Iraq War 2003: Background & Lessons

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April 9, 2003

Iraq Displays Effective Resistance in Pockets, Highlighting Syrian Support Rôle; Saddam Believed Out of Baghdad

Analysis. By Gregory R. Copley, GIS Editor, With input from GIS Stations. Iraqi ground units in combat operations in Baghdad had begun demonstrating a significant capability against Coalition forces in the days leading up to April 8, 2003, as they finally were able to utilize technologies which matched their situation. However, overall Iraq command and control operations continued to appear disjointed and ineffective, even though it appeared almost certain that — as planned — Iraqi Pres. Saddam Hussein had departed Baghdad, and had apparently not been killed in an air strike, based on HUMINT allegedly provided to the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which had been designed to kill the Iraqi leader, his two sons and key intelligence officials on April 7, 2003.

The new effectiveness of the Iraqi ground forces was based on the anticipated fact that the best new equipment was being preserved to fight crucial battles in and around Baghdad and possibly Tikrit. The important new weapons capabilities being exhibited are principally the Kornet-E third-generation anti-tank guided weapon (ATGW) and upgrades to the venerable SA-6 surface-to-air missile (SAM) system so that it could be used effectively with infra-red (IR) or manual guidance, without having to utilize radar guidance, which would make the launch site vulnerable.

The Kornet-E — the export version of the new Russian ATGW made by KBP Instrument Design Making Bureau, Tula, Russia — is believed responsible for all of the battlefield losses of US General Dynamics M-1A1 Abrams main battle tanks lost in the war thus far.  

Syria acquired either 500 or 1,000 of the missiles, and an unknown number of the associated 9P163-1 launcher units (the 9P163-2 variant is for vehicle/turret fit), from the Ukraine, on behalf of Iraq. Even 1,000 of the missiles would not provide enough units for a robust defense, but would clearly make the defense of Baghdad a more evenly-matched affair for some time. The Kornet-E warheads are offered by Russia in either a conventional high-explosive (HE) warhead or a thermobaric blast warhead (the 9M133F-1); it is not known at this stage which variant the Iraqi Special Republican Guard acquired, or whether they have both. The range is from 100m to 5,500m in daylight, or up to 5,000m using the night thermal sight.

The US newsweekly, Newsweek, reported that the Ukraine had sold 500 Kornet-E missiles to Iraq in January 2003. This was specifically denied by the Ukraine Foreign Ministry on April 1, 2003. The weapons, however, have appeared in Iraq, and GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily sources reported that either 500 or 1,000 of them were exported from Ukraine via Syria. Significantly, the Government of Ukraine, in an attempt to position itself on the issue, has expressly joined the US-led “Coalition of the Willing” in the war against Iraq, although limiting itself to humanitarian assistance in the conflict. Kuwait requested that Ukraine provide assistance in chemical and biological defenses for Kuwait in the war, and later asked that the Ukrainian capability be extended “outside Kuwait” (ie: into Iraq).

However, on March 27, 2003, Ukraine Foreign Minister Anatolii Zlenko ruled out the possibility of deployment of a Ukrainian radiation, bacteriological, and chemical warfare protection battalion outside Kuwait, noting: “We have an invitation from the friendly country of Kuwait, and our battalion is being deployed in this country. There can be no talk of any other countries, particularly considering the fact that we are tied by the relevant agreement with [Kuwait] that was approved by the parliament.” According to Markian Lubkivskyi, the head of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry’s press service, the battalion would not only be stationed in Kuwait, it would operate exclusively on the territory of Kuwait. He said: “Our battalion is stationed in and will operated exclusively in Kuwait and will not participate in military operations.”

Indeed, although all indications were that Syria procured the Kornet-E weapons from Ukraine — which in turn had acquired them from Russia — it remained possible that the weapons went into Iraq via Syria, but also, first, through Yemen. The fact that the Kornet-E has been in service with the Syrian Army for some time makes it difficult to determine whether the Iraqi variants are merely ex-Syrian Army (with the new systems going into the Syrian Army to replace the ones sold on to Iraq) or whether Syria merely acted as the instrument by which Iraq procured new variants.

Guidance for the Kornet-E is by semi-automatic command-to-line-of-sight (SACLOS) laser beam-rider, with armor penetration capability up to 1,000mm. The system uses a crew of two or three, depending on the circumstances of use, and was designed to be used against armor, installations and helicopters.

The Iraqi forces first used the weapon before the siege of Baghdad began. The US Army lost two M-1s — during fighting around an-Najaf — and at least two other vehicles to Kornet-Es, in late March 2003. Despite this, some US analysts failed to give credit to the importance of the weapon, noting only that it was “fairly good for a Russian weapon”.

The success of the Iraqi Kornet-Es may well prove to be a major stimulus to sales of the system by Russia in the near future, given the fact that it broke the impression of the near-invincibility of the M-1 variants in operations. It is the only area in which Iraqi forces have been seen to be effective in normal military operations against the Coalition, and any additional successes in coming days could bolster Iraqi unit cohesiveness and fighting spirit. Already, on April 8, 2003, some Iraqi units showed signs of considerably improved effectiveness in operations against US Marines, highlighting the possibility that the siege of Baghdad could be, as predicted, be a messy and protracted affair.

Iraqi C3. Overall, in the conduct of Iraqi military operations, it was clear that Iraqi forces were operating largely on pre-conflict plans and commands, although some limited national-level command, control and communications (C3) may exist. It seems clear that not all satellite communications capabilities of the Iraqi leadership — or the Information Ministry — have been eliminated by Coalition actions. Equally, it seems unlikely, according to GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily sources and specialists who have been intimately familiar with the Iraqi leadership structure for some decades, that Iraqi Pres. Saddam Hussein was in Baghdad at the time of the April 7, 2003, targeted attack by a USAF B-1B in the Mansour district of Baghdad, specifically against what was alleged to be a bunker behind or underneath the al-Saa restaurant. The attack used four 2,000lb (900 kilogram) smart bombs, and clearly destroyed the target.

GIS sources, however, believed that Pres. Saddam had already left Baghdad at the time, which calls into question the credibility of the intelligence used.

Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily noted, in a special report by Senior Analyst Yossef Bodansky, entitled Iraqi War Planning and Strategy Show Detailed Preparations for a Geographically Wide and Multi-Layered Conflict on November 8, 2002:

In early October 2002, senior Arab officials in contact with Baghdad noted that Saddam’s defensive plans “proceeded from the possibility of a quick military defeat for the Iraqi regular forces, the fall of major cities in the north and the south, and even the surrender of scores of military barracks and divisions and the desertion of thousands of soldiers”. They explained that Baghdad’s working assumption is that “the US invasion would take place at any time and would be aimed at Saddam personally, his family, and the narrow ruling circle around him.” Saddam is convinced, they elaborated, that “the sole victory, which he could achieve and defeat Bush with, is staying alive and preventing the US forces or their military and civilian Iraqi collaborators from achieving the aim of arresting or assassinating him, even if they succeeded in occupying Baghdad and appointing a bogus ‘Iraqi Karzai’”. The essence of the Iraqi defensive plans would be to facilitate Saddam’s “victory” irrespective of the price Iraq would have to pay.

That report went on:

The second layer of the Iraqi defense is comprised of the Republican Guard forces covering an area including Baghdad, Tikrit and Qusay’s forward headquarters at the al-Baghdadi air base. Under Qusay’s command, the Republican Guard’s eight divisions, along with an assortment of artillery, missiles and special forces, are expected to put a protracted and defiant fight against the US forces. These forces are well-equipped, constantly trained, and fiercely loyal to Saddam and Qusay. While these forces are expected to demonstrate long-term endurance against the US as well as inflicting heavy casualties, they are not expected to defeat the US Armed Forces. Ultimately, the Iraqi contingency plans predict that “the Republican Guard would not be able to resist the military and psychological warfare pressure”, and fighting would move into Baghdad. Saddam, the Arab officials noted, is convinced  that “the real battle of [Iraq’s] existence and destiny would be fought in and around Baghdad”. 

And continued:

Ultimately, Saddam, Qusay, and a host of key officials would move to shelters at the heart of the Iraqi desert in order to conduct the next phase of the war: the guerilla and terrorism phase. Of special significance is the transition period from urban warfare to desert-based guerilla warfare. To oversee this phase, Saddam nominated Abu-Karmi, who, along with Abd-al-Hamid Humud, Saddam’s private secretary, are considered the two non-family members closest to Saddam and Qusay. According to a high Arab official actively involved with the leadership in Baghdad, Abu-Karmi’s mission is “to open the doors of hell on US forces’ positions and bases in the neighboring countries, especially Qatar and Kuwait, and even Jordan, if US operations were launched from there, with all the missiles and biological and chemical weapons Iraq possesses”.

The transfer of Saddam and his coterie to the desert and the activation of the guerilla phase of the war is entrusted to Abd-al-Hamid Humud. Over the past few months, ever since Baghdad was convinced that Pres. Bush was adamant on toppling the Administration, Humud has been working on the “underground resistance” plan. He identified the areas in which the resistance would be active and appointed local Ba’ath party and tribal officials. He also oversaw the construction of long and deep tunnels in safe areas located in the Sunni region and near the Syrian and Jordanian borders. These tunnels were filled with cash, provisions, weapons and explosives in quantities which would sustain a guerilla war for three years.

For the long-term guerilla warfare, Saddam established the jihad leadership comprised of Saddam, his son Qusay, Ali Hassan al-Majid (Saddam’s cousin), Abd-al-Tawwab Mulla Huwaysh, Mustafa Kamil (Saddam’s brother-in-law), Sultan Hashim, Lutayyif Nusayyif Jasim, Tariq Aziz, and Watban al-Tikriti (Saddam’s brother). The guerilla war would be wage by a force of more than 100,000 troops all of whom are from the Tikrit and Al-Bu-Nassir tribes. Most of them are drawn from the tribes’ own defense force, the Republican Guard, the intelligence, and the Ba’ath party militias. About 5,000 of these forces are experienced commandos from the Republican Guard, the special security, and the intelligence, especially Unit 999, Iraq’s primary terrorism training and control force which is now entrusted with setting up martyrdom squads to strike US objectives throughout Iraq. Saddam is convinced that these forces would be able to sustain terrorist campaign throughout Iraq, and a lengthy bloody struggle for Baghdad, thus transforming Iraq into a new Afghanistan/Vietnam.

There is strong evidence that the war — while the Iraqi conduct of which may not accord with Western military strategic logic — is at least proceeding as Iraqi leaders expected it to proceed. It should be assumed, then, that Saddam would have by now moved to his external base. There was never a suggestion that he would wait in Baghdad for the overwhelming Coalition military capability which he anticipated, and which he anticipated would overwhelm his conventional forces.

Coalition military leaders are correct in noting that considerable fighting remains to be faced in Iraq. Nonetheless, Western media reports continue to foster the illusion of an easy military triumph. And while a Coalition military success is clearly inevitable — given, particularly, US resources and the fact that the US Bush Administration has no option but to proceed until total success — the next phase of the war is likely to provoke a new round of political angst for Coalition political leaders.