April 29, 2003

FALSE ALARM No dice, Steven


No dice, Steven and Glenn. It wasn't anthrax.

Posted by BruceR at 09:47 PM



"The whole thing is incredible," [MP Marlene Catterall] said. "We were astounded that the U.S. deported him. But now that he's in Syria, there's not much we can do for him."
--The Globe and Mail, on the continued, and likely to be long and painful imprisonment of Canadian citizen Maher Arar in Syria.

This is bull. I'm sorry, but are we really that pasty-faced as a country? If freaking Syria is holding a Canadian citizen against his will, and our government truly believes him to be innocent and wrongly imprisoned, then our government should be doing everything in its freaking power to make Syrians as uncomfortable as we can until he's released. Trade embargos, travel bans, expelling diplomats, withdrawing foreign aid, the whole nine yards. Even our puny economic throwweight can hurt them more than they can possibly hurt us. Our citizenship should mean something, at least to our own government. Some days I think this country would be a great place if all its leaders were summarily drowned and we just started over with a new set with at least enough self-respect to snarl a little when laughed at by these autocratic jail-states. Ask Maher Arar, if he lives, how much he values being Canadian now. Ask Bill Sampson.

Posted by BruceR at 01:48 PM

April 28, 2003



The real story of SARS in Toronto. Why is it Mark Steyn, who doesn't even live here, can explain the outbreak better than a large and growing number of Toronto journalists?

UPDATE: Colby Cosh on the same essay. I should add that, as I said previously in Flitters, that I'd also quibble with the "public health care is to blame" thesis that Steyn overextends his argument to... if only because Vancouver, which also has public health, and also admitted its first SARS case on the same DAY as Toronto's, yet didn't have an outbreak, proves the system can work if the right people are in the right positions of authority... what I was lauding Steyn for, in fact, for the best blow-by-blow treatment of the origins of the Toronto outbreak I have yet read, and his entirely accurate conclusion that the Toronto health system shouldn't actually be patting itself on the back for what was clearly a pretty poor performance... a judgment apparently too gutsy for most journos.

Posted by BruceR at 02:24 PM

SPEAKING OF WHICH Damian reports


Damian reports on a situation where the police apparatus is basically oppressing the rights of war veterans (Blogger link broken, last item April 25).

Penny doesn't mention the unmentioned (but obvious) fact, that this other "anti-war" protest in Ottawa that's prompting the police to kick the war vets off the streets for the day is obviously a holdover effect from the planned but cancelled George Bush state visit to Ottawa that day, and the massive protests in Ottawa that were going to accompany it, with protesters coming from all over Canada. Guess the bus companies wouldn't give back the deposits...

Posted by BruceR at 11:03 AM


Addendum: as contemptuous as I am of protesters in general, Sullivan's right... all America (and Canada) should be a "free speech zone," and any police apparatus that dictates otherwise is a threat to human liberty. Our PM did this at UBC to protect Suharto from feeling uncomfortable, and it was just as wrong then, too. Even if you disagree with the protesters, or fear their capability for violence, as I do, and have witnessed here in Toronto, you always have to remember that once institutionalized, these same methods will be sooner or later used by a political leadership with which you disagree, against your side. This is not Leiningen vs. the f*cking Ants, people.

Posted by BruceR at 10:54 AM



Well, the basic officer course I was running wrapped up on Sunday with 13 new Canadian Forces reserve officers packed on a bus and headed to their next stage of the cross. I wish them well. I'd say it's always great working with young people (it is) but the median age of this group was 30... they're leaving wives, kids, and well-paying downtown jobs to spend a summer with the army... more evidence perhaps that there's a lot of people for whom events of the last two years were a call to arms of sorts. I know how that feels... if I'd been out on Sept. 11, I think I'd have come back somehow, too. Not sure how I can explain why.

The other notable thing about the course was how in the exit interviews a common theme in the area of course improvements is that more time needs to be spent on things like unit pride, military tradition, and patriotism. Since a year-and-a-half ago, Canadians, more than ever in recent years, have wanted being Canadian to stand for something, for us to take our rightful place on the international stage. We disagree wildly on what that place should be, but it's an honest disagreement. The political leader who could sense that vein and tap into it in a constructive way could really shake things up, as long as it lasts. Certainly in the CF we need to rethink some of our plans and policies, as well. Fortunately, I know some of the people doing just that, and they're far-thinking people.

