March 21, 2003

NASARIYAH Financial Times is reporting


Financial Times is reporting the 11th Iraqi Infantry Division at Nasariyah has fallen apart.

This doesn't mean the road to Baghdad's clear for the 3rd Infantry, though. If nothing else, Nasariyah still has the headquarters for Hussein's chosen military commander for the south, his cousin Ali Hassan al Majid, "Chemical Ali," the scourge of the Kurds. He's allegedly holed up in Nasariyah's hospital. If anyone's life is worth less than Hussein's when Baghdad falls, it's this man. He undoubtedly has a few other desperadoes with him, too, enough to keep the entry to Nasariyah from being an automatic victory parade just yet.

(EDIT: On the other hand, ABC News is now reporting Ali, instead of Hussein, died in that initial strike on Wednesday night.)

Posted by BruceR at 10:48 PM



Colin Soloway with the 101st Airborne has been on CNN saying the troops he's with are still moving north slowly behind the battle in their trucks as dawn comes up again... looks like "Market Garden 2" (ie a punting forward of an airborne unit for the armour to race for and then through), is not, in fact, part of the plan for at least this initial phase. (Someone should have taken that bet.) That's strong evidence the Americans planned all along to go casualty-averse and conservative, not for any quick knockout. NOTE: That doesn't mean things can't still END quickly... if the Iraqis are clearly disintegrating, the plan goes out the window and it's everyone onto the road to Baghdad as quick as possible. But what's the plan for 3rd Mech Inf assuming that DOESN'T happen? The most likely option is that 3rd Mech secures a Euphrates crossing somewhere between Nasariyah and Samawah, and then keeps rolling slowly north through the farmland between the two rivers, acting as a blocking force along the Baghdad-Basra road until the Basra battle is over and the Anglo-Marine right wing can come up to join them to move jointly on the capital. It is a sounder plan. But the Americans will have to start managing expectations down... that old fart David Hackworth is on with Larry right now saying the whole thing will be over by Thursday. Not if they have to go through Basra first -- and Hussein's still alive -- it won't.

Posted by BruceR at 09:39 PM



The Turks seem to be establishing the 20 km buffer zone along the border they desired. Not a huge problem, if it helps with the refugee problem. It's when they start making noises about protecting the Turkoman minority in the cities, however, then watch out.

Posted by BruceR at 08:43 PM

UMM, WHAT? The Toronto Star


The Toronto Star isn't distinguishing itself this war, at least in the headline department. First we had the mortar thing, then this as the page 1 lead today: "Air, Ground Blitz Opens Second Wave." What does that MEAN? That's not headline writing, that's free association...

Posted by BruceR at 06:07 PM



The NY Times is reporting the Iraqi 51st Mechanized Division has fallen apart and its commanders have surrendered. Off the map you go, then.

Posted by BruceR at 04:04 PM



He and all his recent entries seem to have gone missing. Typical Blogspot screwup? Or something else?

UPDATE: Blogspot screwup. He's back.

Posted by BruceR at 03:21 PM



The BBC warblog is providing the best news from the ground front today:

Posted by BruceR at 03:04 PM



Increasing signs in the last couple hours that the Anglo-American advance from Kuwait has securing Southern Iraq as its only target for now, and that the actual Baghdad drive, from the south at least, may be getting put off for a few days, or even weeks. It's hard to understand why the caution, but there's no other reason that 3rd Infantry Division is headed for Nasariyah, and BOTH 1 UK Division and 1 Marine Division would be headed for Basra now. If the Americans were going for the "long ball," 3rd Inf would presumably want to cross the Euphrates higher up, so they can stay on that inviting open desert they're on as long as possible and out of the populated area between the rivers. I'm amending the map, accordingly, but I've got to wonder at the implicit caution we'd be seeing, given the resistance thus far.

They're still huge divisional frontages by any traditional standard, but it's looking more and more this hour like the Americans mean to be sure to envelop Basra before they move north on Baghdad. The Baghdad defenders have to assume they're gaining time by this. Nasariyah's still on the road to Baghdad, but it's the longest way around.

