U.S. troops advance toward Baghdad
DOHA, Qatar (CNN) -- Coalition forces have destroyed a key Republican Guard unit protecting Baghdad, the U.S. Central Command said Wednesday, as American ground forces advanced toward the Iraqi capital on multiple fronts.
Elements of the 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry -- the lead force of the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division -- had moved to within 25 miles of Baghdad, said CNN's Walter Rodgers, who is embedded with the unit. That report was cleared by 7th Cavalry officials.
At a briefing at U.S. Central Command headquarters in Doha, Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks said that U.S. forces had defeated the Republican Guard Baghdad Division in the town of Kut, about 100 miles southeast of the Iraqi capital.
"The Baghdad Division has been destroyed," Brooks said. He also said that the Medina and Nebuchadnezzar Divisions were "under serious attack" south of Baghdad.
U.S. Army sources told CNN Wednesday that the 1st and 3rd Brigades of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division took the western Iraqi town of Karbala, about 50 miles south of the Iraqi capital with "very little effort."
CNN's Rodgers said that the line of U.S. tanks, armored vehicles and supply vehicles stretched for about 10 miles in either direction from his position
"The goal is to punch here, punch there and then go get [Baghdad)]," a senior military official said Tuesday, shortly before the new U.S. offensive began. (Full story)
The advance, which includes the fights in Karbala and Kut, came after U.S.-led forces in the Persian Gulf region began receiving a battle plan suggesting the focus of the ground war soon would shift to the Iraqi capital, according to U.S. military officials.
Gen. Tommy Franks, chief of Central Command, will not have to consult with President Bush or Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld before moving on Baghdad, officials said.
Franks is not locked into a time frame and will seize the "tactical advantage" when the time is right, they said.
U.S. military officials said Wednesday that Iraqi troops were using a mosque as a covert base of operations in the central Iraqi town of Najaf.
Iraqi soldiers there have taken over the gilded dome of the tomb of Ali -- a landmark venerated by Shiite Muslims as the burial site of the prophet Muhammad's son-in-law, U.S. Central Command spokesman Capt. Frank Thorp said.
POW rescued; bodies found
Central Command said Wednesday that 11 bodies were discovered at the same Iraqi hospital in Nasiriya where a U.S. Army prisoner of war was rescued. It's not clear if the bodies are those of U.S. soldiers. The military is trying to identify the bodies.
Pentagon officials confirmed the rescue of Pfc. Jessica Lynch, 19, who had been listed as missing in action after intense fighting near Nasiriya on March 23. (Full story)
Lynch, a supply clerk with the 507th Maintenance Company from Fort Bliss, Texas, suffered multiple gunshot wounds in the ambush that led to her capture and had to be moved from the hospital with special care, Pentagon sources said. (What happened to the 507th?)
Captain Jay La Rossa, spokesman for the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, told Reuters that Lynch had two broken legs and one broken arm.
Brooks would not comment on Lynch's condition, except to say that she was alive and getting medical care. He showed video U.S. troops carrying her on a stretcher onto a helicopter.
In Lynch's hometown of Palestine, West Virginia, her father had difficulty describing the emotions he felt when he received news that his daughter was safe.
"I can't express what it was -- couldn't talk," Greg Lynch Sr. told CNN affiliate WCHS-TV. "We're just glad it happened. ... We believed, still believed, that she was hiding out and that she wasn't a capture."
The rescue operation was planned for several days and involved U.S. Marines and Special Operations forces, Pentagon sources said.
The renewed military activity in Iraq came hours after Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that critics of the Pentagon's war plan in Iraq are "absolutely wrong" and their comments are "not good for our troops."
"It is not helpful to have those kind of comments come out when we've got troops in combat because, first of all, they're false, they're absolutely wrong, they bear no resemblance to the truth, and it's just harmful to our troops that are out there fighting very bravely, very courageously," Myers said Tuesday at a Pentagon briefing.
Myers' remarks came after days of news reports that some retired military experts -- and some commanders in the field -- have raised questions about the war plan. (Full story)
• U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is in Turkey in a bid to mend strained relations between the two countries and to argue against Ankara sending a large force of troops into northern Iraq. (Full story)
• British commanders said Wednesday they were confident they would overcome resistance fighters and take the southern Iraqi city of Basra. (Full story)
• Two surface-to-surface missiles hit near U.S. troops in the vicinity of Najaf, CNN's Ryan Chilcote reported Wednesday. Initial head counts indicated no soldiers were injured, Chilcote said.
