What I'd Do In His Shoes
Description: Last week, the UN Security Council passed a unanimous resolution that leaves the Iraqis confronting the prospect of an unprecedentedly tough weapons inspections regime -- and the certainty of war if they are caught lying about their hidden weapons st
Date: 11 November 2002
Author: Andrew Mack, Director - Human Security Centre
Source: The Globe and Mail
Last week, the UN Security Council passed a unanimous resolution that leaves the Iraqis confronting the prospect of an unprecedentedly tough weapons inspections regime -- and the certainty of war if they are caught lying about their hidden weapons stocks, or if they try to obstruct the inspectors.
The resolution was a stunning political victory for the United States, not least because most analysts believe that at some stage the Iraqis are going to give Washington the pretext it seeks to make war -- likely early in the new year.
But although Iraq is militarily much weaker than it was in 1990, while the United States is much stronger, America's military commanders are uneasy. The next war will be very different from the last.
The war in the Persian Gulf revealed Saddam Hussein as a military commander of extraordinary stupidity. In massing his forces in the open desert, he ensured that their only military utility was to provide target practice for the United States and its allies.
The key lesson -- avoid desert warfare with the United States if all you have is a poorly trained, Second World War army -- was one that even Mr. Hussein could absorb. With effectively no air force or navy, and with desert armour deployments a form of suicide, all the indications are that Iraq will concede the indefensible and resort to urban warfare. This is a prospect that makes Pentagon planners very nervous.
Washington could, in theory, use bombers and long-range missiles to pound Iraq's major cities into submission with minimal U.S. casualties, but so doing would create a horrendous civilian death toll, even with the new "smart" weapons. Precision targeting can't save civilian lives when legitimate military targets are located in hospitals, under residences, or even in mosques. The evidence suggests that Mr. Hussein intends to defend his military assets by surrounding them with civilians.
The Pentagon hopes that an anti-Saddam coup in the early stages of the war will make the grim business of fighting in cities unnecessary. But it cannot count on it, which is why U.S. ground troops are now taking crash courses in urban warfare.
Urban warfare levels the playing field somewhat for the Iraqis. Cruise missiles, F-117s and smart bombs aren't much use in urban combat. Communications can break down in the "fog of war" and buildings can hide enemy defenders from airborne surveillance -- and attack. Soldiers and civilian militia with short-range weapons that are useless in desert warfare can pose a deadly threat to soldiers on foot half a block away.
In cities, defenders can use road blocks to channel attacking forces into ambushes and minefields. U.S. Abram tanks can be destroyed by placing explosive charges on their vulnerable tops. They need to be flanked by foot soldiers to prevent this -- but the soldiers then become vulnerable to sniper fire.
Ridley Scott's movie Black Hawk Down, about the abortive U.S. attempt to capture two lieutenants of a Somali warlord in Mogadishu in October, 1993, brought vividly to life some of the confusion and carnage that this primordial form of warfare can create. More than half the elite soldiers that took part in the operation were injured. Eighteen Americans were killed, as were more than 1,000 Somalis -- many of them civilians. The United States pulled out of Somalia shortly afterward, conceding victory to the warlords.
This spring, Israel's street-to-street battle with Palestinian militants in the West Bank town of Jenin left 23 Israeli soldiers dead and nearly three times as many Palestinians. Yet the Jenin refugee camp housed only 13,000 people and the actual combat area was small -- about 1,000 square metres. Baghdad's population is more than five million, sprawled over hundreds of square kilometres.
But the most graphic recent example of the cost that urban fighters can impose on conventional attackers came in the Russian attack on the Chechen capital of Grozny at the beginning of 1995. The 131st "Maikop" brigade, the first to penetrate the city, lost nearly 800 out of 1,000 men, 20 out of 26 tanks, and 102 out of 120 armoured vehicles.
U.S. forces are far better equipped and motivated than were the Russian conscripts in Grozny, but equipment and motivation didn't prevent the Mogadishu raid from being a disaster. Moreover, U.S. forces lack experience in urban warfare and do not appear to get much practice. The U.S. Marines, for example, receive only two weeks of urban combat training a year. And, underlying just how dangerous this form of combat is, the Marine Corps has found that battlefield casualties exceed 30 per cent in urban warfare simulations.
Washington won't "bug out" of Iraq when casualties rise, as it did in Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia. The stakes are too high. Moreover, there is no doubt that the Iraqis will be defeated, the only question is at what cost.
Given this reality, what would Mr. Hussein do if he were smart? First, he would announce that he had been shocked to discover that there were, indeed, weapons of mass destruction being produced in Iraq, and that this was the work of some renegade generals who had been shot for their sins. (Generals are fairly expendable in Iraq.)
Second, not knowing how much Washington knew about his clandestine programs, and knowing that if he were to be caught in a lie, war would be inevitable, Mr. Hussein would reveal absolutely everything. He would invite the inspectors into his innermost sanctums, offer them cold Cokes and never for a moment try to obstruct their searches.
U.S. war aims would be thwarted, Mr. Hussein would remain supreme ruler of Iraq, sanctions would be lifted, the suffering of the Iraqi people would be relieved, and Iraq's oil production would be restored. A much-reduced inspection regime would remain in place, but it would be politically impossible for its staff to pursue future inspections aggressively.
Weapons-building know-how, the most important part of Iraq's chemical, biological and nuclear programs, would stay in the country, of course -- in the heads of its scientists. And with billions of dollars of new oil money flowing into the nation's coffers each year, Mr. Hussein could start his weapons program all over again -- this time, with a much better chance of getting away with it.
But he is not that smart.