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in Iraq: Population Dependent?
by Mr. Timothy
L. Thomas, Foreign Military Studies Office, Fort Leavenworth,
in cities has never been a good idea. Sun Tsu noted long ago "the
worst strategy in war-attack walled cities." Yet if combat erupts
in Iraq, coalition forces may have no option but to fight in cities.
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein witnessed the destruction of his
force at the hands of an outnumbered coalition force during Desert
Storm, and he appears to have learned from his armed forces' mistake
of taking on a high tech force in open terrain. Of course, Hussein
is often unpredictable because he is blinded by his own propaganda.
Writing about the Iran-Iraq war, Iranian author Hoseyn Ardestani
noted about Hussein's decision-making:
In view of his absolute
confidence in the information and analysis he had received about
the situation in Iran, the "strategy of pure victory" guided that
regime's decisions. It was assumed that it would be impossible
to lose this game..Iraq's regime, in its decision to make a military
attack, used "non-strategic rationality." It mistakenly considered
the environmental circumstances at the national, regional and
international levels to be suitable for military measures. Just
as in the attack on Kuwait in the year 1990 Saddam Hussein's perception
of international military developments was mistaken.
Another sign of Hussein's
delusion is the Mosque of Saddam the Great, and the Mosque of
the Mother of All Battles, the latter dedicated to the Gulf War
"victory" in Hussein's eyes. The Mother of All Battles Mosque
has minarets resembling Kalashnikov rifles and Scud missiles.  Thus it will be hard to know
whether Hussein will attempt to attack US or coalition forces
before these forces reach the sanctuary-or death trap-of a city
due to the unpredictability of his rationale for action, and the
absolute confidence he puts in the information those around him
provide (information, most likely, attuned and filtered to Hussein's
Opinions on the feasibility
of conducting an attack on Baghdad vary widely. Some believe the
Iraqis will fight to the last man, while others believe they would
welcome the arrival of a coalition force with open arms and massive
defections. Reporters interviewing Iraqi locals generally fall
into the first category, while several US generals, Iraqi defectors,
and some reporters fall into the second category.
Times reporter Nicholas D. Kristof believes it would
be foolish to attack Baghdad. From his discussions with "scores
of ordinary people from Mosul in the north to Basra in the south"
he reached two conclusions: that Iraqis dislike and distrust Saddam
Hussein, and that Iraqis hate the US government even more, and
are more distrustful of America's intentions than Saddam's. While
finding few people willing to fight for Saddam, he found plenty
of nationalists willing to defend Iraq against "Yankee invaders"
enraged at the US after 11 years of economic sanctions.
One Iraqi official
told Kristof that "some day, they will have to come to ground.
And then we'll be waiting. Every Iraqi has a gun in his house,
often a Kalashnikov. And every Iraqi has experience in fighting.
So let's see how the Americans do when they're fighting in our
streets." Baghdad, inhabited by thousands of civilians and regular
troops, artillery, tanks, and potentially chemical and biological
weapons, is not Mogadishu. Kristof also reported that some young
militia members had just finished a training session in street
fighting.  One
is reminded of the thoughts of Ilias Akhmadov, a Chechen fighter,
who observed that under conditions of national survival, a civilian
could be turned into a professional in only a few days of city
Scott Peterson, a staff
writer for the Christian Science Monitor,
painted an equally bleak picture. He quoted Iraqi officials as
wanting to create a "new Vietnam" for American forces by drawing
them into cities. "Let our streets be our jungles; let our buildings
be our swamps," he reported them as saying. Peterson also cited
"experts familiar with high-level Iraqi thinking" (apparently
Westerners) as saying that Iraqi urban bases have been garrisoned,
command and control decentralized, trusted officers put in charge
of each urban area, weapons stockpiled, ten new radio transmitters
put in operation to "keep communications fluid" and plans made
to call for a declaration of martial law to put troops on the
streets as soon as possible when the bombing starts. Peterson
adds that Iraqi civil servants have handed out weapons to 'loyalists'
and asked them to put their hands on a Koran or Bible (?) and
pledge to kill the enemy if they see one.