• A message purported to be from Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to the people of Iraq on Tuesday cited "our time of honor" and called for jihad. "Don't give them a chance ... until they withdraw," the text of the statement read, referring to troops of the U.S.-led coalition. Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf delivered the televised statement, which said, "Long live our nation. God is great. And they will be the losers, the evil, the criminals." (Full story)
CNN Correspondents Christiane Amanpour, Jane Arraf, Bob Franken, Art Harris, Tom Mintier, Nic Robertson, Walter Rodgers, Brent Sadler and Ben Wedeman and Producer Mike Mount contributed to this report.
Baghdad hospital bombed
US aircraft hit a Red Crescent maternity hospital in Baghdad, the city's trade fair, and other civilian buildings today, killing several people and wounding at least 25, hospital sources and a Reuters witness said.
The attacks occurred at 9.30am (0630 BST) and caught motorists by surprise as they ventured out during a lull in the bombing. At least five cars were crushed and their drivers burned to death inside, Reuters correspondent Samia Nakhoul said.
Patients and at least three doctors and nurses working at the hospital were among those wounded.
The missiles obliterated wings of Baghdad's trade fair building, which lies next to a government security office that was apparently missed in the bombings.
Iraq's information minister, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, told a news conference that overnight bombings by US-led forces killed 24 civilians and injured 186 across the country. In Baghdad, he said, 10 civilians had been killed and 90 wounded.
"No matter how many Iraqi civilians they kill, this will make us even stronger and even more determined to repel the invasion and to defeat them," Mr Sahaf said.
An assault in the early hours had previously targeted a presidential compound on the banks of the Tigris where Saddam Hussein's son Qusay has his headquarters, and sustained explosions pounded Republican Guard positions on the southern edge of the city.
Earlier US forces today secured the central Iraqi city of Kerbala and a strategically important Tigris river crossing in their push to Baghdad.
Commanders of the US 3rd Infantry Division had expected a day-long battle to seize the perimeter of the city, which is 70 miles south of Baghdad, but the operation lasted three hours.
Rather than tackling Iraqi soldiers inside, the US soldiers secured all major exit routes and continued the drive north.
"We've secured the positions we wanted to around Kerbala," said Colonel John Peabody, commander of an engineer brigade.
Up to 15,000 US troops have massed around Kerbala waiting to pour across the Euphrates - the last major natural obstacle standing between them and Baghdad on the south-western approach to the capital.
US marines later took control of the main Highway 6 from Kut to Baghdad- the eastern flank of the advance - and seized a Tigris river crossing described by one senior officer as the "last big bridge" needed for an advance on the Iraqi capital.
He said the Baghdad Division of Iraq's Republican Guard, based at Kut, was now "irrelevant". General Richard Myers, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said the Medina Division suffered a similar assault.
Elements of two of Iraq's northernmost Republican Guard divisions - the Adnan and Nebuchadnezzar - are moving south towards Baghdad, apparently to reinforce units under attack.
A Reuters correspondent travelling with advancing troops has reported that a vanguard of US troops is now 19 miles from the centre of the capital.
Fighting has meanwhile continued in the holy city of Najaf, 30 miles to the south of Kerbala, where US troops backed by helicopters, A-10 Warthog warplanes and RAF Tornados attacked Fedayeen militia fighters.
US central command in Qatar said Iraqis fired from inside the Ali mosque in the city, an important Shia Muslim shrine where Mohammed's son-in-law, Ali, is commemorated, but its troops did not return fire. The claim could not be independently confirmed.
"The Iraqi regime's use of the Ali mosque for military purposes is just the latest example of the regime's continued strategy of placing sacred sites in Iraq in jeopardy," a US official said.
Lieutenant Colonel Chris Holden of 101st Airborne said the city was a centre of the irregulars' unexpected resistance.
"The target is to destroy Fedayeen units and anyone else trying to disrupt our lines of communication," he said. "We are going to destroy them."
