April 03, 2003



Why seize the airport right now? From the link below, it sounds like the Americans have put down at least a battalion of air assault troops, and have maybe bulled an armoured battalion through slackening resistance along the Euphrates left bank to get some armour support to them, too. It's not about the airport, probably, though (an airport is great to have in your rear area, but makes a crappy front line) as it is to interdict that highway (see closeup map) just north of the airport. The Guard's Hammurabi Armoured Division was outside the city to the west, watching for an airborne or long left flanking attack that never materialized... now, just as they've no doubt received orders to fall back into Baghdad, airmobile troops can bring fire on their easiest withdrawal route into the city.

What the Americans DON'T want right now is anyone else getting back into Baghdad to add to the beseiged. Of the three Guard armoured divisions, one (the Medina) is toast and running back to the city along Robert Fisk's road of death (see below), but the other two have only been lightly engaged... the Hammurabi to the west, which has just been cut off... and the Nida to the east, which the Marines have been feeling out today on the other side of the Tigris. This was clearly a move to force a fight or surrender on the Hammurabi.

UPDATE, FRIDAY: Looks like it's the 101st more than the 82nd at the airport, today, and they are pushing north to seal off the west entrances to the city. The interesting tactical question is, did they only cross the Euphrates at the one bridge near Musayyib that we know about, or somewhere else north of there as well, enabling a straighter drive to the airport? The closeup map shows one bridge close to the airport, but if that one was captured intact, too, then we're not even talking marginal defensive competence any more. That bridge simply had to be denied to the enemy. "Scorched earth," this wasn't.

Posted by BruceR at 05:31 PM



Poor, poor Robert Fisk. The guy's past self-parody.

Just as a note, don't assume the Americans have firm control all the way up to the Baghdad airport yet. Sounds like there is a bit of vertical envelopment going on, and it's mostly light troops on the airport tarmac at that moment. That road Fisk is talking about may not have been wholly driven down, at least not quite yet.

Posted by BruceR at 04:54 PM



The key sign that the Iraqis are rudderless at this point isn't the lack of creative bridge-blowing John Keegan mentions. (Disappointing column again, from the master, btw... a couple key factual errors, such as considering the Nebuchadnezzar Division, comprising only motorized infantry, being a likely counterattack force, and he recycles the "they should have blown more bridges" from his last column... a week more of war and not a single new insight? Stop phoning it in, Keegan, the war's almost over...) It's the inexplicable absence of any anti-tank defences in the "Karbala Gap", the 2 km or so of open space between Karbala and the lake to the west. You don't GET a better place for an obstacle plan than that... plus it was a highly likely avenue of advance even before the war... so likely I remember discounting it at the time as certainly heavily mined. If that's how unprepared they were, Baghdad's unlikely to be heavily fortified, either... I'd have to say we're looking at this definitely being over now by the six-seven week mark. Keegan's right about the bridges, too, of course... only the one over the Euphrates near Najaf is known to have been successfully blown thus far.

The evidence that the Iraqis have no serious weaponized chemical capability, at least in the south, continues to grow, too. The Marines' bridge crossing over the Tigris yesterday is perfect for a persistent agent. If there were any chemical artillery left in Kut, it would certainly have to be used on that. They're unlikely to ever get a better target than a chokepoint like that. Another possibility is the Iraqis planned for its use in the north alone, against Kurdish fighters (where there would be a greater chance of effectiveness, and less to lose world opinion-wise... they've already gassed the Kurds, after all). But the chances of a serious chemical attack on the Americans are dropping now by the hour.

Posted by BruceR at 12:18 PM

MORNING UPDATE The Americans have


The Americans have succeeded in enveloping Karbala and Hillah, in separate pockets. They don't seem to have a clear fix yet on exactly what they've got inside those pockets, though; expect a large portion of the weak Nebuchadnezzar Division to be in there somewhere... the 101st Airborne is being used almost exclusively for city cordons now, to free up the heavy infantry to keep moving... the Marines crossed the Tigris a little farther from Baghdad than I'd expected, at Numaniyah. Kut's cut off now, but still more or less untouched. Anything left over from the Baghdad Division is in there, and for all intents and purposes out of the war. The Marines are headed northwest along the north Tigris bank, for an expected rendezvous with the Iraqi Nida Division probably tonight (it's now 7 pm there) or in the early morning. If any Iraqi force has a chance of putting a check on the American rush outside of Baghdad proper, it's this one. The Marines don't have nearly as many tanks as the Army's division, and no infantry fighting vehicles comparable to the Bradleys that can contribute to a tank fight... meanwhile the Tigris cuts them off from the rest of the Americans. Expect the Marines to fix the Nida in place, and then bring in the air... 3rd Infantry's road, now, is clear. The big question is whether the Iraqis will try to move some of the Hammurabi Division, their last resource outside Baghdad, through the city for one last tank battle with them on the outskirts, or save what they can and move straight to the siege phase. Maps updated.

UPDATE, 1100: There's some question about whether the Americans captured the bridge at Musayyib (see closeup map) intact... but they've almost certainly bridged any gap with their own equipment by now, regardless... The Adnan Guard Mechanized Division is reported to have made it down to Baghdad. It would have been about the only force in Northern Iraq that both had the resources to move, and good enough equipment to be worth it (the main army units seem to have handed over most of their motorized transport to the guard, and the remaining Guard division in the north, the Abed, has no armour to speak of.)... the Adnan was always the main obstacle to any American thrust from the north... that means the American diversion in the north with the 173rd wasn't enough to keep the Adnan where it was, if pinning the Iraqis was even an objective at all for that force... A lot of people have said the Nebuchadnezzar must have moved south from Tikrit to meet the Americans, but some commentators were placing that division in Karbala even before the war began, too... UPSHOT: with the Adnan showing up, all Iraq's remaining offensive combat power is basically inside or just outside Baghdad now.

Good summary piece of the key action here.

Posted by BruceR at 11:01 AM