Someone also needs to think about how to apply the wisdom of Niall Ferguson's latest piece to the Canadian setting. No, we'll never be imperialists, (we are living in an imperial world and we are non-imperial girls?), but we need to rethink how Canada and Canadians can best help people less fortunate. Giving money and resources hands the reins of power to the incompetents and the grifters. Neither blind pro-Americanism or blind anti-Americanism is constructive. The old institutions of power projection are largely failing, even as they continue to need our support in the absence of something better.

I have nothing but respect for those who joined the Canadian Forces in the last year-and-a-half, out of this unfocused and honest desire to try to help out however they could. The Bosnian and Afghan missions will stretch our military resources to the limit... and even if they're just, as I am in a way, filling a blank file at home to free up one more soldier for those kinds of missions, they are still helping. (God forbid that we have a disaster at home that requires more from them.) But I would have an equal measure of respect for someone who honestly opposed militarism and American imperialism, but was still headed overseas with an NGO to try to help in Iraq, or Afghanistan, or anywhere else. To me, that's just the modern version of the conscientious objector's route, and I wish Godspeed to anyone who takes it. My contempt has always been saved exclusively for those who fit in an anti-war protest in between their weekend runs to the Eaton Centre, and feel they've done something noble by doing so.

EDIT: Here's a cause anyone should want to support. Wheels up, people.

Posted by BruceR at 10:48 AM

April 24, 2003



In case anyone's still out there, work at U of T, particularly SARS-related work, has been what's keeping me busy... setting up and organizing online resources such as this. What's interesting about this has been the degree to which blog-type scripts are proving useful in the current SARS situation, and based on our experience with this likely will have in any future online crisis communications affecting the university. The page linked there isn't a blog, per se, but it's driven in large part by custom ASP scripting that allows distributed posting from multiple sources through a web interface. Rather than sending info to a central web shop for coding, or learning HTML, people with direct responsibility for communicating with the public can amend their sections of the online information in real time, and simultaneously email their amended text to a mailing list, as well. It's also set up to be reconfigured rapidly into a proper blog in the case of real rapid-fire news developments here (The SARS thing isn't that intense... this is more my own planning for a future hypothetical, more rapidly changing university communications problem.)

A lot of the problems I spend my time looking at in universities relating to crisis communications can actually be partially solved with blog-type scripts, it turns out. The simultaneous email/web update is a big help in fast dissemination of info. Also useful is the web posting interface, which could really come in handy if certain offices or key posters were incapacitated or forced to work from new locations. But the big improvement is the potential for cutting the time between someone in charge deciding something needs to be communicated, and it actually getting out to the public. A lot of people have been looking for the institutional uses for blogs... we seem here to have found yet another one, and seem to be a step ahead of other higher education institutions, at least in this country, in doing so. I'll be posting more on this as we learn more here from the experience. Feedback appreciated, too, as always.

UPDATE: First person to get the obscure Canadian pop reference in the title gets a pint. Trouble is, you have to defy the World Health Organization and travel to Toronto to get it. It's my little bit to encourage hotzone tourism...

Posted by BruceR at 11:23 AM

April 22, 2003

REMARKABLE Sully's right. This George


Sully's right. This George Galloway story is devastating. The British MP who called on British soldiers in the war to lay down their arms, in the pay of Hussein at the time? That's sort of definitional treason, isn't it? Who else was in their pay?

Posted by BruceR at 11:02 AM

April 17, 2003



I know exactly what Lileks means when he talks about the convenience of comfortable computer interfaces. It applies, even more than desktops, with computer games... a completely ergonomic and straightforward keyboard layout can be more important than plot, graphics, or challenging AI, even. Mechwarrior 3 is about the only game I'd ever played that I wished went on longer than it did, and that was entirely due to the almost completely configurable key-scheme, one of the first I'd seen, which I was able to remap to an optimal solution. Here's a hint... giant humanoid robots are best controlled with a joystick in the left hand, emulating the WASD interface we're comfortable with from first-person shooters, and a mouse in the right... try it, sometime.