Baghdad: troops still strong
A new statement from Saddam Hussein broadcast today by Iraqi satellite television said the Iraqi armed forces had not used their full capabilities in the war.
"Fight them. Victory is at hand, God willing, although we have only utilised a third or less of our army while the criminals have used everything they brought in."
Iraq's defence minister, Sultan Hashem Ahmed, claimed aerial bombardment of Republican Guard positions south of Baghdad had caused minimal damage, because of "good fortifications".
Blair: Iraq should be run by Iraqis
Iraq should be run by the Iraqi people as soon as possible after the war ends, the prime minister, Tony Blair, insisted today.
Mr Blair told MPs he favoured a "broadly representative" Iraqi government that protected human rights - rather than the country being run by the UN or the coalition.
The prime minister also claimed that it was "increasingly probable" that a bomb which killed about 14 civilians in a Baghdad market last week was not a coalition weapon.
Straw: we will not attack Iran or Syria
Britain would have "nothing whatever" to do with military action against Syria or Iran, the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, signalled today.
Mr Straw's comments will be seen as an attempt to ensure that speculation about an Anglo-American attack on the two countries is quashed ahead of his meeting with EU foreign ministers tomorrow.
The US president, George Bush, has previously identified Iran as part of the so-called "axis of evil", while America's defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, this week accused Syria of supplying military equipment to Iraq and threatened to hold it to account for its actions.
Mr Straw told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Iran is an emerging democracy and there would be no case whatsoever for taking any kind of action."
Regarding Syria, Mr Straw said "we have worked hard to try to improve relations".
Away from the main thrust of the assault, British forces today reported a quiet night in southern Iraq.
But a lull in fighting was broken when British tanks fired on a building on the city's edge where soldiers believed to be Iraqi paramilitary fighters launched a mortar attack against a military checkpoint.
"The Challenger tanks are pressing forward to try to find out where the mortars are coming from," said Sergeant Pete Clifford, a tank commander.
British forces have besieged Basra since reaching its outskirts at the start of the 14-day-old war.
Some Iraqi soldiers have escaped and surrendered to the British troops.
The northern front
US B-52 warplanes have also bombed the northern Iraqi front line between the town of Dohuk and the city of Mosul, Reuters reported.
Elsewhere in the north, British troops staged an "extraction mission" after al-Jazeera showed pictures of what it said was a special forces Land Rover captured near Mosul.
The Qatar-based channel said the Iraqis had killed 10 British troops and showed footage of local tribesmen driving the vehicle.
"There was some UK forces equipment lost in Iraq, because obviously this equipment was shown on al-Jazeera television, and an extraction operation was mounted," a Ministry of Defence spokeswoman said.
Powell in Turkey
The US secretary of state, Colin Powell, said today he had discussed with Turkey the possibility of moving supplies for US forces in northern Iraq through the country.
Turkey's foreign minister, Abdullah Gul, said there was no need for a new parliamentary resolution to support the measures discussed with Mr Powell.
Mr Powell was visiting Turkey, a Nato ally, to repair damage to relations following Ankara's refusal to allow US troops to attack Iraq through Turkey. The secretary of state said US troops airlifted into Kurdish northern Iraq had stabilised the situation there and there was no cause for Turkey to send its troops into the region.
Mr Powell said he discussed with Mr Gul, "other needs we have now to sustain the coalition forces that we have operating in northern Iraq to keep the situation stable".
US marines staged a decoy attack on targets in Nassiriya to allow special forces to rescue a soldier, Private Jessica Lynch, 19, held prisoner by Iraqi troops, it was announced today.
Wounded British soldiers condemn US 'cowboy' pilot
British soldiers injured when a US "tankbuster" aircraft attacked their convoy, killing one of their comrades, hit out angrily at the "cowboy" pilot today.
Troops wounded in Friday's attack accused the A-10 Thunderbolt pilot of "incompetence and negligence" while others privately called for a manslaughter prosecution.
The comments came as America's most senior military official vowed to make it his quest to stop future "friendly fire" tragedies.
General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, apologised for the deadly error by the A-10 in southern Iraq.
He told BBC1's Breakfast With Frost: "It's the absolute saddest tragedy that any of us can experience.
"I don't think we have to live with situations like that, and one of my jobs has to be to ensure that we get the resources and the technical means to ensure that in the future this never, never happens again. And that will be my quest."
