- paid off.

In the north, the Kurdish militia's grab of Kirkuk stoked concerns that Turkey would send its forces across the border to put down a possible push for independence.

But a combination of strong diplomatic pressure on Ankara to hold off and a tight rein on the Kurdish militia meant the "war within a war" scenario was never a serious threat.

As for predictions that the war would unleash huge flows of refugees from Iraq, they too turned out to be wrong.

"It seems that the early allied military strategy of bypassing major cities, selective bombing of military targets and warnings to civilians to stay at home and off the main roads have limited the number of civilians on the move," the International Institute for Strategic Studies said in a paper.

U.S. Central Command said Tuesday that its forces had found 80 surface-to-air missiles as well as extensive caches of modern weaponry since the fighting died down.

Analyst Paul Beaver told BBC World the finds were chilling.

"If they had had their command and control in place, if they had had the will, they could have actually delayed this conflict and made it a very long and drawn-out affair," he said.