Al Faw, Umm Qasr Resistance May Be Thorn in Coalition's Side
Apr 08, 2003 - 1525 GMT
If it continues much longer, Iraqi resistance in the Al Faw Peninsula and the port city of Umm Qasr could become a major problem for coalition supply lines, denying them the use of Iraqi ports -- and possibly hindering future oil exports from Iraq.
The war in Iraq now is three weeks old, and Iraqi forces still control a large portion of the Al Faw Peninsula, Iraq's southernmost port, which coalition forces attacked on the first day of the war. Urban guerrilla fighting continues in Umm Qasr -- the only deep seaport in Iraq. If it continues much longer, Iraqi resistance on the Persian Gulf coast will threaten to disrupt coalition supply lines and the country's oil exports.
Iraqi forces use the Al Faw Peninsula to launch missile attacks against Kuwait and coalition forces in southern Iraq, to ambush troops stationed there or en route to other parts of Iraq and to mine the northern part of the Persian Gulf. In neighboring Umm Qasr, they shoot at the British garrison and are reportedly prepared for suicide attacks. The continued Iraqi resistance -- far from Baghdad and to the rear of coalition forces -- gives a huge moral boost to Iraqis fighting on other fronts and their sympathizers around the world.
Iraqi leaders refer to both the Al Faw Peninsula and Umm Qasr as an Iraqi Brest Fortress, a reference to a Russian fortress that held fast against superior German forces in the summer of 1941. The fortress was fully encircled, and fighting continued for 40 days until the garrison's last soldier was killed. Before the fortress fell, Russian soldiers killed several thousand German troops. Iraqi leaders hope that by borrowing the reference they will bolster the combat spirits of their army and population.
Stratfor's Iranian sources say coalition forces sustain losses in the Al Faw Peninsula every day. Troops are killed or wounded, materiel is lost and British soldiers face frequent attacks in Umm Qasr. The deadliest attack came March 31, when Iraqi units in the peninsula ambushed the British navy patrol boat Madison, which had a crew and marine platoon of 40. The boat was attacked after entering the mouth of one of several small rivers on the peninsula. The boat was seriously damaged and 10 seamen were either killed or wounded, the Anatolia news agency reported, adding that the British Defense Ministry confirmed the attack but not the number of casualties. Stratfor's Iranian sources also say that shooting and explosions in the peninsula have been heard from Iran's neighboring territories several times a day.
Iraqis are using the peninsula's abundant everglades as cover for missile launches and maritime mining operations. Only the southern area is suitable for hiding missile batteries, and it is one of the few areas not controlled by coalition forces. As a result, Iraq has located its ground-based, anti-ship missile batteries there.
Several missile attacks by anti-ship rockets have been reported from the area. One anti-ship missile -- probably a Chinese-made Silkworm -- hit near a shopping mall in Kuwait, while others fell short of coalition positions in that country. A major oil reserve at a port facility in Umm Qasr was destroyed April 1, possibly by an Iraqi HY-2 Seersucker ground-launched anti-ship missile, Kuwaiti daily Al-Qabas reported.
On the same day, IRNA reported a rocket attack in the western part of the peninsula. It is unclear whether Iraqi or British forces launched the attack. However, it most likely was an Iraqi missile. British forces typically do not launch missiles within the city limits, and they reportedly use different arms and tactics against urban guerrillas. IRNA also reported the sound of planes -- presumably coalition fighters -- following the rocket attack, and that peninsula residents hoisted an Iraqi flag.
The peninsula is the only place on Iraq's Gulf coast from which the Iraqi navy -- which "disappeared" at the beginning of the war -- could launch mining operations. U.S. Navy officials on April 4 said they were searching for two Iraqi vessels -- the Al Shorook and the Al Fateh al Mobeen -- that could be positioning mines in the Gulf. Reuters reported a notice to merchant shipping from the U.S. 5th Fleet's Maritime Liaison Office in Bahrain announcing that coalition forces were hunting the two vessels. Meanwhile, U.S. and British naval forces have disabled an Iraqi pilot ship suspected of laying mines in the Gulf and were searching for a second vessel and mine-laden barges, a U.S. Navy spokesman said April 5.
Stratfor sources say that, in addition to the Iraqi threat in the peninsula, the urban guerrilla campaign in Umm Qasr seems to be gaining strength. A majority of the Iraqi fighters in both places appear to be Shiites, led by a female commander. The Shiites there were supposed to back coalition forces. British troops control a new port in the city, but urban guerrilla forces often attack at night in the old port area, according to sources in the United Arab Emirates. The city's residential areas still harbor Iraqi fighters.
Some missile attacks suggest that Iraqi forces still are able to strike targets in southern Iraq and, in some cases, might be specifically targeting oil infrastructure assets there. It is unclear at this point if oil assets are targets, or to what extent Iraqi forces can inflict damage. But a campaign of that nature could signal a renewed offensive in the south designed to deny coalition forces the use of southern ports. The attacks also have the potential to delay efforts to bring Iraq's oil production and exports back online and threaten coalition communications and supply lines.
With so much on the line, it is imperative that coalition forces suppress the Iraqi resistance on the coast as soon as possible. The Royal Marines and Special Operations units so far have not had much success.
Three things are hindering coalition operations in the Al Faw Peninsula and, to some extent, Umm Qasr. First, British forces are spread thin, lacking the manpower and firepower to deal a blow to the Iraqis while also fighting in Basra and Baghdad. Second, the peninsula's high grass and marshy terrain are ideal for guerrilla activities. Third, Iraqi forces in the area seem to be well organized and highly motivated. These obstacles leave the coalition with one choice for securing its hold on coastal Iraq: deploy more forces to the area.
The fighting in the peninsula is coming from all sides, and the Iraqi resistance serves as a symbol of strength. However, because Iraqi forces have inflicted relatively few casualties on coalition troops and the resistance has not reached the 40-day mark, the comparison to the Brest fortress might not hold.
Nevertheless, Iraqi forces are preparing to intensify attacks in the Al Faw
Peninsula and Umm Qasr, Stratfor's Iranian sources say. In particular, suicide
attacks reportedly are being organized. Recent events and other information
reinforce these reports. The Iranian Coast Guard averted some planned attacks
when it intercepted four barges wired with explosives that were floating toward
a British-occupied area of the Al Faw Peninsula. Also, two Iraqis recently surrendered
to the British patrol in Umm Qasr and said 50 Iraqis were preparing to commit
suicide attacks there. Stratfor's UAE sources corroborate the reports, saying
a few dozen suicide fighters are looking for opportunities to attack coalition
forces in Umm Qasr.