April 02, 2003



Martin Walker comes closest to explaining what's at stake in the current fighting. I don't see how anything the Americans do in this operation can bag "all five" Republican Guard divisions (I'd say three, tops, with the Hammurabi and Nida divisions still having an escape route), but it does give one credible interpretation of the American commander's intent.

People are wondering about the "destruction" of the Baghdad Motorized Division. As I mentioned below, that division is not a strong force. It probably only had around 20-30 tanks to start the war, for instance. Destruction by the military definition of the word would not have been hard. But we are also seeing reports of T-72 casualties, which have been long-awaited, as it means the key 3rd Armoured Div vs. the Medina Armoured Division clash is finally going on... regardless of what happens, it seems certain we will see the Iraqis withdrawing into their final lines around Baghdad by the end of this week, now. I'm mindful of Josh Marshall's recent point about the relative irrelevance of specific dates, but I'd still say we're looking now at a "no-later-than" date of mid-May sometime.

A key preliminary move, that in retrospect was carefully shielded by the embeds and their minders (2 MEB embed Matthew Fisher's work, for instance, has been uncharacteristically vague of late), was the relinking of 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, with its 60 tanks, with the rest of 1 Marine Division, giving them about 120. This gave the Marines enough combat power to fight independently, and not just play flank guard. They may still not yet cross the Tigris, even though they've evidently seized at least one bridge... the move may be more designed to winkle out any Iraqi resistance between the Tigris and Euphrates, at least for now.

There are a lot of reports that both 15th and 24th Marine Expeditionary Units (battalion-sized forces) have now gotten involved in Nasariyah. 15th MEU was previously in Umm Qasr, teamed with the British Royal Marine brigade... 24th MEU was previously reported to be in Jordan, suggesting that earlier report may have been in error and another, unidentified Marine battalion is in that country instead. The 2nd/6th Marines is also known to be the Middle East, but without embedded reporters or a firm location to date, suggesting it may be the Jordanian force.

UPDATE: There's all kinds of bizarre reports, about Marines capturing Kut, etc. This seems all based on wild conjecture, and misunderstanding of the initial positions of some of these units. I know, for instance, that Toronto papers have been talking for over a week about a straight Marine drive north from Nasariya to Kut that never actually happened. Kut itself has been captured already, in the Toronto press, at least half a dozen times. So here's what happened yesterday, really:

The Baghdad Division was where we said it was, blocking to the front and left of the Medina Division. Its back was to the Tigris River, on the map halfway between Hillah and Kut. The Marines did a right flank, capturing the first Tigris bridge southeast of Baghdad. Because the highway on the north side runs along the river, they effectively now control the Kut-Baghdad Highway as well, if not control by force then control by fire. That means the Baghdad Division was cut off from Baghdad. What's left of it can always fall back on Kut, of course, but there it's for all intents and purposes out of the war. Like the other regular army divisions around Amarah, it really never had any offensive capability anyway.

The 3rd Mech Inf, meanwhile, has with the 7th Cavalry tried an encirclement around Karbala and Hillah, in an attempt to envelop the equally weak Nebuchadnezzar Div in Karbala and as much of the Medina as it can bag in the same go. The join-up point is around Haswah somewhere. If fully successful, the south approach to Baghdad should then be left completely unguarded, forcing the Iraqis to commit their remaining two good divisions (Hammurabi and Nidah), and hence finish them off, too, or fall everybody back into their last-ditch lines.

UPDATE #2: Classic case-study on how the press can distort the situation through inexactitude. Here's exactly what Gen. Brooks said in Qatar about the Marines and the Tigris crossing:

"The 1st Marine Expeditionary Force attacked the Baghdad division near the town of Al Kut, over here, and has crossed the Tigris River. The Baghdad division has been destroyed."

The New York Times interpreted this today as:

"General Brooks said United States forces seized the strategic town of Kut after routing the Republican Guard's Baghdad Division."

Completely different. First off, Brooks is talking about two different events, attacking the division near Kut, and, separately, crossing the Tigris. This becomes, in the retelling, crossing the Tigris, then seizing Kut (which is north of the Tigris), then attacking the division. (Other press reports are saying the Marines' Tigris crossing is actually closer to Baghdad than Kut, although there are obviously Marines exerting pressure towards the Kut bridges as well, as they squeeze the remaining Iraqi forces south of the Tigris up against the river.)

Can you blame the Iraqi spokesman in the same story for a little exasperation?

"They also said they crossed the Tigris, which is another lie. As is what they said about Kut."

Yeah, that Western press drives everyone crazy sooner or later...

Posted by BruceR at 03:23 PM