Monday, March 13, 2006

previous entry | main | next entry | TrackBack (0)

So what was Saddam thinking?

In the New York Times, Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor get their hands on a classified United States military report on what Saddam was thinking before and during the Second Gulf War. And it turns out that Saddam was petrified of insurgencies more than the U.S. Army:

As American warplanes streaked overhead two weeks after the invasion began, Lt. Gen. Raad Majid al-Hamdani drove to Baghdad for a crucial meeting with Iraqi leaders. He pleaded for reinforcements to stiffen the capital's defenses and permission to blow up the Euphrates River bridge south of the city to block the American advance.

But Saddam Hussein and his small circle of aides had their own ideas of how to fight the war. Convinced that the main danger to his government came from within, Mr. Hussein had sought to keep Iraq's bridges intact so he could rush troops south if the Shiites got out of line.

General Hamdani got little in the way of additional soldiers, and the grudging permission to blow up the bridge came too late. The Iraqis damaged only one of the two spans, and American soldiers soon began to stream across.

The episode was just one of many incidents, described in a classified United States military report, other documents and in interviews, that demonstrate how Mr. Hussein was so preoccupied about the threat from within his country that he crippled his military in fighting the threat from without.

Foreign Affairs has published an extract from the actual report by Kevin Woods, James Lacey, and Williamson Murray for U.S. Joint Forces Command (USJFCOM). From the report, it appears that Saddam Hussein's theory of international relations had a lot in common with Norman Angell and Woodrow Wilson:
Judging from his private statements, the single most important element in Saddam's strategic calculus was his faith that France and Russia would prevent an invasion by the United States. According to Aziz, Saddam's confidence was firmly rooted in his belief in the nexus between the economic interests of France and Russia and his own strategic goals: "France and Russia each secured millions of dollars worth of trade and service contracts in Iraq, with the implied understanding that their political posture with regard to sanctions on Iraq would be pro-Iraqi. In addition, the French wanted sanctions lifted to safeguard their trade and service contracts in Iraq. Moreover, they wanted to prove their importance in the world as members of the Security Council -- that they could use their veto to show they still had power."

Ibrahim Ahmad Abd al-Sattar, the Iraqi army and armed forces chief of staff, claimed that Saddam believed that even if his international supporters failed him and the United States did launch a ground invasion, Washington would rapidly bow to international pressure to halt the war. According to his personal interpreter, Saddam also thought his "superior" forces would put up "a heroic resistance and . . . inflict such enormous losses on the Americans that they would stop their advance." Saddam remained convinced that, in his own words, "Iraq will not, in any way, be like Afghanistan. We will not let the war become a picnic for the American or the British soldiers. No way!"

Go check it all out.

posted by Dan on 03.13.06 at 12:57 AM


And this is the guy the US said was such a great threat to the world?

But you have to wonder how the same group who lost the conventional war so fully has managed to humiliate the amazing US military and the US government.

Surely there was some planning for an insurgency by some senior Baathists. Or is the US military just incompetent at fighting guerilla wars?

posted by: sien on 03.13.06 at 12:57 AM [permalink]

Saddam didn't know a great deal about the world outside Iraq. He'd only spent time in Iraq and Egypt and had been dictator of Iraq for going on 25 years.

The evidence is that unlike someone like Quadafi, Saddam had a bad habit of killing or torturing anyone who told him he was wrong about anything. Therefore people tended to lie and tell him what he wished to hear. In this case he wanted to hear that France/Russia could stop the war or that Bush would be like his father and pull his punches if it did start.

So he ended up fighting the danger he knew the most about - the possiblility that another younger Saddam would use the crisis to grab power and make a deal with the US. The way to stop that was not to give them autonomy to make decisions.

posted by: Don on 03.13.06 at 12:57 AM [permalink]

I draw two conclusions from Foreign Affairs article, neither of which I would think was intended by the authors. One, that the American victory, in strictly military terms, is significantly diminshed: the opponent faced was not only ill prepared, it was farcically ill prepared: I don't think anyone can draw any useful conclusions regarding new American way of war as dreamed of by Rumsfeld from operation Iraqi freedom. Two, the phase IV failings are accented, especially as regards the oppurtunities lost to shut down Baghdad for the sake of security and the disbanding of the Iraqi army: it is not far fetched to imagine these guys would have been very willing participants in an intelligently run American occupation given the years of evil buffoonery they were subject to under Saddam. My faith in the competence of American foreign policy and it's various instruments has just taken another step backwards.

