March 23, 2003

WOW I see my old


I see my old inspiration, John Keegan, has drawn a completely different interpretation from the battle reports he's reading... that the 3rd Infantry is actually BETWEEN the Tigris and Euphrates rivers at the moment. We'll have to see who's right, but I just don't see how he gets that from what we've seen.

I'm actually beginning to think the exact opposite of Keegan... that the Iraqis WANT to push the Americans in between the rivers. They are not challenging on the desert plateau west of the Euphrates at all... their "lesson learnt" from the 1991 war seems to have been that the Americans are unbeatable in desert warfare and need to be drawn into the cities and farmland of Mesopotamia. In which case, they would have placed no great emphasis on "blowing" the bridges at Nasariyah. It's the 3rd Inf, which I, unlike Keegan, still maintain is out in the desert near Najaf, that remains the main Allied threat, as far as the Iraqis are concerned. The whole reason they're trying now to hold them at Najaf and Karbala to force them IN to Mesopotamia, and the closer country, in fact.

Posted by BruceR at 08:30 PM



The WashPost now believes the Iraqi southern commander, "Chemical Ali," was still alive after the first-night decapitation strike. As I said earlier, the local Shiite resistance has said all along he's in Nasariyah. Given the growing ferocity of that fight, I'm ever more inclined to believe them.

Posted by BruceR at 08:18 PM

NASARIYAH, REDUX The real reason


The real reason a 3rd Inf maintenance convoy was whacked and its members captured by Iraqis has at least a little to do with the American plan to this point. The centre of mass for 3rd Inf Div is now 100 km, more or less, west of the next Allied division, 1st Marine (see updated map). Their only flank guard is the river itself... there are no doubt kilometers after kilometers of their flank that have no observation on them at this point, at all. The Iraqis don't have the strength south of Najaf to try to pinch them off in any way, but they still have tremendous capability to infiltrate into rear areas.

One would have thought some of this would have been solved by moving 101st Airborne troops by truck up out of Kuwait to increase the troop density up front. But possibly in part because of the grenade strike in one of their brigade HQs, 101st Airborne is still out of it. It's notable we're not hearing the ranks of those wounded in that attack... by all accounts those grenades were rolled right into the Brigade headquarters... a traditional Middle Eastern version of a "decapitation strike," really. Much more cost-effective, and as far as we know to this point, just as successful.

It also appears the ITN journalistic crew was killed by Allied fire, unfortunately.

Posted by BruceR at 07:46 PM



Turns out the "divisional commander captured" story fell through on closer inspection, too.

Also in the Star today, Rosie Di Manno in Jordan confirms the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Marine Special Ops) is operating in west Iraq. If that's the Marine presence people have been reporting, then the 3rd Inf thrust west of the Euphrates is really the only major force going for Baghdad at the moment... west and north must be all special ops types.

Posted by BruceR at 06:08 PM



If "Chemical Ali" isn't running things in Nasariyah (see posts below), someone with his unique personal take on the laws of war certainly is. But the point of the recent fake surrender, and parading of POWs caught in an ambush, is not, as one might think, to get the Americans to declare "no quarter" and overreact: they're not thinking that far ahead. Right now the defenders in Nasariyah are simply trying to draw as many Americans onto them as possible. The more of the strictly limited number of M1 tanks that the Marines have they can draw into street fighting that city, the fewer left to drive up that six-lane highway on the other side of the Euphrates to help the 3rd Inf at Najaf, who seem to be facing quite the fight in the coming days with the Republican Guard's Medina Division.

The Americans are really beginning to hurt for a second heavy division about now. I had initially assumed that they would put together their heavier elements of the Marines and Brits and create a second heavy unit, along with light divisions. Instead, they've left their armour parcelled out, giving them the equivalent of 1 heavy (the 3rd), 1 light (the 101st) and 2 medium divisions (Brits and Marines). The medium divisions have enough armour to assault a city, but not enough to maneuver independently against enemy armour. So right now the Marines are sitting outside Nasariyah, the Brits are outside Basra, and the 3rd Inf was doing all the heavy maneuvering until they got held up at the first real Iraqi prepared defense at Najaf. Instead of a boxer, hitting with two fists, they're acting like a fencer, with just the one striking attack to block.