But the crews of the two British forward reconnaissance Scimitars which were attacked by the A-10 could not contain their anger.
Lance Corporal of Horse Steven Gerrard, speaking from his bed on the RFA Argus in the Gulf, said: "I can command my vehicle. I can keep it from being attacked. What I have not been trained to do is look over my shoulder to see whether an American is shooting at me."
LCoH Gerrard, the commander of the leading vehicle, described to Patrick Barkham of The Times how the deadly A-10 attack began.
The pilot made two swoops. "I will never forget that noise as long as I live. It is a noise I never want to hear again," he said.
"There was no gap between the bullets. I heard it and I froze. The next thing I knew the turret was erupting with white light everywhere, heat and smoke."
He added: "I'll never forget that A-10. He was about 50 metres off the ground. He circled, because he can turn on a 10 pence.
"He came back around. He was no more than 1,000 metres away when he started his attack run. He was about 500 metres away when he started firing."
On the back of one of the engineers' vehicles there was a Union Jack.
"It's about 18 inches wide by about 12 inches. For him to fire his weapons I believe he had to look through his magnified optics. How he could not see that Union Jack I don't know."
Packed with hundreds of rounds of ammunition, as well as grenades, rifle rounds and flammable diesel fuel tanks, the front two Scimitars exploded into flames.
One of their comrades, Lance Corporal of Horse, Matty Hull, 25, was killed.
LCoH Gerrard also criticised the A-10 for shooting when there were civilians close by.
He said: "There was a boy of about 12 years old. He was no more than 20 metres away when the Yank opened up.
"He had absolutely no regard for human life. I believe he was a cowboy. There were four or five that I noticed earlier and this one had broken off and was on his own when he attacked us. He'd just gone out on a jolly."
He added: "I'm curious about what's going to happen to the pilot.
"He's killed one of my friends and he's killed him on the second run."
Trooper Chris Finney, 18, added: "All the wagons have markings to say they are Coalition. I don't know why he shot a second time, he was that close.
"To be honest, I think they are just ignorant. I don't know if they haven't been trained or are just trigger happy."
Another of the injured, Lieutenant Alex MacEwen, 25, added: "A mistake has happened but too many things suggest it was down to pure incompetence and negligence."
Trooper Joe Woodgate, 19, the driver of the Scimitar in which gunner LCoH Hull was killed walked away with holes in his bullet-proof vest and torn clothes.
He told Audrey Gillan of The Guardian: "I don't suppose they have learned much from the first war. I can tell what an American tank looks like from every direction.
"It was the most irresponsible thing in the world. They didn't know what was going on. We were just getting on with our mission and they were messing around in the skies and saw us and said 'let's get ourselves a couple of wagons, that'll be one to tell the lads when we get back to the base'.
"How come somebody who is a top-notch Thunderbolt pilot can't tell what a British tank looks like. I think someone in the Pentagon or somewhere needs to sort something out there."
The reporter said some soldiers were also calling for the pilot to be prosecuted for manslaughter.
"I had a lot of time for Matty," said Trooper Woodgate.
"I respected him a lot and thought he was an awesome bloke. He was one of the nicest people I have ever met."
So far five British servicemen have been killed by friendly fire and four in combat with Iraqi forces.
On March 23 a Tornado aircraft was shot down by a US Patriot missile battery near the Kuwaiti border. Another two British soldiers were killed when their Challenger 2 Main Battle tank was engaged by another British tank west of Basra.
OFFENSE AND DEFENSE
As the ground campaign against Saddam Hussein faltered last week, with attenuated supply lines and a lack of immediate reinforcements, there was anger in the Pentagon. Several senior war planners complained to me in interviews that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his inner circle of civilian advisers, who had been chiefly responsible for persuading President Bush to lead the country into war, had insisted on micromanaging the war’s operational details. Rumsfeld’s team took over crucial aspects of the day-to-day logistical planning—traditionally, an area in which the uniformed military excels—and Rumsfeld repeatedly overruled the senior Pentagon planners on the Joint Staff, the operating arm of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “He thought he knew better,” one senior planner said. “He was the decision-maker at every turn.”
