The first stage of the Iraqi war is
drawing to a close as coalition forces surround Baghdad. The second
stage is the toughest and most complicated and will probably not
start at once. The decision on how to take the fight into urban
territory is one of the most difficult imaginable from a military,
political and moral point of view, and it could lead to many
casualties, combatant and non-combatant.
Parallel to laying
siege to Baghdad, which is the second phase of the campaign, the
Americans must decide how to deal with the remainder of the
Republican Guard still deployed outside the Iraqi capital. So far,
two of the Guard's divisions have been decimated, with their tanks,
artillery and armored personnel carriers. The question is, how will
the morale of the Guard's other divisions and the other remnants of
the Iraqi army stand up to more battering.
Is there anything
that can prevent a battle inside Baghdad, a city with a population
of several million? One possibility is if the coalition manages to
strike at Saddam Hussein and his inner circle, a move that could end
the war altogether.
Another possibility is the emergence of
Iraqi officers willing to negotiate with the coalition behind Saddam
Hussein's back so as to reach an accommodation and take over the
reins of power. Saddam is obviously aware of this possibility and
will do everything in his power to prevent it. He will enjoy the
backing of his close loyalists, especially those from his home town
of Tikrit, on whom he bestowed key positions in his administration
and in the Iraqi military.
Any attempt to overthrow Saddam
will be bloody and any clique of officers entertaining thoughts of a
coup d'etat will need to count on the backing of experienced
military units. On this account, the Iraqi opposition, in all its
forms, will be called to reckoning. Does it really have the
connections it promised for the crucial moment and help prevent the
destruction of Baghdad.
Every army knows that urban warfare
is the most difficult. The defender holds the advantage over the
attacker who is exposed as he advances. The rule is that if you can
avoid large scale urban battles, do so. In Grozny, the Russian army
found it had no other way of penetrating the city. The result was
the total devastation of the Chechen capital, with a terrible loss
of civilian lives. The IDF has also fought some of its toughest
battles on urban terrain.
The British and Americans will do
everything they can to avoid a bloody battle for Baghdad, but in the
death throes of his regime, Saddam will not hesitate to take on the
coalition in his capital.
Thus, one can expect the American
commanders to wage intense psychological warfare ahead of the battle
for Baghdad. They will try to prevent Saddam's cronies from airing
television and radio broadcasts or holding news conferences. During
the siege, they will have to decide what supplies to let through for
the civilian population. Letting through essential supplies will
mean that they will also seep through to the Iraqi fighting forces
in the city, although in any event, one can assume that if Saddam is
hiding in one of his Baghdad bunkers he has stocked up with food,
water and medicines for a long stay.
Saddam and his
supporters talk of turning Baghdad into the new Stalingrad. That's
not what the Americans want of course, but neither do they want to
do what another Arab dictator, Hafez Assad, did in 1981, when he
pointed his artillery directly onto the city of Hamma and killed at
least 10,000 - and according to some estimates 20,000 of his
citizens because they dared rise up against him.
does the solution lie in emulating the Russian assault on Berlin at
the end of World War II when the attacking force pounded the German
capital with two million shells, killing tens of thousands of
residents just to reach Hitler's bunker. Much depends now not only
on the military might and technology of the Americans, but on their
operational and political creativity.