Sunday, January 30, 2005

The Iraq War (2003- ) The March to Baghdad

The campaign began a day ahead of schedule when intelligence indicated that Saddam might be at a hideout in Baghdad. A hurriedly mounted F-117 strike hit that target just before dawn on March 20, but the dictator was elsewhere. On the following night the “shock and awe” offensive blasted downtown Baghdad. Coalition aircraft and ships launched 600 cruise missiles, while strike aircraft, including B-1s and B-2s, flew 700 missions and struck over a thousand targets. Although a stunning display of military might, the attack on Baghdad had an unintended effect. By leveling ministry and party buildings, it destroyed much of the evidence on the regime’s crimes as well as the administrative apparatus necessary to govern the country. Yet it was hardly sufficient to shake the regime’s political stability.

Meanwhile, the ground invasion had begun. Under the command of the Coalition Land Component Commander, two corps drove into Iraq. On the left the 3rd ID spearheaded III Corps; the 101st Airborne and the 82nd Airborne Divisions, followed in support of the 3rd ID. To the east, I Marine Expeditionary Force controlled the British 1st Armoured Division, supported by elements of the marine corps’ Task Force ‘Tripoli,’ and the 1st Marine Division (1st Mardiv) . The British quickly grabbed the Ramalah oil fields (which had not been prepared for demolition) and then continued their advance on towards Basra.

The advance of 3rd ID up the west bank of the Tigris ran into little serious opposition from regular Iraqi units, which remained in the cities and towns along the Euphrates. However, the division’s brigade combat teams (BCTs), as well as supporting logistic units, found themselves under constant attack by tactically inept but fanatical bands of fedayeen, as well as a few suicide bombers. Tank crews used few 120mm main gun rounds but vast amounts of machine gun and small arms ammunition.

On March 25 a vicious shamal--a combination of rain, dust, and flying mud particles--blew into Iraq, covering soldiers and marines. Visibility declined to almost zero. Fedayeen attacks increased, while under cover of the storm Saddam Hussein’s commanders attempted to move a significant number of units to adjust to the American drive from the south. The shamal failed to screen Iraqi movements from observation by Coalition aircraft. Bombarded by precision munitions from a darkened sky, the Iraqis took terrible losses. Those who survived deserted in droves.

On March 27 senior American commanders agreed on a short pause to prepare their forces for the drive on Baghdad. Part of the reason for the halt was due to the fact that army units were low on fuel and ammunition. But the halt was particularly important for the 3rd ID which needed the two Airborne Divisions to cover the cities and towns along the Euphrates, so that it could concentrate its combat power on the Karbala Gap. On April 1 The Army’s 1st and 2nd BCTs moved across the Euphrates and into the gap. Within a day the 3rd ID was through the gap and the road to Baghdad lay open. By April 3 Abrams tanks and Bradley armored personnel carriers had reached the environs of Baghdad International Airport.

The airport was secure by the evening of April 4, and the military leadership then launched the 2nd BCT on a raid into the heart of Baghdad. On April 5 and 6, the Abrams and Bradleys swept through the center of Saddam’s capital with the loss of no human casualties and only a single tank, but on the 6th,at three main intersections a series of ferocious fire fights broke out that lasted most of the day. The Americans held, kept open the supply lines to the 2nd BCT, and broke the back of Iraqi resistance in the capital.

While the 3rd ID was breaking through the Karbala Gap, the marines were having equal success in their drive through the Mesopotamian Valley. In capturing An Numaniyah, the marines had surrounded substantial number of Iraqi troops in the valley, most of whom threw their uniforms away and went home. By April 3 marines had seized the bridges at An Numinayah and were crossing to the east bank of the Tigris. With the 5th RCT in the lead, the marines now began their advance on Baghdad. By April 7 all three RCTs were crossing the Diyalah River on the eastern outskirts of the Iraqi capital. On April 9, in a much-televised event, a crowd of Iraqis [I thought we have since discovered that most of the crowd were not Iraqis but other Arabs working in Baghdad. Not so? PK] , assisted by an American armored recovery vehicle, toppled a large statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad’s Firdos Square. To all intents and purposes the conventional war in Iraq was over.

No comments: