Jewish World Review Nov. 27, 2002 / 22 Kislev, 5763
What Saddam faces
Nervous Nellies in the news media have devoted reams of copy to the problems
the United States might encounter if we go to war with Iraq. It seems only
fair to devote some attention to the problems Saddam Hussein faces, because
these are much greater.
There are always surprises in war, so it's a bad idea to underestimate the
enemy. But those who say a war with Iraq would be a cakewalk have a better
argument than those who warn of a quagmire. It was a cakewalk last time.
Since then, our forces have gotten much better. His have gotten much worse.
Saddam starts with a numbers problem. When the Gulf War began, Iraq had the
world's third largest army. This lasted precisely 100 hours. Saddam's
military is much smaller today. In 1991, he had 1.1 million troops. Now,
about 376,000. Then, Saddam had 5,550 tanks. Now, about 2,200. But this is
worse than the numbers appear, because Saddam also has an equipment problem.
Saddam has the same stuff he had ten years ago, just lots less of it, and
it's ten years older. Maintenance has never been an Iraqi forte, and because
of UN economic sanctions, the Iraqis don't have money for spare parts.
Perhaps only half of Saddam's tanks actually will run. But the situation is
worse than it appears, because Saddam also has a training and doctrine
Mark Burgess, a former British soldier who works for the left-leaning Center
for Defense Information, has done a study of Iraqi training and doctrine,
and found it to be vastly inferior to ours. Officers and soldiers are poorly
trained, and hate each other. Military operations follow rigid plans, which
are difficult to change at all, impossible to change quickly. A first
sergeant in the U.S. Army has more discretionary authority than a full
colonel in the Iraqi army, Burgess said.
U.S. superiority in training and doctrine, and in command and control, is so
great, a U.S. Army officer said, that if we had had the Iraqi equipment and
they had had ours, the result in the Gulf War would have been the same. But
the situation is worse than it appears, because Saddam also has a loyalty
The typical Iraqi soldier is a draftee who has little love for Saddam, and
less desire to die for him. If there is a war, it is likely that most - if
not all - of the Iraqi regular forces would sit it out in the barracks, or
surrender after only token resistance. The defense of Saddam's regime could
fall almost entirely upon six Republican Guard divisions of about 10,000 men
each, and four Special Republican Guard brigades of about 2,500 men each.
But even here, loyalty is not guaranteed. Saddam reportedly is reluctant to
bring Republican Guard divisions into Baghdad, for fear of a coup. But the
situation is worse than this appears, because Saddam also has a disposition
Iraq is much larger than Kuwait. Many in the media have portrayed this as a
problem for the United States, when, in reality, it is a much bigger problem
for Saddam. He must decide very, very carefully where he deploys his forces,
because he won't be able to move them once a war starts. The Serbs proved in
Kosovo that if a unit hunkers down and doesn't emit, it can survive American
aerial bombardment. But if the unit moves, it dies.
So where does Saddam put his troops? If he wants to be able to launch Scud
missiles against Israel, he'll have to put large forces in western Iraq,
because the Scud can only strike Israel if it is launched from there. If he
wants to protect his oilfields, he'll have to put significant forces in
northern Iraq, and in southeastern Iraq, because that's where the oil is.
But if Saddam deploys major forces in western, northern and southern iraq,
he won't have much left to defend Baghdad or his home town of Tikrit, where
he is thought to be holed up.
He could parcel out his forces in all these places, but then he'd be too
weak to resist an American assault at any of them. As Frederick the Great
said: "he who defends everything, defends nothing."
Saddam has been described as "an industrial strength assortment of
psychological disorders," so there's no telling what he'll do. But if he
takes a cold, hard look at his military situation, he'll comply, promptly
and fully, with UN weapons inspectors.
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© 2002, Jack Kelly