Allies to apply lessons learned in Basra to Baghdad campaign

Thursday, April 3, 2003

Britain and the United States have agreed that any assault on Baghdad would be deliberate and reflect lessons learned from the military campaign against Basra, Iraq's second largest city.

British and U.S. officials and military commanders described a campaign against Baghdad that would be multi-pronged and divide the city in numerous war zones. They said the coalition aims to pound regime targets and military troops from the air while separating militias loyal to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein from civilians. An organized Iraqi troop surrender is not expected in Baghdad, a city of more than five million people.

The coalition war planning assumes that the initial stage of any assault on Baghdad would be the most difficult and that Iraqi forces could use chemical weapons, Middle East Newsline reported. But officials envision that many Iraqi soldiers will simply walk away from the fighting as coalition forces advance into the Iraqi capital.

"We are not expecting to drive into Baghdad suddenly and seize it in a coup de main or anything like that," Gen. Stanley McChrystal, vice director for operations at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said. "So in regard to that, we are paying great attention to their ability to defend on the ground. They may just suddenly be effective on the ground."

Officials said the British operation to flush out Iraqi government militias from Basra would serve as a model for U.S. troops who plan to enter Baghdad. They said any attack on the Iraqi capital would be cautious and seek to avoid civilian targets.

Coalition forces plan to continue their extensive use of unmanned air vehicles to provide real-time tactical reconnaissance of Baghdad. So far, officials said, the U.S. military has used a range of UAVs, including Global Hawk, Predator and Hunter, in the assault on Republican Guard forces deployed south of the city.

For the assault on Basra, British commanders divided the city into zones and sought to push enemy forces away from civilians, many of whom then fled.

Saddam's militias have tried to use civilians as human shields in several cities surrounded by coalition forces.

"We need to proceed with great delicacy in Baghdad as we did in Basra because we don't want to cause any more damage to the place than is necessary," Air Marshal Brian Burridge, the commander of British forces in Iraq said. "And we certainly don't want to add to civilian casualties."

In an interview to the British Broadcasting Corp, Burridge said situational awareness would be key for coalition forces that enter Baghdad. He cited British military expertise in urban warfare as a help in the operation in Basra.

"The way we go about solving this problem of fighting in cities is A, very delicate and B, very subtle," the commander said. "It is a question of developing absolute situational awareness, as we say in the jargon, so that we know what is going on."

Iraq still maintains significant assets in and around Baghdad, including large numbers of troops, irregular forces and some anti-aircraft units. But officials said the forces do not appear coordinated and might be unable to wage an organized defense.

"We have superior forces, superior capabilities," U.S. Assistant Defense Secretary Victoria Clarke said. "The end is inevitable. We know how this is going to end. But they are fighting. They're not just sitting there waiting for this to happen to them."

At least two Republican Guard divisions have been badly damaged and are incapable of effective combat, officials said. They identified those divisions as the Baghdad and Medina units, which U.S. officials said have lost its command structure. The rest of the Iraqi forces are deployed on the southern side of Baghdad as well as along the city's flanks, but officials said it is not clear whether they will hold their positions.

On Wednesday, U.S. marine and army units captured Al Kut and surrounded Karbala. The 1st Marine Expeditionary Force and the Army's 5th Corps also attacked the Nebukadnezar division. On Thursday, coalition troops including armored units of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division were located less than 10 kilometers from Baghdad while a U.S. expeditionary force reached the airport of the city.

"The Baghdad division has been destroyed," Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, deputy operations chief at Central Command, said. "If I were to characterize the condition of the rest of the Republican Guard forces command, I would probably say, first, they're in trouble. Two, they're under serious attack right now, and those attacks will continue until we're finished with the task at hand."

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