On at least six occasions, the planner told me, when Rumsfeld and his deputies were presented with operational plans—the Iraqi assault was designated Plan 1003—he insisted that the number of ground troops be sharply reduced. Rumsfeld’s faith in precision bombing and his insistence on streamlined military operations has had profound consequences for the ability of the armed forces to fight effectively overseas. “They’ve got no resources,” a former high-level intelligence official said. “He was so focussed on proving his point—that the Iraqis were going to fall apart.”
The critical moment, one planner said, came last fall, during the buildup for the war, when Rumsfeld decided that he would no longer be guided by the Pentagon’s most sophisticated war-planning document, the TPFDL—time-phased forces-deployment list—which is known to planning officers as the tip-fiddle (tip-fid, for short). A TPFDL is a voluminous document describing the inventory of forces that are to be sent into battle, the sequence of their deployment, and the deployment of logistical support. “It’s the complete applecart, with many pieces,” Roger J. Spiller, the George C. Marshall Professor of military history at the U.S. Command and General Staff College, said. “Everybody trains and plans on it. It’s constantly in motion and always adjusted at the last minute. It’s an embedded piece of the bureaucratic and operational culture.” A retired Air Force strategic planner remarked, “This is what we do best—go from A to B—and the tip-fiddle is where you start. It’s how you put together a plan for moving into the theatre.” Another former planner said, “Once you turn on the tip-fid, everything moves in an orderly fashion.” A former intelligence officer added, “When you kill the tip-fiddle, you kill centralized military planning. The military is not like a corporation that can be streamlined. It is the most inefficient machine known to man. It’s the redundancy that saves lives.”
The TPFDL for the war in Iraq ran to forty or more computer-generated spreadsheets, dealing with everything from weapons to toilet paper. When it was initially presented to Rumsfeld last year for his approval, it called for the involvement of a wide range of forces from the different armed services, including four or more Army divisions. Rumsfeld rejected the package, because it was “too big,” the Pentagon planner said. He insisted that a smaller, faster-moving attack force, combined with overwhelming air power, would suffice. Rumsfeld further stunned the Joint Staff by insisting that he would control the timing and flow of Army and Marine troops to the combat zone. Such decisions are known in the military as R.F.F.s—requests for forces. He, and not the generals, would decide which unit would go when and where.
The TPFDL called for the shipment in advance, by sea, of hundreds of tanks and other heavy vehicles—enough for three or four divisions. Rumsfeld ignored this advice. Instead, he relied on the heavy equipment that was already in Kuwait—enough for just one full combat division. The 3rd Infantry Division, from Fort Stewart, Georgia, the only mechanized Army division that was active inside Iraq last week, thus arrived in the Gulf without its own equipment. “Those guys are driving around in tanks that were pre-positioned. Their tanks are sitting in Fort Stewart,” the planner said. “To get more forces there we have to float them. We can’t fly our forces in, because there’s nothing for them to drive. Over the past six months, you could have floated everything in ninety days—enough for four or more divisions.” The planner added, “This is the mess Rumsfeld put himself in, because he didn’t want a heavy footprint on the ground.”
Plan 1003 was repeatedly updated and presented to Rumsfeld, and each time, according to the planner, Rumsfeld said, “‘You’ve got too much ground force—go back and do it again.’” In the planner’s view, Rumsfeld had two goals: to demonstrate the efficacy of precision bombing and to “do the war on the cheap.” Rumsfeld and his two main deputies for war planning, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, “were so enamored of ‘shock and awe’ that victory seemed assured,” the planner said. “They believed that the weather would always be clear, that the enemy would expose itself, and so precision bombings would always work.” (Rumsfeld did not respond to a request for comment.)
Rumsfeld’s personal contempt for many of the senior generals and admirals who were promoted to top jobs during the Clinton Administration is widely known. He was especially critical of the Army, with its insistence on maintaining costly mechanized divisions. In his off-the-cuff memoranda, or “snowflakes,” as they’re called in the Pentagon, he chafed about generals having “the slows”—a reference to Lincoln’s characterization of General George McClellan. “In those conditions—an atmosphere of derision and challenge—the senior officers do not offer their best advice,” a high-ranking general who served for more than a year under Rumsfeld said. One witness to a meeting recalled Rumsfeld confronting General Eric Shinseki, the Army Chief of Staff, in front of many junior officers. “He was looking at the Chief and waving his hand,” the witness said, “saying, ‘Are you getting this yet? Are you getting this yet?’”
