War Diary: Tuesday, April 8, 2003
Apr 09, 2003
Mopping-up operations continued south of Baghdad on April 8. In the city, U.S. forces continued to take strategic positions and probe. At this point, it is pretty clear that the Basra model, adjusted to the greater scale and complexity of Baghdad, is the one the coalition intends to follow in the capital. The Basra model is one of patience and periodic thrusts. The goal has been to exhaust Iraqi forces, isolate them and then finally defeat them. In a sense, the Battle of Basra hasn't ended. It has petered out. At this moment, that appears to be the pattern in Baghdad as well.
The fundamental mystery remains. Where are the Republican Guards and especially, where are the Special Republican Guards? The resistance U.S. forces have encountered thus far does not reflect the reputed dedication and ferocity of the Special Republican Guards. They might already have disintegrated, with members changing from uniform into civilian clothes, burning their papers and trying to get home. Alternatively, they might be waiting for the United States to try to secure residential neighborhoods, which will require the U.S. infantry to dismount. Intelligence on the status of the SRG seems to be mixed, and CENTCOM does not want to send dismounted infantry into the neighborhoods until it is certain of its status.
From a military standpoint, CENTCOM has plenty of time and all the reason in the world to use it. From a political standpoint, this is going to start getting sticky. Civilian casualties in this environment are inevitable. Both the Iraqi regime and opponents of the U.S. action in Iraq will use civilian casualties to attack the war effort. Regardless of how restrained U.S. forces are and how low civilian casualties are -- relative to other battles of this size -- the emphasis between now and the end of the battle will be increasingly negative.
In part, the problem is built into U.S. strategy. CENTCOM wants to win the battle by overawing the Iraqi forces. To do this, it is emphasizing the overwhelming force it can bring to bear. Videos of Abrams tanks rumbling through the streets are an important part of the battle plan. These pictures, however, will be juxtaposed with pictures of dead and injured Iraqi children, and often will be framed as part of a deliberate and brutal U.S. policy. With reporters in Baghdad running out of things to report -- and angry over casualties in their ranks, media attention will shift away from the effectiveness of U.S. forces to the human toll of the battle.
This is a problem for the U.S. command. The military solution cannot be isolated from the political. The military solution requires time. The political situation will deteriorate the longer the battle continues. Pressing CENTCOM to terminate the battle will, paradoxically, increase casualties on all sides. Allowing the Basra model to operate will reduce casualties but will generate painful political collateral damage. In a certain way, it would be a relief if the SRG forced a violent, culminating battle. Either they can't or they won't. The British had this problem in Basra, albeit not the scale of Baghdad. In Baghdad everything is bigger.
The British now claim that they know that Hussein was not in the building struck by U.S. bombs in al-Mansur. It is not clear why the British would have made this statement. But the fact that it came on the same day that George W. Bush and Tony Blair met in Belfast -- and papered over most of their differences -- gives us a real sense of the tension emerging on a number of levels beneath the surface of U.S.-British relations.
Let us give two interesting, if minor, examples. A few days ago, a member of U.S. intelligence (not senior) expressed the view to us that the slow British pace in Basra was disappointing and inexplicable. He wondered when they would get on with the job. Today, Stratfor received an email from a reader concerned about our decision to cut the Basra region from our battlefield map. He felt it was an insult to the British soldiers fighting. (Note: We cut the area because there had been no discernible movement there on the scale we are able to map for an extended period of time, and we were focusing on other areas.) It was the reader's response that struck us: He thought that we were disparaging the British contribution.
So, when we put together the American comment about the British, the British leak about Hussein's escape and the apparent sensitivity over perceived American slights, there appears to us -- obviously based on limited evidence -- that the disagreements at the top may be reflected more broadly in the public sphere, and that there is a slight but real tension developing.
Also, with the United States and Britain now seemingly committed to dealing
with Arab-Israeli tensions -- always a dubious proposition -- the lack of congruence
between the two sides is significant and something to watch very carefully.