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Green Left Weekly: Bush Plans Bloodbath In Iraq

COVER STORY: Bush plans bloodbath in Iraq


For a year now, US President George Bush's administration's top foreign policy goal has been violent “regime change” in Iraq. On October 22, on the basis of a leak from the White House, the New York Times reported that the Bush administration plans to install a US military proconsul in Baghdad — along the lines of General Douglas MacArthur's six-and-half-year rule in post-1945 Japan — before handing Iraq over to a puppet government.

The active military preparations for the US conquest of Iraq have been underway for months now. On December 20, the Miami Herald reported that “a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity” said that up to “100,000 American troops, along with additional naval and air forces, could begin moving immediately after the holidays and be in place by the end of January or early February”. The US forces would be “joined by about 20,000 British troops and forces from other countries willing to fight Iraq President Saddam Hussein”, the official said.

The Miami Herald article noted that an “estimated 50,000 American personnel now in the Middle East include about 20,000 ground troops, most of them in Kuwait” and “most of the command structure for an invasion of Iraq: the headquarters staffs of the Europe-based US Army 5th Corps, the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force from Camp Pendeleton, California and General Tommy Franks' 600-strong Tampa-based Central Command staff”.

The US Central Command, established in 1983, directs US military operations in the Middle East, northeast Africa and southwest Asia, including the waters of the Persian Gulf. Its purpose, bluntly spelled out in a US Air Force University document on the Pentagon's web site, is “to protect the United States' vital interests in the region — uninterrupted, secure US/Allied access to Gulf oil”. The document adds that “unrestricted access by the industrial nations of the world to the Central Region's vast oil reserves remains an imperative.”

`Short and violent'

Writing in the October 16 Wall Street Journal, retired general Barry McCaffrey, who commanded the US army's 24th Mechanised Division, which spearhead the US invasion of southern Iraq in February 1991, said that the US armed forces were planning for a “short and violent military campaign” aimed at taking over Iraq.

US ground forces would invade Iraq from Kuwait in the south and Jordan in the west. Troops would also be airlifted from Europe to air bases in Turkey and then be transported by helicopter into northern Iraq, with the aim of rapidly setting siege to Baghdad.

A major target of the invasion, McCaffrey said, would be Iraq's elite Republican Guard, a well-trained, well-equipped force of 100,000 troops that is digging in around Baghdad, including the Special Republican Guard, which protects the top Iraqi government and ruling Baathist Party officials.

“Allied forces will be compelled to kill the 15,000 troops of the Special Guard”, McCaffrey said.

In January-February 1991, during the six weeks of intensive bombing and the 100-hour ground invasion of Iraq, the US-led forces suffered only 140 casualties, while killing at least 100,000 Iraqis. McCaffrey acknowledged that this time though, “US forces are likely to endure significant casualties”. This is because a US conquest of Iraq will entail urban warfare.

An article in the October 21 Washington Post reported that recent studies by the US Marine Corps have shown “that battlefield casualties exceed 30 per cent in simulated urban operations involving troops who receive, on average, only about two weeks of urban combat training per year”.

A September 16 report by the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, entitled “Doctrine for Joint Urban Operations” (in Pentagon terminology, “joint” designates operations combining air, naval, ground and special forces under a single command), argues for using advanced weaponry on a massive scale against cities as a substitute for the perils and difficulties of house-to-house combat.

It notes that all “those aspects of urban ground combat that have historically extracted a terrible price on attacker, defender and noncombatant alike remain present today, multiplied by the increased size and complexity of urban areas and increase in the number of inhabitants”.

According to the report: “Cities reduce the advantages of the technologically superior force... The physical terrain of cities tend to reduce ... command, control and communications capability, makes aviation operations more difficult and decreases the effectiveness of ... indirect fire support, [reducing] ground operations to the level of small unit combat.”

The document frequently mentions three historical examples in which superior attacking forces met defeat at the hands of defenders — the battle of Stalingrad in the Soviet Union in 1941-42; the battle of Hue in Vietnam during the Tet offensive in February 1968, in which US Marines suffered heavy casualties recapturing the city from the Vietnamese liberation forces and turned US public opinion turned sharply against the US war; and the battle of Grozny in Chechnya in 1994-95, in which four attacking Russian army columns were fought to a standstill by Chechen guerrilla fighters, and anti-war sentiment within Russia grew rapidly.

The Pentagon war planners are clearly concerned that protracted street battles to occupy Baghdad, a sprawling city of 5 million inhabitants, could have the same effect on US public opinion. Their answer to this problem, according to the document, is to avoid making cities combat zones by directing massive firepower on them from afar.

`Shaping the battlespace'

The US Joint Chiefs' report singles out the importance of what is called, in Pentagonese, “shaping the battlespace”. The commander of an urban assault “shapes the battlespace ... by exerting appropriate influence on ... the elements of the urban triad”.

The “urban triad”, according to the report, consists of the physical terrain, the population and the city's infrastructure. “Everting appropriate influence” on the urban triad means, in plain English, levelling buildings to improve the military's mobility, destroying infrastructure to deny water, electricity and other vital systems to the city's defenders and driving out (or killing) the civilian population so that they don't get in the way.