Gradually, Rumsfeld succeeded in replacing those officers in senior Joint Staff positions who challenged his view. “All the Joint Staff people now are handpicked, and churn out products to make the Secretary of Defense happy,” the planner said. “They don’t make military judgments—they just respond to his snowflakes.”
In the months leading up to the war, a split developed inside the military, with the planners and their immediate superiors warning that the war plan was dangerously thin on troops and matériel, and the top generals—including General Tommy Franks, the head of the U.S. Central Command, and Air Force General Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff—supporting Rumsfeld. After Turkey’s parliament astonished the war planners in early March by denying the United States permission to land the 4th Infantry Division in Turkey, Franks initially argued that the war ought to be delayed until the troops could be brought in by another route, a former intelligence official said. “Rummy overruled him.”
Many of the present and former officials I spoke to were critical of Franks for his perceived failure to stand up to his civilian superiors. A former senator told me that Franks was widely seen as a commander who “will do what he’s told.” A former intelligence official asked, “Why didn’t he go to the President?” A Pentagon official recalled that one senior general used to prepare his deputies for meetings with Rumsfeld by saying, “When you go in to talk to him, you’ve got to be prepared to lay your stars on the table and walk out. Otherwise, he’ll walk over you.”
In early February, according to a senior Pentagon official, Rumsfeld appeared at the Army Commanders’ Conference, a biannual business and social gathering of all the four-star generals. Rumsfeld was invited to join the generals for dinner and make a speech. All went well, the official told me, until Rumsfeld, during a question-and-answer session, was asked about his personal involvement in the deployment of combat units, in some cases with only five or six days’ notice. To the astonishment and anger of the generals, Rumsfeld denied responsibility. “He said, ‘I wasn’t involved,’” the official said. “‘It was the Joint Staff.’”
“We thought it would be fence-mending, but it was a disaster,” the official said of the dinner. “Everybody knew he was looking at these deployment orders. And for him to blame it on the Joint Staff—” The official hesitated a moment, and then said, “It’s all about Rummy and the truth.”
According to a dozen or so military men I spoke to, Rumsfeld simply failed to anticipate the consequences of protracted warfare. He put Army and Marine units in the field with few reserves and an insufficient number of tanks and other armored vehicles. (The military men say that the vehicles that they do have have been pushed too far and are malfunctioning.) Supply lines—inevitably, they say—have become overextended and vulnerable to attack, creating shortages of fuel, water, and ammunition. Pentagon officers spoke contemptuously of the Administration’s optimistic press briefings. “It’s a stalemate now,” the former intelligence official told me. “It’s going to remain one only if we can maintain our supply lines. The carriers are going to run out of jdams”—the satellite-guided bombs that have been striking targets in Baghdad and elsewhere with extraordinary accuracy. Much of the supply of Tomahawk guided missiles has been expended. “The Marines are worried as hell,” the former intelligence official went on. “They’re all committed, with no reserves, and they’ve never run the lavs”—light armored vehicles—“as long and as hard” as they have in Iraq. There are serious maintenance problems as well. “The only hope is that they can hold out until reinforcements come.”
The 4th Infantry Division—the Army’s most modern mechanized division—whose equipment spent weeks waiting in the Mediterranean before being diverted to the overtaxed American port in Kuwait, is not expected to be operational until the end of April. The 1st Cavalry Division, in Texas, is ready to ship out, the planner said, but by sea it will take twenty-three days to reach Kuwait. “All we have now is front-line positions,” the former intelligence official told me. “Everything else is missing.”
Last week, plans for an assault on Baghdad had stalled, and the six Republican Guard divisions expected to provide the main Iraqi defense had yet to have a significant engagement with American or British soldiers. The shortages forced Central Command to “run around looking for supplies,” the former intelligence official said. The immediate goal, he added, was for the Army and Marine forces “to hold tight and hope that the Republican Guard divisions get chewed up” by bombing. The planner agreed, saying, “The only way out now is back, and to hope for some kind of a miracle—that the Republican Guards commit themselves,” and thus become vulnerable to American air strikes.