posted by: saintsimon on 03.13.06 at 12:57 AM [permalink]

The question is who did he pay in the French and Russian Governments.

posted by: Robert Schwartz on 03.13.06 at 12:57 AM [permalink]


The US military has avoided counterinsurgenicies for a while and their capacities and focus are mixed. But in the plans they drew up they did take into account many problems and committed enough troops to have some chance of securing large parts of the country.

They would also assume a massive foreign aid effort by State and other civilian organizations among the people.

Rumsfeld and his whiz kids reduced the troops, avoided discussion of potential problems and believed rebuilding could be managed by twenty something political correct people recruited from the Heritage Foundation site, people without experience, who could carry out their functions from behind the walls of the Green Zone.

These consisted primarily of awarding Iraqi, then US money to big American corportations, writing a flat tax for a country without income tax and various other utopian schemes.

Similarly the quite impefect functioning of the "intelligence community," State and others were replaced with a faith based model of the situation.

posted by: alice on 03.13.06 at 12:57 AM [permalink]

Strictly from a tactical point of view, Hamdani could have delayed the American advance had he been able to blow the Euphrates River bridges. However, the reinforcements he wanted would only have become casualties in short order; combined arms operations against organized formations are what the American army and air forces have trained for. Ironically or not, the former regime's failure to follow textbook advice accelerated the Iraqi collapse in 2003 while laying the foundation for the prolonged insurgency.

posted by: Zathras on 03.13.06 at 12:57 AM [permalink]

But you have to wonder how the same group who lost the conventional war so fully has managed to humiliate the amazing US military and the US government.

Counter-insurgency is just HARD, and much less amenable to the "throw lots of resources at the problem" approach that the American military generally uses. And of course, if the Americans leave, and whatever militias are there can no longer consider blowing up the occasional oil refinery or mosque to be "victory", then they'll suddenly look a lot less competent.

posted by: Jake on 03.13.06 at 12:57 AM [permalink]

"One, that the American victory, in strictly military terms, is significantly diminshed: the opponent faced was not only ill prepared, it was farcically ill prepared: I don't think anyone can draw any useful conclusions regarding new American way of war as dreamed of by Rumsfeld from operation Iraqi freedom. "

This was was against an opponent which was at least one generation back in technology, with only a low level of industrial strength. Whose tactical ability had been found sadly (for them) in the first Gulf War.

In the meantime, the US military had the money and leisure to integrate those lessons into doctrine, and to advance another generation in technology. We went from proto-digital to digital, at least in aviation and major ground units (company-level and below not so much).

On top of that, we had air supremacy, and probably fielded more tanks, APC's and artillery pieces than the Iraqi Army had. And we knew all of those things.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi forces knew that, as well. That's why they generally didn't resist.

Seen in that light, a quick opening campaign was likely. The two major obstacles which I saw predicted were use of chemical weapons, and urban warfare. Since the chemical weapons were only in the speeches of the neo-conmen, that wasn'a a problem. And Saddam didn't have the forces/morale for conventional urban warfare.

posted by: Barry on 03.13.06 at 12:57 AM [permalink]

"The question is who did he pay in the French and Russian Governments."

posted by: Robert Schwartz

Since the USA (not the GOP) would have been better off by heeding French advice, your question doesn't make sense.

posted by: Barry on 03.13.06 at 12:57 AM [permalink]

Dr. Hemlock was in the war in 2003 and 2004 and concurs with many of the comments made here.

Apart from some sharp fights at al-Hillah and Kut for the Army and Marines, the "war" part of the war was pretty anti-climactic. The Fedayeen Saddam and the more organized "foreign fighters" did pretty well. Some of the Republican Guard acquitted themselves well. The Iraqi Army didn't.