I'd even go so far as to say that any good human-computer controller interface relies on a few things: key functions under half a dozen or so home keys, the connection of precision tasks, such as weapon aiming, with the mouse, and, most importantly, an intuitive and balanced separation of tasks between left and right hands. The human mind is designed to control two hands working independently in parallel on a task, whether that task is archery or playing the saxophone... the best human interfaces for computers, it stands to reason, need to apply the same principles. The WASD key-scheme meets these requirements, particularly in the separation of turning the body (left hand) and turning the head (right hand), which is why everyone uses it in shooters... most flight sim joystick configs generally fail in this regard, however, as the home position for the left hand ends up being the stick-mounted throttle wheel, with a quick stab at the keyboard for other functions... far less efficient and comfortable than the two-stick or stick-and-throttle solutions you see people who play a lot of flight games inevitably adopting as soon as they get serious about it.

I don't object at all to software designers subjecting people to new and unique key schemes (even if I wonder why they waste the time)... what really bothers me is any software application that makes it impossible (as opposed to just difficult... I can live with difficult) to amend the designers' vision back to something more ergonomic if it proves necessary. A pretty little cardboard key map with the CD doesn't begin to make up for letting people play and work their own way.

Posted by BruceR at 04:39 PM

April 16, 2003



An interesting study for me has been what was wrong about my assumptions about exactly how the Americans would invade Iraq. Without going too much into specifics, my prewar posts predicted (guessed, really):

a) a large role for airborne troops ahead of the main armoured advance, to speed its journey;
b) an armoured advance into the valley of the Euphrates, with the 3rd Inf cutting across the desert to Samawah before crossing the river and heading north (I later hedged this with a suggestion they might cross farther north, instead);
c) use of the Marines to do the Basra job, while the British, augmented with the Marines' LAV brigade, flanked or assisted the 3rd Inf.

I didn't give a prediction as to time, as I honestly thought it could be anywhere from two days to two months, or to casualties (although it's fair to say I expected higher numbers).

So what was wrong with my assumptions? Well, the main mistake I've already commented on... I assumed the Americans and Brits had more confidence in the interoperability of their two nations' forces than they did. A composite division, although it made sense on paper, was evidently too scary a proposition for them, with the higher potential for friendly fire, etc. Given that, in order to give their Baghdad a second punch, the Americans had to go with the not-so-elegant solution of three full regiments of Marines travelling the 300-plus miles in amphibious and relatively vulnerable Amtracs. This has obvious pluses and minuses that have been discussed before. It was not ideal, but in the end it worked just fine.

In the end, of course, the Americans crossed the Euphrates behind Karbala, not farther south at Samawah. This is a case of assuming the overly obvious must be wrong... the Karbala route, being basically desert right up to within sight of the airport was so bleeding obvious that I assumed it would be heavily defended, and that the Americans would accordingly choose to take the indirect approach. Obviously, they had intel before the war that there was no "Karbala Line" as such, and so opted for the easiest road. Obviously, the initial assumption that failed there was that the Iraqis would not give the game away quite so easily.

As to the airborne, post-campaign analyses have revealed there was a more limited airborne plan in play at start... with the lone brigade of the 82nd tagged for a vertical envelopment to help unhinge the aforementioned Karbala defences. My assumption there was that the 101st Airborne was more or less ready to go on Day Zero. As it turns out, it wasn't, of course, needing the first week-and-a-half to shake out in Kuwait (only its helicopter units saw action in the first two weeks). That meant the Americans had two air assault brigades, not five... meaning, obviously, that any kind of "airborne carpet" was a non-starter, and that only this more limited operation was achievable (given that at least one brigade would still have to be reserved for a northern deployment, as well.) Of course, that limited operation was scrubbed as well, either, depending on who you read, either because it was judged Karbala was soft enough it was unnecessary, or because the sniping in the American rear area necessitated the deployment of the 82nd back on the supply lines instead.

Of course, the Americans could have long previously ruled out any airborne carpet plan, which would have promised to accelerate their pace forward, at the risk of higher casualties, because the cost outweighed the gains... which is why the 101st wasn't ready in time in the first place. In the end, though, I was assuming a capability they didn't have in theatre, which is why I was led astray a little there.

It's worth noting that I did get a couple things right, at least... that the Euphrates Valley would be the center of the action, that advance up the Tigris past Basra was not going to be possible, that there was no sizable main force commitment to the west or north, etc. Yes, in retrospect all those things are obvious, but all predictions look obviously right or obviously wrong in retrospect, so I'm not shamed by it. As Lacqueur wrote, the point of post-event analysis is not that the prediction was wrong, because all predictions made from imperfect awareness are inherently wrong. The point is to figure out where the shortcomings in the assumptions were, to refine the technique, and amend one's appreciation of their capabilities. For better or for worse, the Americans and Brits are less interoperable than I'd thought, take even longer to prep for battle than I'd thought, and are not as averse to the direct approach, given the right odds, as I'd thought. So noted.