 Retired US General John Hoar, while testifying before
the Senate Armed Services Committee in late September, noted that
his nightmare scenario is a dozen Iraqi divisions lined up to
defend Baghdad, reinforced with several thousand antiaircraft
artillery pieces. This is precisely the scenario one expects
from the force composition of the Iraqi army.
Washington Post Foreign
Service reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran reported that there were
no visible military buildups on Baghdad's streets in September
2002, when talk of action against Iraq was increasing in Washington.
Western military analysts believe there are at least three divisions
of the Republican Guard (which has been specially trained for
urban warfare according to diplomats and military analysts, Chandrasekaran
reports) in and around the capital. Each division has between
8-10,000 soldiers. If this is true, then to gain an advantage
for an attack, according to the old Soviet standards of correlation
of forces, an attacking force would have to be in the neighborhood
of 150,000 soldiers just to confront the Republican Guard with
a 5:1 advantage. The main Iraqi opposition group, the Iraqi National
Congress, reported that Hussein has centralized command of the
Guard and ordered new fortifications built around Baghdad. Iraqi
officials only state that troops are ready.  Most important, US authorities must consider
that this time, Iraqi troops will be fighting for their own territory
and not over Kuwait's territory. This should strengthen the Iraqi
will to resist.
By contrast, there
are those who believe city fighting in Baghdad would be brief
and probably bloody but successful for the US and its allies.
Andrew Krepinevich, who heads the Center for Strategic and Budget
Assessments in Washington, says the morale of the Iraqi armed
forces is questionable, and that the scenario that unfolds may
be soldiers trying to ditch their uniforms for civilian clothes
instead of defending Baghdad. He believes many US generals think
that by moving fast enough and generating a type of snowball effect,
the momentum for collapse can be exploited and cities won't turn
into killing zones. Sean Boyne, an Iraqi expert based in Ireland,
believes Saddam is not confident in the loyalty of ordinary conscripts,
forcing Republican Guard units to ring Baghdad and play a watchdog
role over ordinary armed forces. 
Retired Air Force LTG
Thomas McInerney told the same Senate Hearing at which General
Hoar testified that "Most of the army does not want to fight for
Saddam. We are already seeing increasing desertions from the regular
army as well as the Republican Guards," citing reports from inside
Iraq. "That's why I think there will not be urban fighting." Arab
scholar Fouad Ajami of Johns Hopkins University predicted that
"we shall be greeted, I think, in Baghdad and Basra with kites
and boom boxes." 
Colonel Barry Ford of the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab noted
that the biggest US advantage in cities will come from technology.
Marines will know where all their buddies are, and they will be
able to call on heavy tanks to provide protective firepower. "The
tank may be the preeminent weapons system for use in urban terrain,
along with the bulldozer," he notes.
 Randy Gangle, executive director of the Center for Emerging
Threats and Opportunities, a US Marine Corps think-tank, supports
Ford's notion. If the M1A2 is almost invulnerable in an urban
setting, then "infantry going alone into an urban battle is tantamount
to suicide." 
staff reporter for the Wall Street Journal,
noted that the Pentagon is betting most of Saddam's army won't
put up much of a fight. US ground troops, supported by air strikes,
will travel almost unchallenged to Baghdad's outskirts, according
to his version of a Pentagon scenario. Cooper notes that Iraq's
conscript army will surrender en masse, and that the lightly armed
militia troops called the "Jerusalem Army" will be even less of
a threat. Further, Cooper notes that Pentagon officials believe
ties between Hussein and his Republican Guard have weakened due
to economic sanctions and repeated political purges. A mixture
of psychological operations and US firepower will break the bond
completely. PSYOP may work well on the Republican Guard, but have
less of an effect on the 20,000 strong Special Republican Guard,
the 10,000 strong Special Security Service, and the force known
as Saddam Fedayyeen, all located in Baghdad and run by Saddam
Hussein's sons. 