UPDATE: Okay, so why, assuming the news is accurate? What would be the advantage of going Basra first, then Baghdad, rather than trying for both simultaneously? The main advantage is, compared to the other alternative, it's hugely casualty-averse for both sides, and plays well on TV. All the Iraqis who still want to fight are presumably in Baghdad... so just take the rest of the country away from them, the theory goes. Basra should now fall fairly bloodlessly, and this in turn should lead to a weakening of Iraqi resistance country-wide, and increase the chances of an internal overthrow that will allow the kind of peaceful entry into Baghdad the Americans might feel they need. This way you get the scenes of happy Shiites on al-Jazeera, and fewer funerals at home. The strategies I and others have been bantering around will work only if your goal is to demoralize the enemy through their own military defeat, and accept some heavier losses in return for a presumably shorter war. A Basra "short-ball" strategy demoralizes the enemy through their own demonstrated impotence, and gives them another opportunity to just give up. It's sound, for sure. (Obviously such a strategy is also more appropriate to the current force levels in Iraq at the moment, as the chance of military defeat by the forces still around Basra is almost exactly nil. Trying to take a country all at once with 4 divisions plus special forces was always a risky proposition.)

Another upside is easier access to logistical lines, particularly the one for water, which would remain a major supply problem so long as 3rd Mech stayed in the desert. Less water shipped forward means more fuel, rations and ammo shipped instead... the Americans may have concluded that the supply needs of their own troops, plus the civilians and prisoners under their care, would simply have been unmanageable so long as they stayed off the road net.

The downside is the same it always was. A Basra strategy tends toward prolonging the conflict. It also does little to reduce the number of those defenders, if any, who will never be swayed into surrender, regardless. Delay is also in Hussein's best interest. The degree to which it may delay an ultimate resolution is also the degree to which the privation of those civilians still under his control increases, as their food runs out, and the world demands to end the fighting grow. Delay can also aid in the construction of a better defense.

We could well see 3rd Mech turning left and moving north after they ford the Euphrates at Nasariyah, of course. But moving up through farmland, with their frontage between the rivers tightening as one goes, likely means today's 100-km cavalry charge will not be repeated, and achieving Baghdad itself, assuming Hussein holds on, could take at least a week as the rate of overall advance slows accordingly.

SECOND UPDATE: Just to be clear, I'm not saying the tea leaves are obvious yet. Just that crossing the Euphrates near Nasariyah now almost certainly indicates a Basra-first strategy, and staying on the south side and moving even farther west almost certainly indicates an intent to invest Baghdad in the next few days. One more good clue either way and we should know. There's lots of ambiguous clues: I'm finding it interesting how quiet the reporters with 101st Airborne have been today, for instance.

Posted by BruceR at 12:30 PM

IRONY 40 Commando, Royal Marines,


40 Commando, Royal Marines, did more to stop environmental destruction in one day than all of Greenpeace has done this year, seizing all the spigots that could pour crude oil into the Persian Gulf, before the Iraqis could open them. It's exactly the kind of job the commandoes do best. (16 dead soldiers in a helicopter crash was the lamentable price.) No dead birds this war: sorry, Saddam.

UPDATE: That fatality number is now down to 12.

Posted by BruceR at 11:36 AM



(Updated map). If "Market Garden 2" is going to happen, ie airmobile drops ahead to accelerate the 3 Mechanized Infantry Division's advance, it'll start happening tonight, as 7th Cavalry, out front of the rest of the division, starts getting close to Samawah, which would be the obvious first target for such an activity. The other alternative for them, if the Americans feel they're going to get zero resistance for the next 300 miles, would seem to be to keep the 101st as a motorized infantry division, bumping along in trucks behind the 3rd. That would have to be seen as an unusually cautious move for the Americans right now, unless it's part of a headlong rush up the main road to Baghdad due to a total Iraqi collapse.

We're also hearing exactly zero, nothing, from the reporters with 1 UK Division, indicating there's a bit of a media blackout over that formation's activities. (Other units holding back in Kuwait, like the 101st, still have reporters giving details of their preparations to move.) I still think they're going to emerge out of this radio silence when they're already close to Nasariyah perhaps as early as tonight or sometime tomorrow, to start enveloping the Basra defence, but there's absolutely no evidence one way or the other at this point.

UPDATE, 11 AM EST: Spoke too soon. Sounds like 1 UK Division just broke out of journalistic radio silence, and as suggested here is well en route to Nasariyah to the right of 3rd Infantry.

Posted by BruceR at 10:40 AM