Posted by BruceR at 05:24 PM

ASHES TO ASHES The sacking


The sacking of Baghdad has certainly been... well... biblical. While I would like to believe, like some, that this is in part a Hussein crime (or, on the other side, an American sin of omission), for the moment Occam still tends to lean primary culpability towards the unlettered mob... the Iraqi chapter of the Jerry Bruckheimer Film Appreciation Society. The loss to human culture is going to be incalculable, of course. It makes you wonder how many other famous historic sacks (Rome... Jerusalem... Thebes) were in part the product of the newly "free" inhabitants of those cities, as well.

Posted by BruceR at 01:35 PM

April 14, 2003



I want to add a little bit more about Cpl. Bernard Gooden, USMC, formerly Pte. Bernard Gooden of my own 32 Canadian Brigade Group, who was killed recently in Iraq. I never had the privilege of knowing Pte. Gooden, although I know many of his colleagues. Three years ago, he served as a teenager with the army reserve, receiving recruit and basic army engineer training as part of Toronto's excellent 2 Field Engineer Regiment. His family connections drew him south, and thence to the Marines, and thence to an M1 loader's position, where he died.

Unlike Cpl. Ainsworth Dyer, also formerly of 32 Brigade, who was killed in Afghanistan last year, I had no involvement this time with the paying of respects, either. The Marines, as always, take care of their own. I do happen to personally know the Marine officer who led the U.S. delegation to Toronto last week to pay the Corps' respects to the family, and, as I would have expected of him, he performed his role ably and well.

Having two former members of the formation killed in action in a year, both in their own ways part of the fallout of Sept. 11, is perhaps not a remarkable price to pay, however tragic. We could even still be said to have gotten off lightly. But I do think it's notable that both of those individuals were also members of Toronto's extensive African-Canadian community. On one level, that says a lot, I think, about a national military that was once criticized as possibly a bit too pur laine. By fluky coincidence, our honour roll says otherwise now.

The other point that might be made, perhaps, is that, for all the paroxysms over race, the underclass, young black men, profiling and crime, we should never forget that there are a large number of young people in the Toronto community who are finding ways to do great things with their lives and to better ours, as well, both with guns and without. When the final reckoning is made on who paid what price to make us a freer, safer nation in the early years of the millennium, Toronto's black community has already anted up and kicked in, beyond their fair share, and probably deserve some recognition of that fact from the rest of us in due course.

Posted by BruceR at 02:03 PM



Sorry for the absence... I was helping with some more Toronto-area reservist training over the weekend.

Posted by BruceR at 10:59 AM

April 10, 2003



Let's see if I've got this straight: TotalFinaElf's largest shareholder is a subsidiary of Montreal's Power Corp, whose co-chief executive is Jean Chretien's son-in-law, Andre Desmarais. Mr. Desmarais' brother, Paul Desmarais Jr., sits on the Total board.

For months, the anti-war crowd has insisted that "it's all about oil," that the only reason the Iraqi people were being "liberated" was so that the second biggest oil reserves in the world could be annexed in perpetuity by Dick Cheney and Halliburton and the rest of Bush's Texas oilpatch gang. Instead, it turns out that, if it is all about oil, then the principal North American beneficiary of the continued enslavement of the Iraqi people is the family of the Canadian Prime Minister -- that's to say, his daughter, France Chretien, and his grandchildren.

--Mark Steyn, today

Posted by BruceR at 05:23 PM

April 09, 2003



I really wish Sullivan and the rest would shut up with the Black Knight sketch comparisons to that unfortunate Iraqi disinformation minister. (Me, I'd have gone with Homer Simpson running after the barbecue shouting "It's still good, it's still good!"). I'm sure I'm not the only one who can't help connecting their chortling with the sad story of triple-amputee Ali Abbas, currently on round-the-clock airplay in Europe, Canada and most of the Arab world. (I guess it hasn't made it to Fox News yet.) Can we not accept that maybe, just maybe, dismemberment jokes involving Iraqis are in bad taste at the moment? Oxblog, trust me, this is not an emergent meme to be proud of.