Two recent articles
further highlight the disparity of views regarding whether the
Iraqis will fight or not. Pentagon thinking is probably buttressed
by the thoughts of several exiled Iraqi army officers. For example,
former Brigadier General Saad Al-Obeidi, who says he directed
Iraqi psychological operations in the Iraqi army, believes the
Iraqi army will defect in large numbers once serious fighting
begins. On the other hand, Mohammed Mehdi Saleh, a senior member
of Hussein's cabinet, offered an opposing point of view. He said
Iraqi forces will concentrate its forces in cities. "If they want
to change the political system in Iraq, they have to come to Baghdad.
We will be waiting for them here."  Exile groups insist that Iraqi
groups are continually trying to contact them as tensions rise.
This includes, according to Iraqi National Congress officials
in London, very senior people in circles around Saddam. Others
believe the INC to have little influence inside Iraq.  And so goes the battle for
Clearly, the opinions
of whether there will or will not be fighting in cities, and how
difficult it will be, are varied. The opinion of Colonel Ford,
for example, seems influenced by the experience of the Israelis
in Jenin, where the Palestinians employed booby traps and rock
throwers against the Israeli use of tanks, helicopters, and bulldozers
in an area 600 yards by 600 yards. This experience is a far cry
from that of the Chechens versus the Russians in Grozny, Chechnya,
where a lightly armed Chechen force (with RPGs, and some artillery
and tanks) confronted the Russian armed forces. In the latter
case, the Russians did not dare send tanks into the city, spread
out over some 90 square miles, without heavy escort. Iraq's armed
forces are much more heavily armed than the Chechens, indicating
that tanks may have a role but will also be constrained in ways
not imaginable in cities such as Mogadishu and Kabul. The cardinal
difference is that Chechnya itself is not a key natural oil resource
as is Iraq. The latter is a special case in that it controls a
huge percentage of the world's oil supply, and is home to serious
internal contradictions among its religious and ethnic components.
These differences could set in motion internal conflict or civil
war in Iraq after Hussein is removed from power. The US will have
to be very careful in how it uses Hussein's opponents, and in
how power is divided when/if Hussein is removed.
Baghdad is well beyond
the scale of Jenin, Mogadishu, Kabul, and Grozny in area and
population. The historical significance of the city and its environs
for Islamic and world history is huge. The question of transition
from regular warfare to guerilla warfare, and the role of the
urban environment in that transition is critical for both US and
Iraqi forces. Baghdad is the administrative, economic, and cultural
center of Iraq with a peacetime population of five million. It
is a stronghold of the Baath Socialist Party, whose followers
know that Saddam's departure is likely to mean bloody reprisals
against them. But it is also a multi-ethnic city. Baghdad, like
Iraq, is demographically young with over 40% of the population
under 14 years of age. Saddam City [also know as Al-Thawra city],
a densely-populated, working-class suburb of Baghdad that is home
to 1.5 million, is the place likeliest to stage a revolt: it is
an entirely Shia Muslim community and makes up 30% of the capital's
population. Its youth are not likely to sit out the conflict.
However, given the fate of the Shia revolt after the Gulf War
(the US did not support the revolt as many Shia members expected,
resulting in strong reprisals from Hussein), there is little likelihood
that the Shia rebels will view US forces as liberators. Iran and
Iraq have been engaged in quasi-covert support of rebels in each
other's country, and so it should be expected that Iranian-supported
Shia will take the opportunity of collapse, if it emerges, to
exercise the opportunity to revolt against a Sunni-Baath dominated
Iraq. The assassination of the Grand Ayatollah Al-Sadr and two
of his sons in the Shiite center of Al-Najaf in February 1999
set off mass demonstrations by Iraqi Shiites against the Baghdad
government and led to the death of 27 protestors and the arrest
of another 250 in Saddam City. The Iranian supported Supreme Council
for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) maintains a network
of agents within the suburb.  Thus, the importance of understanding the
ethnic-religious implications of fighting in Baghdad cannot be
On 20 October it was
reported that President Bush had authorized training for as many
as 5,000 Iraqi opponents of Saddam Hussein in a National Security
Presidential Directive of 3 October. The story did not make clear
what opposition the US intended to support - Kurdish, Sunni, or
Shia. The Iraqis would be trained in basic combat skills, as well
as to serve as battlefield advisers, scouts, and interpreters
with US ground troops. Eventually the number could grow to 10,000.