One alternative (what I honestly thought they'd do, in fact) would have been to brigade the one Marine heavy formation (the expeditionary brigade) with the British 7th Armoured, and give Franks a US-UK armoured division, a second fist. The downside that seems to have ruled that out, though, is the increased likelihood of "blue-on-blue" friendly fire incidents. That seems to have been such a concern that the British have effectively been left behind at Basra because of it. Again, this isn't a showstopper... it's a tradeoff... one more tradeoff that's adding hours, if not days, to the time until any Americans "reach" Baghdad.

Posted by BruceR at 04:24 PM

UMM, WHAT? Sgt. Stryker has


Sgt. Stryker has already found his scapegoat: it's all the Brits' fault. Mandrake, comment?

Posted by BruceR at 07:13 AM



Den Beste and Blair are both buying the 8,000-plus prisoners by Friday stories, even though Franks specifically disavowed them today. Never let it be said the pro-war side isn't occasionally slipshod about figures, too. The difference is, just like the ludicrous reporting-ahead-of-the-facts we've also been seeing out of both Fox and Skynews, the facts on the ground will no doubt catch up to the hyperbole eventually.

Posted by BruceR at 12:47 AM



Another three journalists, including two Americans, are reported dead at Nasariyah.

UPDATE: CBS has now said this was in error.

Posted by BruceR at 12:24 AM



(Iraq map) The Americans definitely seem to have regained some momentum through the Iraqi night. 3rd Division troops now have the south bank of the Euphrates as far as the half way point between Samawah and Najaf. They've bypassed Samawah, suggesting they're sticking to the desert plateau on that bank as long as possible now, for maximum mobility (the other side of the river is basically all farmland), and to stay out of urban streets. The Americans have also bypassed Nasariyah, but notably don't seem to be doing more than holding the bridges they took yesterday between that city and Samawah for now... presumably another formation is coming up from behind to take up that line of advance in the more restrictive terrain between the big rivers. They'll have to get something moving up that road, soon, though, to watch 3rd Inf's exposed right flank, or they'll get held up for sure at Najaf.

My usual pessimism aside, it's fair to say things couldn't be going that much better. The Americans are using their surfeit of light troops differently than I expected, but with the same overall effect... the 101st and to a lesser extent 1st Marine Division and the Brits are being used to bottle up and reduce Iraqi forces in the cities, basically holding the line of the Euphrates, while 3rd Inf keeps pushing up the west bank. It's actually kind of like that Plan B I batted around, except instead of putting down the airborne carpet and then running the armour over it, they're running the armour through first and rolling out the carpet behind them.

The city that 3rd Inf can't bypass, though, is Karbala... no room right or left. So they either have to take it, or take Najaf instead, in order to get the armour back across the Euphrates again and have a clear run on Baghdad. Najaf would seem to be the easier target of the two... both are cities of around 400,000 people, but Najaf's closer to them. But again, to clear Najaf quickly they have to get something heavy moving up right away on the east side of the Euphrates between Samawah and Nasariya to put simultaneous pressure on the Iraqi left and rear. Watch for that to start happening tomorrow, apparently with some part of 1st MarDiv.

Of course, the Iraqis aren't stupid either, and may even have foreseen it would come to this, which is why one of the Republican Guards' nine divisions (Medina) is reportedly now in Najaf. It's possible that is going to have to be where the real city fighting starts: if you have bought that attractive time-share in Najaf, I'd consider selling it for whatever you can get about now.

What's hard to figure out at the moment is how much this was planned. The initial U.S. deployment of two divisions on Basra seems to have lost them at least 24 hours: for instance, they could have taken a British-led division across the desert with them to bottle up Nasariyah while 3rd Inf was vectored farther west... they could have then been on the outskirts of Najaf already, perhaps before the Medina Division was fully ready. 1 Marine Division could have done what's needed to be done in Basra by itself (not counting 3 Commando Brigade in Umm Qasr, only two of the Marines' four brigades, plus a quarter of the Brits, seem to have even been engaged). One can only presume that they didn't want to risk somehow muffing the seizure of the oilfields. But this switchback of units from Basra to Nasariyah has cost them time. The switchback is the most obvious sign of "calling audibles" to date, ie switching from an initially cautious strategy vis a vis Baghdad to a somewhat more ambitious one. If they'd meant to do this this way from the start, they'd certainly have done it differently. The question is, is this change because resistance in the west was less than expected, or resistance in the east (ie, Basra and Umm Qasr) was worse?

Posted by BruceR at 12:23 AM