DEBKAfile Military Analysis of First 72 Hours -- Saddam and Son NOT Killed by Decapitation Strike


23 March 2003


Iraq war commander General Tommy Franks, in a news briefing Saturday, March 22, at his Qatar headquarters, declared that this war is unlike any other ever seen before as regards its scale, overwhelming force, surprise and shock, precision and flexibility. He stressed that the devastating bombardment over Baghdad and other major Iraqi cities Friday night was absolutely precise in reaching its selected targets and no other.

That said, and with American armored columns slicing through the country to Baghdad for the their first real test of Franks’ strategy and his army’s mettle against elite Republican Guards Division forces, DEBKAfile’s military analysts singles out some of its manifestations thus far:

1. Attempts by US officials to present Saddam Hussein to the Iraqi people and the outside world as having been put out of action, killed or injured in last Wednesday’s bombardment, had failed by Saturday, March 22, to yield any evidence that his hand was off the helm of government. DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources are certain that the Iraqi ruler had a lucky escape and was nowhere near the bomb site. His son Qusay was there earlier, but left before the cruise missiles hit the building. Vice president Taha Yassin Ramadan who was killed was the only casualty. The Iraqi leadership is therefore fully functioning.

2. Although the 8,000 officers and men of the 51st Mechanised Division of the Basra region turned themselves in to the allied forces, the scale of surrender by Iraqi troops on other fronts is inconsequential, confounding hopes that the early shock of the invasion and aerial bombardment would frighten large numbers of combatants to throw in the towel.

It must also be noted that combat skills and motivation displayed thus far by Iraqi fighting units is less than middling and easily overcome by the advancing units.

It is clear that General Franks is reserving his most overwhelming resources for the battle of Baghdad, leaving for later the large pockets of resistance embedded in the teeming population of the south.

3. This decision was influenced by the generally cool and cynical reception the allied armies encountered from the population of southern Iraq ranging from Umm Qasr to Basra, who they had come to liberate. Rather than showing joy or even fear, the locals made it clear that they were reserving judgment waiting to see if the Americans were there to stay or would be ordered to turn round 150 km short of Baghdad, leaving the Saddam regime in place, as they did after the first Gulf War.

4. The three foregoing points indicate that the battle for Baghdad will not be easy.

Continued at IST 03:35

General Franks warned against expecting the war to be over in hours, days or even weeks. The conflict was following its appointed timeline, he stressed, though he said nothing about keeping to its appointed plan of action. The big question that will decide the fate of the conflict is this: Will Saddam Hussein succeed in his plan to draw coalition forces into urban combat inside the city? If this cannot be avoided, then the massive allied bombardment of Baghdad intended to soften up Iraqi resistance in advance will have failed in its object and the goal of a short, low-casualty campaign will recede.

The Iraqi ruler has massed around Baghdad – not only his crack fighting divisions and most loyal suicide units, but also his missiles and weapons of mass destruction, including possibly radiological devices. If he sees Baghdad’s outer defenses crumbling, he is liable to deploy those weapons in a last stand. The Americans may well retaliate with nuclear devices of their own, tactical or bombs, a decision the US President will be called upon to make.

5. The state of play is far from cut and dried on the western front as well. Although joint American and British forces were in control of western Iraq, including the big H-2 and H-3 air bases, by Saturday midday, still ahead of them is the major task of occupying and cleaning up the Iraqi-Syrian border sector, the site of hidden Iraqi stores of surface missile batteries and unconventional weapons systems capable of reaching Israel. DEBKAfile’s military sources report these weapons are maintained on transporters and can be whisked at a moments notice over the border into Syria and out of reach, although it is only a matter of time before they are destroyed even there.

IST 16:00

Allied missiles again hit Baghdad as city awoke Saturday to assess the damage of the overnight blitz. Iraqi authorities reported three civilians killed and 207 injured. The Iraqi health minister made a point of emphasizing that Saddam Hussein was alive and well, despite the widespread media reports that he had been injured in the first allied bombardment of Baghdad.

Most of the casualties of the thousands of air sorties and missile strikes were sustained by the four elite Republican Guard divisions defending Baghdad, who fell back from their 50km perimeter around the capital to a 30km line.

During the day US-UK advances were substantial. After the fall of southern Gulf port of Umm Qasr and Nasiriya, gateway to the Euphrates, elements peeled away from the main force to mop up pockets of resistance. The capture of Nasiriya by elements of the US 3rd Division permitted the allied column to cross the Euphrates and to continue its rapid advance towards Baghdad, bypassing the two big Shiite towns of Najaf and Karbala.

One whole Iraqi division, the 51st, came over with 8000 men and 200 tanks, weakening the defenses of Basra. Two-thirds of the city was quickly captured, while allied commanders entered into surrender negotiations with Iraqi 6th Armored and 11th Infantry Divisions. Talks also began with civic leaders of the predominantly Shiite city, Iraq’s third largest, whose population the coalition is determined not to antagonize. Removal of the 6th Armored Division from combat would be important because the line held by this force north of Basra from its base in Majnun commands the oil fields of Iraqi Khozistan on the Iranian border. Unless disarmed, this division would pose a constant threat to the oil fields.

Following the capture of the big H-2 and H-3 air base complexes of western Iraq, allied military engineers began preparing the installations for large-scale aircraft and helicopter landings of thousands troops from Jordan and western Saudi Arabia. The incoming units will head two ways: one section will secure Iraq-Syrian border regions in the north. This force may possibly even entering Syria to seek an destroy Iraqi surface missile batteries and chemical and biological weapons systems smuggled across the frontier and capable of reaching Jordan and Israel. The second force will turn east in the direction of Tikrit and al Ramadi.