What hasn't been the press accounts of the new Trainor book, but will undoubtedly be in the book, is that we didn't WANT to fight the Iraqi Army -- that is, the regular, conscript Army. We wanted that to stay intact, to become the core of the "new" post-Saddam army. In fact, we leafletted the regular army's bases, telling them to just hold in place, stay away from their vehicles and weapons, and we'd be around to take their surrender in a minute or two.

Even at the highest levels of command there wasn't much stomach for the idea of slaughtering those poor S.O.B's who'd got shangai'd into the army -- the same ones who'd been in such a hurry to surrender in '91.

posted by: Hemlock for Gadflies on 03.13.06 at 12:57 AM [permalink]

I take issue with certain commenters talking about how the military didn't plan for enough troops in certain areas. This may still have been true, but a large part of the military plan involved the 4th ID (our most modern at that point I believe) coming down from the north - which was then prevented by the Turks immediately preceding the invasion. With this political decision, the entire 4th ID had to be taken on ships around to the other side of Iraq, which takes time. Thus half of the planned invasion force was simply unavailable when we invaded.

Even after this, the Special Forces (and Peshmerga) did a remarkable job in the north of taking territory and maintaining order, mainly by calling on retired military officers to take over security. Sometime later the seemingly rather foolish decision to disband this force was made. (While it is hard to say what the effect of leaving Ba'athists eligible for national government may have been, it is quite clear that in the Sunni Triangle everyone competent was an ex-Ba'athist.)

It's also not really a counter-insurgency in the traditional sense, epitomized in most peoples minds by Vietnam. Post-Fallujah, there is no opposing force holding territory. In particular, most of what is referred to as the insurgency is not only like 10 different groups, not driven by nationalistic, but either sectarian (al-Sadr, the ex-Baathists) or larger non-Iraqi concerns (foreign jihadis, the Iranians.) And of course, a large part of what gets reported in the media here is really just organized crime and the like (Saddam emptied the jails of ~150,000 criminals before the invasion.) Thats not to say there isn't something bigger going on, as the events of the last week and a bigger look clearly prove otherwise, but in a city the size of Baghdad 10-20 murders a day is not evidence on its own of something larger.

posted by: bishopmvp on 03.13.06 at 12:57 AM [permalink]

If your enemies can win merely by existing, and you can't massacre everyone in the area, you will most likely lose. That is why we are losing to the insurgency.

posted by: jb on 03.13.06 at 12:57 AM [permalink]

When it comes to perceptions off the mark, Saddam scores high. But isn't Bush competitive? To think the Middle East could be democratized by the power of example, the war wouldn't be prolonged and aid the Islamist cause, Iran wouldn't emerge as a chief beneficiary--who was the greater fool?
It's frightening enough that a third-rate backwater dictator can have such distorted perceptions. It's rather more frightening that the leader of the world's only superpower can.

posted by: Comparatist on 03.13.06 at 12:57 AM [permalink]

Amazing. So according to bishopmvp, the insurgency doesn't really exist?

posted by: Tequila on 03.13.06 at 12:57 AM [permalink]

10-20 murders a about 10x that?

posted by: centrist on 03.13.06 at 12:57 AM [permalink]

Iraq has been a debacle for the USA. Bush still either does not realize that or has decided to not tell the people of the USA the truth about the reality of the situation there.

posted by: john ryan on 03.13.06 at 12:57 AM [permalink]

Bishopmvp mostly misses the point. Yes, SF and the peshmerga (mostly the latter) did do a great job in the north. But of course the north was already largely pacified to begin with, was/is generally populated with a relatively homogenous group with a shared interest in stability (since they were already prospering), and -- most importantly -- the center of mass was south: the Basra-Baghdad-Tikrit axis.

That's where we indeed committed too few troops. 4th ID was going to come down from the north in this kind of grand pincer movement in anticipation of a Stalingrad-redux on the streets of Baghdad.

That does/says nothing about the fundamental problem -- namely, that too few troops were available for Phase IV (the SASO part). In fact, Cobra II called for rolling transitions in the fight -- we'd been in Phase III here, Phase IV there -- so obviously people understood that SASO would be essential. They just didn't resource it. Why? Too few troops.

posted by: Hemlock for Gadflies on 03.13.06 at 12:57 AM [permalink]

Post a Comment:


Email Address:



Remember your info?