This appears to be a wise move. Again, referring back to the fighting
in the Russian republic of Chechnya in 1999, the Russians were
greatly assisted in their successful assault on the city of Grozny
by the addition of native Chechens who served as advisers/interpreters.
The Iraqis in opposition to Hussein could assist US forces in
a similar manner. One caveat to this thought: the opposition
may be united in opposing Saddam but could fall out over ethnic/religious
divisions as victory over Saddam appears imminent. In that case
Baghdad could become a battleground among competing Iraqi factions
with US/coalition forces in the middle of the fight.
 Selection of Iraqi dissidents/defectors must be done
with great care and in consideration of the desired political
A former communist
guerilla predicted that one of Hussein's options is to conduct
his city battle much as the Chechens did against the Russians.
This would mean the use of snipers in many buildings, and perhaps
even breaking the Republican Guard into small four and five man
mobile squads with the mission of harassing attacking coalition
forces-appearing to be everywhere without being seen. It is possible
that, based on the reaction of the Pentagon to events in Somalia,
Hussein could be under the impression that the creation of a real
show for CNN would benefit his cause-dragging dead bodies through
the streets, staging attacks on mosques, and so on.
 Baghdad, however, is not the only city in Iraq that
could be of operational concern. Any force moving from Kuwait
to Baghdad will encounter some 20 major population centers enroute.
There was little note,
apparently, taken of Iraqi techniques for city fighting during the
Iran-Iraq war, as no more than a few paragraphs could be found in
the unclassified realm in US sources. In the first year of the war,
the Iraqi Army attacked Iranian cities such as Khorramshahr with
armored forces without dismounted infantry. These forces were repeatedly
destroyed at short distances by antitank weapons and homemade explosives.
The Iraqis soon discovered that fighting in built-up areas deprived
armor of its advantages of mobility and firepower. The Iraqis also
discovered that massing of artillery fires against the city was
largely ineffective due to the cover that the buildings provided
the enemy. The Iraqis were completely bogged down in Khorramshahr
and had to bring in a Special Forces brigade to fight its way through
the city to assist the stranded Iraqi units. Iraq virtually halted
all offensive operations for three weeks to give special MOUT training
to units before finally taking the city. Even then it took a total
of 15 days and some 5000 casualties to secure the city. Iraqi losses
in the city of Khorramshar were so great they renamed it "Khunishar,
The City of Blood."
A review of Iranian
literature during the Iran-Iraq shows little focus by historians
on urban operations even though some important battles were conducted.
In the Iranian work of Ardestani mentioned earlier, he noted that
Hussein's forces met with real problems when it encountered cities.
The occupation of the Iranian city of Khorramshar took 35 days
alone, and became a model for the Iranians of how to defeat Hussein's
strategy of quick victory. Hussein attacked cities with missiles
and aerial bombardments, slaughtered children, old men and women,
and plundered when possible, according to Ardestani's account.
Weaknesses in the Iraqi defensive lines included relinquishing
flanks, exposing areas behind the front lines, too much distance
between the front lines and the back lines, low morale among Iraqi
soldiers for being on Iranian territory, and a shortage of defensive
forces [as translated by FBIS]. When Iraq's back was up against
the wall, it did four things: used chemical weapons, increased
attacks on oil ships, attacked Khark Island to disrupt oil exports
from Iran, and intensified the missile-air war on cities which
had increased significantly in importance. The goal was to disrupt
economic activities and national morale, and if possible to provoke
the people to rise against the regime. During the battle for the
city of Fav, Iranian divers crossed the Arvand River and fooled
the Iraqi army as to the exact place of attack. The Iraqis left
the city and took up defensive positions behind a salt factory
north of the city.  This was the extent of Ardestani's account
of city fighting.