“Hope,” a retired four-star general subsequently told me, “is not a course of action.” Last Thursday, the Army’s senior ground commander, Lieutenant General William S. Wallace, said to reporters, “The enemy we’re fighting is different from the one we war-gamed against.” (One senior Administration official commented to me, speaking of the Iraqis, “They’re not scared. Ain’t it something? They’re not scared.”) At a press conference the next day, Rumsfeld and Myers were asked about Wallace’s comments, and defended the war plan—Myers called it “brilliant” and “on track.” They pointed out that the war was only a little more than a week old.
Scott Ritter, the former marine and United Nations weapons inspector, who has warned for months that the American “shock and awe” strategy would not work, noted that much of the bombing has had little effect or has been counterproductive. For example, the bombing of Saddam’s palaces has freed up a brigade of special guards who had been assigned to protect them, and who have now been sent home to await further deployment. “Every one of their homes—and they are scattered throughout Baghdad—is stacked with ammunition and supplies,” Ritter told me.
“This is tragic,” one senior planner said bitterly. “American lives are being lost.” The former intelligence official told me, “They all said, ‘We can do it with air power.’ They believed their own propaganda.” The high-ranking former general described Rumsfeld’s approach to the Joint Staff war planning as “McNamara-like intimidation by intervention of a small cell”—a reference to Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara and his aides, who were known for their challenges to the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Vietnam War. The former high-ranking general compared the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Stepford wives. “They’ve abrogated their responsibility.”
Perhaps the biggest disappointment of last week was the failure of the Shiite factions in southern Iraq to support the American and British invasion. Various branches of the Al Dawa faction, which operate underground, have been carrying out acts of terrorism against the Iraqi regime since the nineteen-eighties. But Al Dawa has also been hostile to American interests. Some in American intelligence have implicated the group in the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, which cost the lives of two hundred and forty-one marines. Nevertheless, in the months before the war the Bush Administration courted Al Dawa by including it among the opposition groups that would control postwar Iraq. “Dawa is one group that could kill Saddam,” a former American intelligence official told me. “They hate Saddam because he suppressed the Shiites. They exist to kill Saddam.” He said that their apparent decision to stand with the Iraqi regime now was a “disaster” for us. “They’re like hard-core Vietcong.”
There were reports last week that Iraqi exiles, including fervent Shiites, were crossing into Iraq by car and bus from Jordan and Syria to get into the fight on the side of the Iraqi government. Robert Baer, a former C.I.A. Middle East operative, told me in a telephone call from Jordan, “Everybody wants to fight. The whole nation of Iraq is fighting to defend Iraq. Not Saddam. They’ve been given the high sign, and we are courting disaster. If we take fifty or sixty casualties a day and they die by the thousands, they’re still winning. It’s a jihad, and it’s a good thing to die. This is no longer a secular war.” There were press reports of mujahideen arriving from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Algeria for “martyrdom operations.”
There had been an expectation before the war that Iran, Iraq’s old enemy, would side with the United States in this fight. One Iraqi opposition group, the Iraqi National Congress, led by Ahmed Chalabi, has been in regular contact with the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or sciri, an umbrella organization for Shiite groups who oppose Saddam. The organization is based in Iran and has close ties to Iranian intelligence. The Chalabi group set up an office last year in Tehran, with the approval of Chalabi’s supporters in the Pentagon, who include Rumsfeld, his deputies Wolfowitz and Feith, and Richard Perle, the former chairman of the Defense Policy Board. Chalabi has repeatedly predicted that the Tehran government would provide support, including men and arms, if an American invasion of Iraq took place.
Last week, however, this seemed unlikely. In a press conference on Friday, Rumsfeld warned Iranian militants against interfering with American forces and accused Syria of sending military equipment to the Iraqis. A Middle East businessman who has long-standing ties in Jordan and Syria—and whose information I have always found reliable—told me that the religious government in Tehran “is now backing Iraq in the war. There isn’t any Arab fighting group on the ground in Iraq who is with the United States,” he said.