Posted by BruceR at 06:40 PM



Here's an image you won't see every war.

Posted by BruceR at 06:29 PM



...two A-10 jets that danced in the air like acrobats, tipping on one wing, sliding down the sky to turn on another, and spraying burning phosphorus to mislead heat-seeking missiles before turning their cannons on a government ministry and plastering it with depleted uranium shells.

--Robert Fisk, today.

Magnesium, Bob. They were "spraying" magnesium. Is it impossible for you or your editors to fact-check anything?

From the building came a great and dense cloud of white smoke, much of which must have contained the aerosol DU spray that so many doctors and military veterans fear causes cancers.

Oh, spare me. If you don't know the difference between magnesium and phosphorus, I'm not exactly going to trust your opinion on uranium, either.

Posted by BruceR at 06:14 PM



Accept from the opening premise that this debate is a moot point. The question was always not whether the Americans would make it to Baghdad, but how long and costly it would be. No Iraqi defensive genius would have changed the final outcome.

Also accept that the American and British performance was superb, barely setting a foot wrong. No, it didn't meet the most optimistic expectations of some advocates, or even detractors (taking longer to get to Baghdad than many expected, but finishing once they got there very quickly indeed), but by any measure it was a stupendous military achievement. The most one can say, looking back now, is that the plan had a tighter-than-perhaps-absolutely-necessary margin for error. In the face of a more determined or skilful opposition than they faced, it could well have faltered, and delayed the final resolution some weeks. But just because it was not a risk-averse plan doesn't mean it wasn't a brilliant one. Finally, assume that the Iraqis had no capabilities other than those demonstrated... no non-artillery chemical weapons, no serious ballistic missile capability... assumed by many beforehand, but certainly proven now.

More on the American plan later. What could the Iraqis have done different? For starters, I'd say John Keegan's analysis is not wholly sound. It wasn't a matter of committing the wrong troops first... the order really didn't matter. Saving your best forces for last (as Hannibal did at Zama) was by itself not an Iraqi failing, as Keegan states... it was where they were grouped and committed, and how much preparation had been made in advance that failed them.

Much has been made of the Iraqis supposedly learning the lessons of the First Gulf War. And in one respect, they did... they stayed out of the desert, where the Americans were unbeatable. So much, so good. But they also learned some wrong lessons. They apparently concluded that positional defense (ie, trenches and mines and barbed wire) was useless. They apparently also learned that the American move would be telegraphed by weeks of air attack, and so concealment early on was more important than preparation. This, ultimately, is what failed them.

Positional defences in the middle of the desert would have failed, just as before. But the Americans still had one major obstacle to cross, one the Iraqis chose not to defend. The key to the Iraqi position was the line of the Euphrates, from Basra to the outskirts of Baghdad. To the west, it's all desert. To the east, it's all farmland. To get to Baghdad, it had to be crossed. That, as Keegan rightly says, meant bridges. Any successful Iraqi defence depended utterly on holding that riverline.

To hold that line, minus the troops needed to hold the Iranian border, Baghdad itself, and the Kurdish north, the Iraqis had basically 3 good Guard divisions, 2 poor Guard divisions, and 3 regular army divisions. They had to defend five potential crossing sites, in order of closeness to Baghdad, Karbala, Najaf, Samawah, Nasariyah, and Basra. There could be multiple bridges at each one, and in most cases the city itself was on the wrong side of the river, but those are the general geographic locations. The Americans needed one of them to progress.

The tactical answer then, would be to drop all but one bridge per location right at the war's outset, and arrange the defense with one division per crossing point, with the good Guard divisions in reserve. The aim could be clearly communicated to all ranks... hold the line of the Euphrates. Abandon the desert to them, but when they cross, counterattack. At Karbala, the last point, where the desert and Baghdad's environs are closest, the bottleneck would have to be made into one long, Kursk-like obstacle.

3rd Mech Inf Div could still have flank marched through the desert, but the Marines in particular were more or less road-bound. The sight of their relatively fragile Amtracs in Baghdad is a testament to how much of their previous driving was done on asphalt. If they'd had to take 3rd Mech's route, they'd never have made it. That meant the Marines had to prevail on a bridge crossing, presumably in the Nasariyah sector, to get anywhere at all. 3rd Mech, meanwhile, would have had the choice of an opposed bridge crossing somewhere else (Najaf or Samawah) or forcing the breach at Karbala. Would they have, eventually? Of course. But a Euphrates defense might have held up the Americans another month, and inflicted several hundred more fatalities to their forces.