One Israeli Journal offered
a more detailed article on Iraq's participation in the Battle of
Khorramshahr in the spring of 2002.  The battle actually took place from 22 September-26
October 1980, and was one of the first operational surprises of
that long war. The Khorramshahr front was important due to the port
at Abadan and the oil terminals in the vicinity. As the Humeini
regime in Iran focused on its internal affairs and stabilization,
Iraq's new President, Saddam Hussein, started to move on Iran. The
initial objective of the Iraqi armed forces was to capture the Khusistan
sectors population and control centers, which included the cities
of Despol, Ahawaz, Shosh Abadan, Khorramshahr, and the oil infrastructure
in the area.
Khorramshahr is a communications
junction of roads and railways, most importantly controlling the
road to the oil well in the city of Abadan. The city had 270,000
residents before the war, and is 7 km long and 6 km wide. Key objectives
were the Shat-El-Arab port, the Dej barracks and prison area, and
the radio transmitting station. Iran constructed a system of dikes
as part of a comprehensive defensive system that included strong
points. One dyke was 5 km from the next, offering some defense in
depth. The second dyke had the majority of the tanks, artillery
and antitank weapons. Iran's regular army, composed of some 7,000
men, was responsible for the city's external defense. Iraq used
a division to attack composed of one armored and one mechanized
brigade (organic) and one armored brigade (reinforcement). The 33rd
Special Forces brigade was assigned a reserve role along with one
Commando Battalion, and people's army units (a military of civilian
volunteer members of the Ba'ath Party), Border Police forces, Police
forces and Navy and Air Force support personnel participated. Members
of the Presidential Guard Special Forces Battalion also participated,
indicating Hussein's personal involvement.
The plan was to do the
fighting in phases: cross the border and reach the city outskirts;
occupy the port and sound end of the city; occupy Dej barracks;
and gain control over the residential area and disconnect the city
from Abadan. The Iraqi's encircled the city on the north (Dej Barracks
location) and south (port location) to disconnect it from Khusisistan.
The Iraqis took the dykes in a few days of fighting, and cleared
the captured area instead of following the retreating Iranians.
The Special Forces and Commando unit moved south to the port (which
makes it appear that they were no longer in reserve as noted previously),
and the armored brigade advanced toward Dej to the north. Other
goals were to gain control over three bridges and disconnect the
city from the roads leading to Abadan so that no supplies or reinforcements
could reach the city. Iranian resistance was high since the Iraqis
were now encountering the Iranian Revolution Guards. The attack
began on 30 September and Iranians and Iraqis fought one another
from close range, day and night, attacking and counterattacking.
Eventually the Iraqis took control of the area of the city near
the Belano bridge and then began to move south toward the port.
Snipers caused many problems for the Iraqis as they moved south.
In the Iraqi force were the Special Forces and Commando units reinforced
by an armored battalion. Tank and artillery fire kept the Iranians
on the run.
In the north, an attack
was conducted against Dej Barracks, which served the Iranian army.
The majority of the division, supported by a Special Forces element,
conducted this attack at dawn on 12 October. The Iranians held out
for a few days, as Iraqi leaflets and fire support appeared to have
little effect. Then Iraqi engineers successfully breached the 2-meter
high walls around the barracks, and Dej quickly fell into Iraqi
hands. Now located in the north and the south, the Special Forces
slowly and cautiously entered the city from three sides to do battle
with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Tactics involved taking a
sector, clearing it and making it a solid base from which more forces
could be deployed. To offset Iranian knowledge of the streets, and
employment of fire and sniper support, the Iraqis attacked at night
to advance troops and gain surprise, and placed observation points
on tall buildings. Final objectives were the Government building
where the Iranian headquarters was located, and the nearby bridge
connecting the road from Khommashahr to Abadan. Fighting for possession
of the bridge took 48 hours. The last Iraqi attack started at dawn
on 24 October and lasted five hours. The city was cleared by 26
October. This completes the record of Iraqi use of force in Khommashahr.
The US plan to date
is apparently to do whatever it takes to avoid fighting in the
streets. Washington wants to leave enough of the military communications
network intact so that the Iraqi military won't lose contact with
the capital in case Hussein is captured or eliminated; and planners
hope to spare as much of the armed forces as possible so that
a stable force remains to enforce a post-Hussein regime.