The document calls for “the use of fires to create conditions favorable for operation movement manoeuver” and declares that “incendiary weapons are lawful as long as they are not employed so as to cause unnecessary suffering”, while weapons “with incidental incendiary effects are exempted, as are munitions with a combined effect”. While phrased as a restriction on the use of incendiary weapons, the report indicates that burning down cities is part of the Pentagon's strategy for urban combat operations.

While acknowledging that the Chemical Weapons Convention, to which the US is a signatory, “prohibits the use of all chemical weapons, including riot control agents”, the report goes on to declare, “the United States holds the position that use of riot control agents to control prisoners or civil disturbances is not a method of warfare and therefore not covered by the convention”. So US military commanders are reminded that they cannot legally gas enemy soldiers, but they can gas prisoners and civilians.

Elsewhere in the report, the Joint Chiefs insist there should be no limitations on the types of weapons employed by US commanders in an assault on urban areas. “In any urban combat manoeuvre”, the report states, “the best approach is to use the full range of combined arms technology and weaponry available to the joint force”.

While corporate media reports of the Joint Chiefs' urban warfare document have presented the Pentagon's strategy as aiming to minimise civilian casualties, a confidential study prepared by the UN emergency relief agencies in December estimated that a US military assault on Iraq's cities would result in at least 500,000 civilian casualties.

Summarising the findings of the study on January 7, BBC news reported: “Up to 500,000 people could suffer serious injuries during the first phase of an attack on Iraq... That includes up to 100,000 wounded in combat, and another 400,000 hurt in the devastation expected during any US-led attack on Iraq.”

Given the inevitable slaughter of civilians that would ensue from a US attempt to conquer Baghdad and other Iraqi cities, the Joint Chiefs' urban warfare document advises careful planning of public relations “to produce maximum cooperation between the media and joint forces”. It declares that “successful engagement of the media can ... help produce and maintain domestic and international support”.

Underscoring the premium that the Pentagon places having the media act as its propaganda mouthpiece, the report notes that the US military defeated the Vietnamese attacks in urban areas in the 1968 Tet offensive, but lost the “information battle”, and ultimately, the war itself.

The report speaks in Orwellian terms of a “strategy of reprogramming mass consciousness” to guarantee domestic and international support for urban combat operations.

It approvingly cites the political lessons learned by the Russian military in the first Chechnya campaign of 1994-95, with the result that, as the report summarises it, “during the second Chechnya campaign of 1999-2000 the Russian government made every effort to control the media and ensure that the Russian view of the war dominated public opinion”. “Russia”, it adds, “won the information war from day one of the fighting”.

The strategy outlined by the Joint Chiefs may enable the US military to relatively quickly occupy Baghdad and other Iraqi cities with limited US casualties, but as the experience of the Russian occupation of Chechnya has shown it may not be sufficient to crush all armed resistance.

Moscow claims there are only 1000 rebel fighters in Chechnya, however the Chechen guerrillas have tied down about 100,000 Russian occupation troops and more than 4700 Russian soldiers and police have been killed in Chechnya since Russia's “quick victory” three years ago.

Under siege in Afghanistan

Indeed, it appears that the US military itself is starting to face the same problem in Afghanistan. At the end of 2001, the US claimed it had achieved a crushing victory over the Taliban regime and its al Qaeda allies. However, an article in the December 19 British Guardian by Dan Plesch, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies, reported that since early 2002 the US occupation forces in Afghanistan has suffered one military setback after another.

Plesch described the real story of what happened last March when the US forces launched a highly publicised operation to hunt down the al Qaeda fighters in their mountain caves in eastern Afghanistan: “Locally recruited Afghans were trained as `beaters', driving al Qaeda from its high mountain caves on to the guns of US soldiers lying in ambush. The reality was that it was the US army that was ambushed...

“At a dozen mountain passes, al Qaeda attacked US and allied forces as they jumped from their helicopters to take up what they thought would be their own ambush positions. So intense was the enemy fire that for two days the US could not fly in helicopters to support its own troops, who remained pinned down in vicious fighting.

“After proclaiming the operation a complete success, the US announced that no more operations of this kind would be undertaken.”

Plesch reported that following the failure of Operation Anaconda, “the units involved ... were replaced by the 82nd airborne... the most highly trained infantry unit in the US army, and one Pentagon planners would prefer to have available for Iraq”.

“The 82nd airborne”, Plesch added, “began operations to dig out enemy forces from the villages in eastern Afghanistan... One senior US editor told me he had been prevented by his own organisation from filing reports on the futility and brutality of [these] operations. He said the only comparison in US military history was a punitive expedition into Mexico conducted by General Pershing in 1915. This produced virtually no results after months searching the desolate Mexican countryside in search of Pancho Villa, chasing up false leads provided by the local population.”

Summarising the military situation over the last year in Afghanistan, Plesch wrote: “US-led attacks ... have been ineffective, suffered outright defeat, or resulted in disaster. These failures have led the US to keep its forces mostly inside their bases [where] they are under attack almost daily from missiles and machine guns.”


From Green Left Weekly, January 15, 2003.
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