Instead, the Iraqis seem to have left the river more or less open, in an apparent attempt to invite the Americans to advance through the farmland of Mesopotamia proper, and engage them only there or within the cities. Basra had two divisions, in part the reason it held out as long as it did, but the other three crossing points seem to have had no more than one regular infantry division (the 11th) split between Samawah and Nasariyah, and nothing at all at Najaf. That's a screen, not a defense. The idea was apparently that, if they left the door open and the Americans walked in, rear area insurrection and popular resistance in the populated areas would then slow them down: basically they were counting on a Mao-style guerilla resistance. That the country's leadership thought their people were so enamoured of the status quo that they'd fight for it can only be put down to mass delusion on their part. But even if that were the plan, Karbala still needed to be their corkstopper, that prevented the advance all the way through the desert to the Euphrates bridges a few miles down the road from Baghdad airport... it was defended by about the right sized force, a poor Guard division (the Nebuchadnezzar) with an armored division in reserve, but there were evidently no defensive preparations made at all. This can only be attributable to the Iraqis thinking they had more time than they did to finalize their preparations... or perhaps a conviction based on the last war's experience that if they awaited the attack in a defensive position, the American M1s would just bury them alive again.

In Guns, Germs and Steel, Jared Diamond argued that the devastating Spanish victories over North American tribes had just as much to do with cultural memory retention through mechanisms such as writing, and more adaptive learning processes, that were just as much of a Spanish advantage as, well, guns, germs and steel. (He cited Pizarro's greatest military victory, which was basically a replay of the Trojan Horse scenario so obvious it would have been evident to any well-read European, but appeared to be a first-time event for the Incas.) In this rematch between America and Iraq, much will be made about differences in training, equipment, motivation. Spare at least a partial consideration, though, for the differences in learning. Democracies learn from experience better than dictatorships just generally... and the American military lessons-learned ability (enshrined in institutions like Leavenworth and Fort Irwin) is the most powerful of any nation's since World War 2. The Americans took one objective experience, the first Gulf War in 1991 and analysed and reanalysed and hypothesized iteratively to come up with the ideal solution this time. The Iraqis apparently took some idiosyncratic and subjective evaluations of why they lost, and learned only how to lose again, in a new way.

Posted by BruceR at 05:41 PM

AVE News today a former


News today a former Canadian reservist, now a Marine, is among those killed in Iraq. May his family find peace.

UPDATE: A Canadian Red Cross worker in Baghdad is also missing, after getting caught in crossfire.

Posted by BruceR at 11:02 AM

April 08, 2003



I really don't have anything to say about the Agonist's agony, that Colby hasn't said already. Yes, the information was good and timely by comparison to other metafiltering attempts (at least earlier on in the war, anyway), but in the presence of full knowledge that's a credit to the source plagiarized, not the plagiarizer. Any compliments I may have paid here in the past, overtly or implicitly, should likewise also be redirected to the pirated source.

Posted by BruceR at 02:12 PM

April 07, 2003



The Reuters report of the find of 20 artillery rockets with mustard-agent warheads, will be unsurprising to the Allies, if true... that's more or less exactly what everyone always assumed they were hiding. But please don't call them "medium-range missiles." Al-Hussein Scuds were medium range missiles. The BM-21 is a Katyusha-style unguided rocket with a range of about 20 km. And anyone who calls members of the 101st Airborne "Marines" should probably be taken skeptically, anyway.

UPDATE: On the other hand, this discovery of British exploding pens... hey, now THAT's a potential war crime. Bastards...

Posted by BruceR at 01:04 PM



Been working too much this weekend for updates, and changing the maps would be superfluous... there is obviously no organized resistance on the Iraqi side any more. The war to liberate Iraq is more or less over. Now comes the war to keep it free, and that is likely going to go on a long time, and be almost entirely unsuitable for mapping.

One classical allusion, that I want to make before V.D. Hanson or somebody else steals it... from a military point of view, this was the most Alexandrine war in centuries, if not millenia. The Macedonian would be proud. I'll explain later.

