March 26, 2003



The encirclement of Najaf also involved 1st Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division, which is now across the Euphrates with the 7th Cavalry, the NYT reports. Map updated. The final tank tally for the operation seems to have been three... two to the Iraqis, one to an accident.

The battle seems to have begun when 7th Cavalry, after bumping up against Karbala on the west bank, doubled back about 50 miles south to sneak across the Euphrates near Samawah, then drove 50 miles BACK north on the east bank to capture the first of the Najaf bridges from the other side. Nice work, that. CNN's Walter Rodgers' cryptic comments on Tuesday morning our time (see post below) are cleared up. As I said, no new ground advances... but still a LOT of fighting as the Americans consolidate and regroup. They need to clear out Najaf, and then also Diwaniyah, to have a secure paved road back to Kuwait, and a firm base going into Phase Two.

UPDATE: More on the AT-14 Kornet missile, which is the supposed Abrams-killer from yesterday.

UPDATE, 1815: We're hearing 173rd Airborne Brigade is in play somewhere in North Iraq tonight. The 173rd is known as the "secret" American airborne force because it's not part of either of the two famous paratrooper divisions... Also, it seems clear by now that at least one brigade of the Iraqi 6th Armoured Division are also in Basra and took part in today's spoiling attack. The Iraqi regular army is putting up a better fight than anyone expected.

You'll see in the papers no doubt soon that this was somehow a day of attacks by the Iraqis on all fronts. I'm not convinced of that, actually. The center of the action for now is still the Najaf fight. The Medina Division certainly seems to be in play there. Another Iraqi force is moving near Kut, but that seems less an attack than a reinforcement, to prevent the Marines from running amok over Mesopotamia. That force is still nowhere close to the Americans. The Basra breakout, meanwhile, is probably really just a spoiling attack, at most timed to maximize Allied confusion over the other main battle. The Iraqis' tanks are almost as useless in city fighting as the Brits' tanks would be... they were bound to throw them out to see if they could do some damage before they were destroyed anyway... like the short range missiles fired from Basra at Kuwait, it was use them or lose them. Note, the Basra attack went southeast, to hit the lightest-armed of the British forces (3 Commando Brigade). Gaining ground here gives the Iraqis little... they couldn't hold it anyway. If they'd wanted to pretend to threaten the U.S. supply line as part of a coordinated offensive they would have attacked towards Umm Qasr (and run into 120 British tanks in doing so, and been promptly destroyed for their pains.) So instead they attacked out of Basra in a way calculated to do the most damage to the besiegers, and put the Brits back on their heels a bit. It was an attack to improve their local circumstance, not contribute to a larger "Mother of all offensives."

FINAL UPDATE: Just to be clear: I'm not saying that these attacks, involving units from at least two Iraqi corps, aren't coordinated. They are. What I'm saying is that any commentator you read or hear who says this is the Iraqis' "mother of all counterattacks," their last big push before they collapse, is arguing facts not in evidence. The Iraqis have pushed this war into at least a second week largely through skilful application of the military principle of economy of force... the evidence in so far indicates these are a set of small movements and counterattacks all along the line to improve the local situations of units while the American sledgehammer is in a strategic pause.

OKAY, FINAL, FINAL UPDATE: Barry rightly calls me out in Flitters, saying tanks aren't "useless" in city fighting. Of course they're not, either on offense or defense: I should have used a different word. What I was trying to get at is the Iraqis in Basra probably have more armoured vehicles at this point than they know what to do with from a siege perspective, so they can still afford to lose a few on the occasional sally. The alternative is just to see them steadily plinked away from the air anyway. Interestingly, the Agonist reported today (unsourced) that there were, in fact, only 14 vehicles in the sally, and the Brits managed to destroy 2.

Posted by BruceR at 05:21 PM



Connie Chung show cancelled. Chung quits.

Posted by BruceR at 04:57 PM



If the inevitable tragic outcome implied herein doesn't manage to get Americans madder than they already are, little will.