 There are many reasons for the US to avoid street fighting:
it offsets US technological superiority in the open; it allows
Hussein to use the density of cities (both structures and population)
to obstruct an attacking force; and it forces any attacking force
to closely review any use of long range fires for their potential
to inflict civilian losses or risk turning the population "to
the dark side," that is driving them to support Hussein at the
risk of national survival. The Iraqi government does not concern
itself with "friendly losses" like the US does. During the Iran-Iraq
war, it is reported that 1.5 MILLION people were killed, wounded
Is successful MOUT
in Iraq possible? It is, but this depends on the way the population
responds to the presence of US or coalition troops. If the population
turns against Hussein, anything is possible and MOUT becomes feasible.
If they do not, US or coalition forces will be confronted with
the worst kind of city fighting, that of not only the armed forces
but also the people of Iraq. In a city such as Baghdad, where
the population density is in the range of 17,000 people per square
mile, it will not be possible to separate the good guys from the
bad guys, and any invasion will most likely meet with little success.
A recent (17 December) report from the London Times
indicates that things might not be all that bad for US forces
in Iraq. In a survey conducted by the International Crisis Group
(ICG), it was reported that Iraqis would largely welcome a US-led
attack and want stability, and political change. The ICG reportedly
conducted dozens of covert interviews in the cities of Baghdad,
Mosul, and Najaf to get its impressions. The bad news for the
Bush Administration is that those interviewed reportedly were
not happy with the news that exiles may be put in the place of
Saddam Hussein to rule the country. Thus, in the final analysis,
it remains very, very difficult to tell the tale of the tape of
public opinion in Iraq, and on that fulcrum rests the potential
success or failure of the operation.
 Hoseyn Ardestani, A Confrontation of Strategies,
the Iran-Iraq War: The Effect of the Changes on the Battlefield
in the Iran-Iraq War on the Policies of the Great Powers,
Tehran: Advanced War Course, Culture and Military Studies, 21
March 1999-20 March 2000, as translated and downloaded from the
FBIS web site on 18 May 2001.
 "Hussein Obsession Marked by Mosque," The Kansas
City Star, 15 December 2002, p A24.
 Nicholas D. Kristof, "The Stones of Baghdad,"
New York Times, 4 October 2002.
>  Nicholas D. Kristof, "Fighting Street to Street,"
New York Times, 27 September 2002.
 Scott Peterson, "Iraq Prepares for Urban Warfare,"
Christian Science Monitor, 4 October 2002, pl 1.
 Rajiv Chandrasekaran, "Baghdad is Planning for
Urban Warfare: Strategy Opposite of Gulf War Approach," Washington
Post Foreign Service, 27 September 2002, p. A 1.
 Ibid., Peterson
 David Von Drehle, "Debate Over Iraq Focuses on
Outcome: Multiple Scenarios Drive Questions about War," Washington
Post, 7 October 2002, p. A 1.
 "Storming the Streets of Baghdad," Business
Week, October 21 2002.
 Stephen Fidler and Peter Siegel, "The Battle
of Baghdad: Is the US Ready to Wage War Street by Street?" Financial
Times, 22 November 2002.
 Christopher Cooper, "Iraqi Forces Aren't Expected
to Put up Much of a Fight," The Wall Street Journal, 13
 Fidler and Spiegel.
 Michael Elliott and Massimo Calabresi, "Inside
the Secret Campaign to Topple Saddam," Time, 2 December
2002, p. 38.
 Entire paragraph provided by Dr. Jacob Kipp,
21 October 2002, while reviewing this synopsis.
 Discussion with Dr. Kipp, 21 October 2002.
 Discussion with Colonel Timothy Heinemann, Dean
of Academics at the Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth,
Kansas, in November 2002.
 Point made by Mr. Les Grau while reviewing this
 Center for Army Lessons Learned home page.
 Ibid, Ardestani.
 This and the next three paragraphs are based
on the article by Pesach Malovni entitled "The Iraqis Battle for
Khorramshahr," IDF Journal, pp 74-85.
 Mark Thompson, "Going Door to Door," Time,
16 September 2002, pp 38, 39.