Posted by BruceR at 09:55 AM

April 04, 2003



"The enemy's attacks are riskier than the methods we use to resist. They have a solid foundation, which will soon make its impact known in the course of the war. A nation that defended its freedom with all its resources has never yet been defeated."
--Josef Goebbels, "Resist at any Price," 22 April 1945

"We will do something which I believe is very beautiful... commando and martyrdom operations in a very new, creative way."
--Iraqi information minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, today

All we need is someone to do a Lord Haw Haw style drunken broadcast, and the parallels are just about complete. Sheryl Crow, call your agent...

Posted by BruceR at 06:51 PM



Hesiod on the late Michael Kelly. Hey I didn't have anything to say, either, that wasn't already said by my elders and betters, but at least I didn't use the opportunity to go around insulting people in mourning.

UPDATE: Hesiod calls Kelly's death "ironic." It's hardly that, unless he's using "ironic" in the Alanis Morissette sense of stuff that makes you go "you're kidding." Now, the fact that the Americans drove to the international airport by way of Iskanderiya (or as the Iraqis would say, Al Iskanderiya... get it yet?)... that's closer to ironic, I'd say. Of course, you'd have to be up on your Arrian.

Posted by BruceR at 04:29 PM

EASY MISTAKE It appears the


It appears the estimable Mr. Den Beste has gotten something a little wrong. His picture of the runway at the newly renamed Baghdad International Airport, which he claimed showed the effects of JP-233 style runway cratering, can't be what he thought that was, because all the reports are saying that the runways are undamaged, other than for piles of sand placed by the Iraqis, evidently to deny hostile landings. Which, presumably, is what Den Beste is seeing. (Kudos to Keith Patton in Flitters for seeing the obvious first.)

Posted by BruceR at 03:51 PM



Andrew Sullivan takes an intelligent observation and turns it into pro-Rumsfeld propaganda. Remarking on a piece on how (Army) helicopters, (Army) artillery, and (Air Force) fast air made the advance to Baghdad easier, he concludes:

From my particular, reclining armchair, it looks as if this war will be won primarily by the amazing work of the special forces, and the airforce (with critical backup, of course, on the ground). But that would prove Rummy right, wouldn't it?

The armchair in question apparently reclines Andrew to where he sees quotes upside down. If the battle in question is being two-thirds won by Army helicopters and Army artillery, then the Army still deserves the majority of the credit, surely. And what is the "amazing work of the special forces" again? Yes, no doubt, they've done some great things, but what specific already-known-to-us accomplishments is he referring to?

UPDATE: Speaking of Rumsfeld love... this was classic.

Posted by BruceR at 03:17 PM



The second of the three good Republican Guard divisions, the Nida Division, has collapsed back into Baghdad. There are reports of large numbers of prisoners. There's never been any claims the Nida Division was hit particularly hard from the air... what we're likely seeing now is more a combination of desertions, surrenders and the abandonment of heavy equipment, which can do little more for the Iraqis still willing to fight than attract an air attack at this point. (Of course, there's no way you can tell that from a helicopter cockpit or the turret of an advancing tank, so the Marines are making wreckage of them, anyway.)

Posted by BruceR at 02:00 PM

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

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

April 01, 2003



Near the end of the video, Madonna and overweight female dancers in military garb drive a car through the wall and storm the [fashion] show, strutting menacingly and spraying a roof-mounted water cannon at the paparazzi and crowd. The shots are juxtaposed with rapid edits of planes dropping bombs and huge fiery explosions.
--synopsis of the cancelled music video, "American Life"

Posted by BruceR at 09:28 PM

RATHER PATHETIC Media analysis of


Media analysis of this war has been exceptionally poor. Take the Globe and Mail piece today by John MacArthur, who was such an acutely accurate analyst of the 1991 war.

MacArthur tries to criticize the war coverage as being jingoistic, lacking candour. He admits up front, however, that it has far and away "already revealed more about the consequences of organized violence than we saw in all six weeks of the first gulf war." Embedded reporters "have actually described combat and death the way it's supposed to be done," he concedes, grudgingly. So what, exactly leaves him unsatisfied? That the war coverage, you see, isn't violent enough.

Here's what MacArthur doesn't want to see in stories about wars:

"Supplies being loaded and unloaded..."

Okay, nothing about the rear area personnel that make up 90 per cent of any army and never see front line action. Check.

"Feature stories about lonely soldiers far from home..."