Posted by BruceR at 02:39 PM



A couple things that the current reporting isn't making clear. The fighting around Najaf yesterday was all about the 7th Cavalry moving to link up with the Marines, and encircle Najaf at the same time. Najaf is a city of 400,000, and it's likely to be heavily defended, a la Nasiriyah, but if the Americans can finish resistance there they've got a good line of advance to Baghdad open to them. I may have spoken too soon when I said Karbala was likely to be the decision point... it could still be, but the tea leaves are now unclear again. What's certain is the Iraqis wanted to keep a supply line into Najaf as long as possible, and are now involved in periodic attempts like yesterday's to break the American siege, and the Americans are likewise committed to do everything they have to to keep Najaf cut off now. (Najaf is also useful to capture if the Americans just want to restore their supply lines before a further drive north.) The fact the Iraqis apparently detonated a bridge the Americans thought they captured shows how tense this is likely to get.

In Basra, meanwhile, we're seeing spoiling attacks by the Iraqis OUT. Again, this is no surprise... it's what beseiged forces do... the question mark is whether this is still all 51st Mechanized Division (you remember them, they were the formation that was reported to have entirely surrendered?), or whether 6th Armoured Division to the north has also got some of its forces into the city before the British could finish their envelopment.

Posted by BruceR at 02:09 PM



One of the big winners out of this war, so far, institutionally speaking, is going to be U.S. army chief Shinseki and his airportable medium-weight brigades. If there was ever any doubt about their utility, it's basically vanished this week. Two simple facts guarantee that:

1) The 4th Mech Inf, the next formation in the shipping line to Kuwait, is unlikely to engage before Day 20... any other divisions could be longer than that. Heavy armoured divisions are just TOO BIG for rapid theatre deployment, especially when there's already a war on.

2) The simple fact about the Iraqi opposition is that there's nothing bigger than a T-55 tank east of Kut at this point, an obsolescent tank well within the engagement capability of any medium-weight force. (The Marines, with three brigades travelling in armoured amphibious vehicles, are basically medium-weight, and they're having no problems). The Iraqis have some T-72s that would give a medium-weight force pause, but they're all conveniently lined up against the U.S heavy troops. There's almost certainly none in Basra, or near Nasariyah.

So, if one of Shinseki's "Stryker brigades" was good to go today, it could presumably fairly quickly get to Kuwait, deploy, and take up the slack in that long front to send other, stronger, units forward, like the British 7th Armoured. Critics had said they'd be of limited utility in an Iraq war, but it's certain the Pentagon wishes they had one ready at the moment.

Here's the flipside of that, for Canadians, though... there's nothing the Iraqis have at Basra or Nasariyah that our own three mechanized brigade groups couldn't handle, either. Critics here have said that Canadian forces, which are basically all "medium-weight," would be too outclassed to do much on the ground in Iraq, so it's better to send them to Afghanistan. But if Canada had had its own integral air and sealift capability, so it wasn't drawing down American logistical resources, a unit like 2 Brigade could easily have been a valuable asset to the Americans and Brits right now.

Posted by BruceR at 01:20 PM



The Agonist is reporting 7th Cav had 2 tanks knocked out in fighting near Najaf yesterday: crews survived. If true, those would be the first M1's EVER lost to hostile fire.

Which brings up another way to look at the fighting. The tanks are really the closest thing we have to a finite measure of American ground power. They are, up until yesterday, considered almost completely invincible. There is no enemy tank that can stand against them in an open fight. So you can measure sort of where the American-US emphasis is, largely by the location of their tank assets.

3rd Mech Inf (plus 7th Cavalry): 250-plus, near Najaf
1st Marine Div: 60 or so, SE of Diwaniyah
2nd Marine Exp. Bde: another 60, held up at Nasariyah, now headed north
1st UK Div: 120, around Basra.

So the Americans have 50 per cent of their ground combat power restoring its strength on good ground west of the Euphrates. The Marines have another 25 per cent of it, but it's split between two axes and on closer terrain, which is why the Marines are very much the secondary thrust in this advance (really, the focus of their job has been and is likely to remain opening up supply lines for the army's tanks so they can start rolling again sooner.) The Brits have the other 25 per cent, but it's of limited value at Basra, where, given the terrain, the city has to be taken or otherwise fall before those tanks can start moving again (basically the Iraqis are tying up a full quarter of the Allies' offensive power with a miniscule fraction of their own). That, at its core, is the problem that's starting to cause ex-generals to mouth off on cable news. There is no second fist.