There is also evidence that Turkey has been playing both sides. Turkey and Syria, who traditionally have not had close relations, recently agreed to strengthen their ties, the businessman told me, and early this year Syria sent Major General Ghazi Kanaan, its longtime strongman and power broker in Lebanon, to Turkey. The two nations have begun to share intelligence and to meet, along with Iranian officials, to discuss border issues, in case an independent Kurdistan emerges from the Iraq war. A former U.S. intelligence officer put it this way: “The Syrians are coördinating with the Turks to screw us in the north—to cause us problems.” He added, “Syria and the Iranians agreed that they could not let an American occupation of Iraq stand.”
Dissent grows over war strategy
American leaders moved swiftly yesterday to prevent the opening up of another front in the war - this time between Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, and his military chiefs.
The fuss is over an article published today in the New Yorker magazine, which blames Mr Rumsfeld for many of the problems on the battlefield.
It says that in the planning stages of the war, the defence secretary and his team of civilian advisers repeatedly overruled the military experts because they thought they knew better.
Both Mr Rumsfeld and the war commander, General Tommy Franks, have denied the allegations - though it's an open secret that Mr Rumsfeld's style of management has annoyed many in the Pentagon.
Meanwhile, a sign of possible dissent in the British ranks is a report this morning that three unnamed soldiers from the 16 Air Assault Brigade have been sent home to face a court martial. They are understood to have complained about the way the war is being fought and the growing danger to civilians.
Following the first suicide bombing of the war, which killed four American soldiers on Saturday, Iraq has claimed for have more than 4,000 other volunteers ready to "martyr" themselves.
Although Saddam Hussein's regime is largely secular, religious militants throughout the region will probably make strenuous efforts over the coming months to "Islamise" the conflict - as happened during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.
The Palestinian Islamic Jihad group yesterday issued a statement announcing "the good news" that the first of its suicide bombers had arrived in Baghdad. Because of the extremely tight security in Israel, American and British troops in Iraq are likely to become an easier and more attractive target for the foreseeable future.
Angered by the TV images of civilian casualties and the feeble efforts of their own governments to prevent the war, Arabs from various countries have been volunteering to fight in Iraq. Reports mention 100 in Algeria and 50 in Egypt. In Lebanon, 20 volunteers are said to have already gone, while hundreds more have applied for Iraqi visas.
In northern Kuwait yesterday, 15 US soldiers were injured when a civilian charged at them in a pick-up truck just outside their base at Camp Udairi. The attacker, said to be an Egyptian migrant worker, was shot and critically injured.
Bombing in and around Baghdad continued relentlessly over the weekend - though the US says three-quarters of the attacks are aimed at weakening the Republican Guard, which has set up a protective cordon around the city. Early this morning the information ministry was in flames, having been targeted by Tomahawk cruise missiles to "reduce the command and control capabilities" of the Iraqi government, according to the US.
One of the ministry's main functions is to supervise foreign journalists working in Iraq, and normally they are required to file reports from the ministry building so that their activities can be monitored. Night-time scenes of Baghdad frequently shown by CNN came from a camera on the ministry's roof. Ahead of the attack, much of the media activity had been transferred to the Palestine Hotel.
Also this morning, there are reports of significant military activity around Nassiriya where, according to the BBC, 5,000 additional US troops, including special forces, are being sent in an effort to defeat continuing Iraqi resistance.
A dawn raid on Shatra, north of the Nassiriya, reportedly targeted Saddam's cousin, "Chemical Ali", and other senior Iraqi officials who are believed to be directing guerrilla attacks in the area.
In Nassiriya itself, the US says marines have found large quantities of gas masks and anti-nerve gas chemicals in an abandoned Iraqi camp. It is reported this morning that American troops are attempting to communicate with Iraqis in the field via a hand-held electronic box known as a Phrasealator, which was first tried out in Afghanistan.
The user points to one of 1,000 phrases on a menu - such as "come out with your hands up" - and the box squawks out the message in Pashtu, Dari, Urdu or, in this case, Arabic. Unfortunately, there is no way the Americans can understand what the Iraqis say in reply.
~Did You Miss These?~
Just a Reminder - Tuesday, Nov. 04, 2003
Ravyne Is Moving - Friday, Oct. 17, 2003
The Mission - Sunday, Oct. 12, 2003
Siege Heil - Thursday, Oct. 09, 2003
Litany Of Lies - Wednesday, Oct. 08, 2003
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