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The Enemy Within


Really interesting article in the NYT about Saddam Hussein and Iraqi military strategy in the second Gulf War. To put it lightly, Saddam was not an ideal military leader.

As American warplanes streaked overhead two weeks after the invasion began, Lt. Gen. Raad Majid al-Hamdani drove to Baghdad for a crucial meeting with Iraqi leaders. He pleaded for reinforcements to stiffen the capital’s defenses and permission to blow up the Euphrates River bridge south of the city to block the American advance.

But Saddam Hussein and his small circle of aides had their own ideas of how to fight the war. Convinced that the main danger to his government came from within, Mr. Hussein had sought to keep Iraq’s bridges intact so he could rush troops south if the Shiites got out of line.

This demonstrates a fundamental mis-understanding of the military situation. It was obvious at the time that the question of maintaining control over the south would be irrelevant if the Americans took control of Baghdad. Hussein hopelessly misjudged the situation.

Other interesting revelations include this:

Taking a page out of the Russian playbook, Iraqi officers suggested a new strategy to defend the homeland. Just as Russia yielded territory to defeat Napoleon and later Hitler’s invading army, Iraq would resist an invading army by conducting a fighting retreat. Well-armed Iraqi tribes would be like the Russian partisans. Armored formations, including the Republican Guard, would assume a more modest role.

Mr. Hussein rejected the recommendation. Arming local tribes was too risky for a government that lived in fear of a popular uprising.

Which suggests that Hussein probably made the American job a bit easier than it otherwise might have been. Of course, as Hussein undoubtedly noted, there was no assurance that the southern tribes would use these weapons against the invader, rather than against the Iraqi state.

And this:

In December 2002, he told his top commanders that Iraq did not possess unconventional arms, like nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, according to the Iraq Survey Group, a task force established by the C.I.A. to investigate what happened to Iraq’s weapons programs. Mr. Hussein wanted his officers to know they could not rely on poison gas or germ weapons if war broke out. The disclosure that the cupboard was bare, Mr. Aziz said, sent morale plummeting.

which we really should have known at the time. If the Iraq military commanders knew that Iraq possessed no WMD capability, then it’s a travesty that the US didn’t have the information.

The article is very interesting, so read the whole thing. The upshot is that Iraq was in a state of staggering military weakness in March of 2003. Iraqi capabilities were far, far lower than they had been even in 1991. This has a couple of implications. First, the suggestion that Iraq was somehow a threat to its neighbors is obviously nonsense. While it may have had the capacity to briefly overrun Kuwait or part of Saudi Arabia (and this is quite a stretch) it would have suffered almost immediate military collapse in any war. The second implication is one that has been derived previously by Stephen Biddle, and suggests that the Iraq War is in fact not a meaningful test of US military power. Iraq may have been one of the least militarily capable states in the world in 2003, and it’s not surprising that the US mopped the floor with the Iraqi Army. This is not to say that the US military isn’t better than any potential competitor, but rather to suggest that Gulf War II may provide a misleading indicator of the extent of US military dominance.

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