Okay, nothing about the actual soldiers' feelings. Check.

"Armoured vehicles and infantry moving from hither to yon..."

Okay, nothing either about the 99 per cent of war that involves soldiers doing things other than combat, like moving. Right. Get all that off the air, no matter how many Americans might be craning to catch a look at their friend or relative who hasn't been killing things today. Got it.

In its place, what would the MacArthur Network carry?

"gruesome footage of U.S. soldiers killed."

"a hideously charred corpse... possibly caused by errant American bombs." (Possibly?)

"death -- the bloody kind"

MacArthur wants this coverage on, all channels all the time, because, he admits, he "would like people to be revolted by it [war]." His feeling is that if there were round-the-clock pictures of Iraqi brutality towards captured prisoners, and of atrocities that at the time of his writing were unattributable to either side, this would lead to American revulsion and withdrawal from foreign wars. I'm certainly not convinced of that, to start with... if anything, extensive coverage of brutalized Americans would likely lead to the final dropping of gloves in this war, and the hardening of every American soldier's heart.

If you believe, as John Keegan, Richard Holmes, Niall Ferguson and others have argued, that warfare is essentially a baseline human activity, warped perhaps by technology and civilization, but still a primal impulse at heart, then this argument makes no sense on its face. You can't by definition turn people away from war by showing it to them. It is not an alien manifestation or aberration. At best, you will only desensitize us to it. CNN's not lingering any more than necessary on the implicit pain and suffering could well be saving more Iraqi lives than it's costing.

Back in 1991, MacArthur argued for journalists to show the face of war, so that wars were entered into with full understanding and democratic participation. That's a noble goal, and his work had a lot to do with the changes in the way Army PR in many western countries deals with the media today. But now he's arguing for something else... a crusade by all journalists AGAINST war. It's a blight on society, he feels, like poverty or AIDS, and its journalists' job to try and eradicate it through education and shaming. There's not even a pretense of objectivity possible if that's your overriding aim. His ideal network, with its Clockwork Orange style constant images of pain, death and suffering, over and over again to the exclusion of all else, would be a debasement of humanity possibly even more than the battle itself.

Posted by BruceR at 06:43 PM



I'm actually surprised the American pause has taken as long as it has... I was sure 3rd Inf still had one good battle left in them. I still think they might... but today was the first day since the war began I can't see anything on the battle map worth updating yet. All the ground fighting is in the cities that have been bypassed, as the Americans try to clear their supply lines. Reinforcements are a minimum of three weeks from engaging the enemy, so it'll be interesting to see if the Americans try one more push before the handoff. There's no real reason they have to, of course... it's unlikely to shorten the war much, and be more costly in lives regardless. A conservative plan would be to wait for 4th Mech, win the inevitable big battle when they arrive, and finish the encirclement of Baghdad by the end of April: that would be almost certain to succeed, even without any Iraqi missteps. It's just odd to see an administration that took such a big first-round gamble suddenly switch to the cautious approach.

Part of the problem may be that there's no obvious intermediate tactical objective that's worth grabbing at this point, preparatory to a Baghdad drive. Pushing the front line past Karbala just gives the Americans another city or two to subdue. Sending the Marines across the river to Kut disperses the American fighting power and stretches the supply lines still further for little obvious gain. No, the Americans are in a good position to start a phase 2 (main force battle and encirclement of Baghdad) right where they are now. They just need either the Iraqis to come out to fight, speeding their own destruction, or for more troops to arrive so they can go in and root them out anyway. One or the other will happen sooner or later, so why not spend a little longer on the supply-line/insurgency problem?

Posted by BruceR at 06:14 PM



Marines patrolling Nasiriyah and other areas of heavy fighting have already detained more than 300 men in civilian clothing.

--Washington Post, today

Posted by BruceR at 06:00 PM



Well, that was an interesting hour... for those who dropped by, no I suddenly didn't change my name to Angela and get a fondness for the colour pink. Something went deeply, deeply, Hal-in-2001-deeply wrong with the Blogger template server... made for some interesting reading, though. Anyway, the site's now a total mess, as I seem to have lost a couple months of template changes... I'm too tired to fix it all now, though, so I'll just put up the battle maps link again HERE and try and fix the rest of the mess in the morning. Sigh.

UPDATE: Up and running again. Kewl.

Posted by BruceR at 01:06 AM