UPDATE: Confirmation on the tank kills, from the BBC. More from USA Today.

Posted by BruceR at 01:02 PM

NOTE TO SELF Don't watch


Don't watch Starship Troopers and CNN in close succession, as I did last weekend. It really messes with your head...

I also watched, by coincidence, Last of the Mohicans... underrated flick, and useful if only to remind us what Americans once thought of un-uniformed troops defending their homes.

Posted by BruceR at 12:50 PM



The U.S. ambassador took a swipe at Canada's nominal non-support yesterday. Everything he said is true, of course, but surely the Americans know by now there's no better way to get Canadians to refuse to do something than to say Americans will be disappointed if they don't. If this is the same kind of finesse diplomacy that was used on Turkey, no wonder things went sideways.

Speaking of which, there's a real simple answer to the whole Turkish dilemma Colby's talking about, if only everyone would drop their prejudices and think about it. The Turks claim they need a security zone to help with the refugee problem. The Americans are afraid this will antagonize the Kurds (it will). The answer? How about you put a NATO brigade on the ground in that security zone? The Turks can't complain, because their only valid reason for seizing Iraqi soil is being resolved. The Kurds would be mollified, so the Americans would have to be happy, too.

Actually, it would work in a lot of ways. It would also be seen, inevitably, as a Bush sop to Europe and domestic multilateralists, that would moderate a whole lot of opposition to the war. Canada, for instance, would have no choice but to offer their military support, if only to keep the PM from rolling completely into a ball, policy-wise. Plus I suspect there are a lot of people in the world, myself included, who are suspicious of the value of the UN, but still think NATO, an alliance of democracies, was still a pretty good idea. Even if you didn't think it's a good idea in its current form, the best way to drive a stake through its heart is surely to force the countries you're trying to kick out of your existing alliance network to choose between starving refugees and opposing the U.S. Would it give NATO a bargaining position in postwar Iraq? No bigger a position than Turkey's going to take for itself anyway. It's a proposal with no downside... except one. The Americans would have to propose it, or at least secretly push an ally like Canada or Britain into proposing it for them. And this administration almost certainly won't. They don't "speak softly" in Washington, anymore, you see. They just brandish the Rooseveltian stick. Loudly.

Posted by BruceR at 12:27 PM



Stephanie Nolen, who's been doing great work from Kurdish-occupied Iraq, reports that so far 46 Kurdish fighters have been killed due to U.S. fire. I'd trust this one.

Posted by BruceR at 10:46 AM



I concur with the Agonist (whose accuracy and timeliness record, just for the record, is way ahead of that other war metablog), that we're looking now at a pause before phase 2, possibly to go on as late as Friday night. There'll still be helicopter action and airstrikes, but the main move is going to be to get the hookup between Marines and 3rd Inf around Diwaniyah accomplished, and possibly get some more of the heavier units that were left back at Samawah and Nasiriyah up closer to the action, reload, repair, etc. If there's something you needed to get done, now's a good day to turn the TV off. You're unlikely to miss too much. I plan to.

In other news, it appears the Marines are broadening the area of control by advancing slowly up the Nasiriyah to Al Kut road. It appears only units of 2 Marine Expeditionary Brigade are involved, and they are stalled now at Shatrah, 40 km north of Nasiriyah. It's a secondary advance, at best... they're just trying to pin down the remaining Republican Guard units in Kut as much as possible to keep them from moving west.

UPDATE 1000: Looks like the Iraqis are moving equipment down the Shatrah road, as well. What appears to be happening is the Iraqis are moving one Guard formation, probably the light Baghdad (Motorized) Division, down the road to add to the defense, rather than attack outright (although any pressure they can put on that Nasiriyah road right now will slow the Americans' plans). The other part is probably the Nida (Armoured) Division moving south into Kut... the Nida, along with the Medina and the Hammurabi (still reportedly north of Karbala and off the map) are the three Republican Guard divisions outside the capital the Americans are most concerned about. Map updated accordingly. I still don't think we'll see much in the way of new ground advances today, though.

Posted by BruceR at 09:53 AM