US-led Forces Commandeer Iraqi Highways, Trisect Country

DEBKAfile Intelligence

Tuesday, April 1 – Day 13 of Iraq War – American-led forces directly commandeered or placed under their guns the three main highways leading out of Baghdad: the southward and eastern routes and the highway connecting Iraq to Syria.

This exercise effectively carved Iraq into three segments:

The South – which is falling under US-British control;

The Center – still under Iraqi control;

The Northwest – under American control.

It also tightened the noose encircling Baghdad.

This was achieved on Tuesday and early Wednesday, April 1-2, DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources report, by means of a two-headed American thrust eastward from a point east of Karbala. The two heads swarmed across the Euphrates-Tigris plain north of al Kut and took the Iraqi towns of An Numaniyah, Az Zubaydiyah and Al Iskandariyah. This maneuver netted the coalition forces three tactical gains:

1. The severance of the Baghdad-Najef and Baghdad-Karbalah Highways 9 and 10 through the capture of Al Iskandariyah

2. Placing Expressway No. 8 that runs south from Baghdad along the eastern bank of the Tigris within US tank cannon and artillery range. The Iraqi 4th Corps positioned between Al Amarah and al Kut has been left high and dry with no access to Baghdad or a northward escape route. Concurrently, the Americans intensified their bombardment of the Iraqi 10th Armored Division, the fighting backbone of the 4th Corps, leaving this Iraqi force the option of battling its way out of the American box by retaking the three towns or surrendering.

According to our sources, the American forces will not engage 4th Corps units, leaving them to dry out without supplies or communications routes to Baghdad.

3. The bridges of the three captured towns have become available for the American crossing of the Tigris from west to east saving them having to pass through the strategic al Kut bridge.

The American plan for the capture of Baghdad thus dovetails with every other past blueprint for this goal. Two forces will follow the course of the Tigris into the heart of the city from south to north, marching along parallel routes along its western and eastern banks.

US 101st Airborne

With little fanfare, units of the US 101st Airborne Division are responsible for the third consecutive day of explosions and artillery fire heard in Baghdad from the west. DEBKAfile’s military sources report that this division has plugging away since last Thursday to cut Al Ramadi off from Falluja and seize control of Expressway No. 1 leading out of the capital to the western region. Units of the 101st are also making progress towards securing the giant air base at Habaniyah between the two towns. This facility is close enough to Baghdad – 90 km – to enable US bombers and helicopters to double or treble their round-the-clock strike rate against the capital.

Northern Front

Tuesday afternoon, April 1, DEBKAfile’s military sources report that the US forces arrested their military momentum in northern Iraq, including aerial bombardments of Iraqi forces in the Mosul and Kirkuk regions in order to draw a line against the progress of Kurdish militias towards the oil cities. Until now, the Kurds fought their way forward under American air and artillery cover. However, Washington decided that letting the Kurds approach the oil fields was not the best way to advance the mission of US secretary of state Colin Powell. He arrived in Ankara Tuesday night for a degree of fence-mending that would allow US military reinforcements access to northern Iraq through Turkey. At the moment, the Americans have no more than 5,000 troops deployed in northern Iraq and no armored units.

Preventing Iraq missiles reaching Israel

DEBKAfile’s military sources reveal that, in a further attempt to prevent Iraqi missiles secreted in eastern Syria from reaching western Iraqi for launching against Israel, American special forces took control of the highway connecting Al Qaim in western Iraq to Abu Kamal in southeast Syria. At the same time, the main highway from Mosul to Syria via Sinjar was left open to traffic – possibly as a hint to Saddam Hussein and his sons that they still have the option of escaping to Syria and thus bring the war to an end.