The Battle of Baghdad

The Americans are in Baghdad, and Saddam’s minister of information is still boasting about their failure. This is not really unrealistic but just surrealistic. In a few days, the US and British forces have achieved what the Iranians could only dream of accomplishing eight years long (1980-1988).

But where did the Iraqi army go? Is this all what it could do? Just let the British and the Americans thrust through the panorama, as if the soldiers were taking a walk on the banks of the Thames or the Hudson? Casualties, you say? Where? How many people died under Saddam’s rule? Can you remember? Of course, there would be casualties. But the statistics are there to remind the forgetful of the 1 million Iraqis éat least-who died during the 8 years’ war against Iran, the Kuwait adventure, and other little “luncheons” that served to assuaging Saddam’s hunger. So, how can you explain that, despite some resistance, the US and British forces have almost flown to Baghdad? Eight years were not enough for the best-supplied army of the Middle East (the Iranian, if we exclude Israel) even to reach the suburbs of Basra. All what the Iranians could accomplish, consisted in occupying the Fao triangle, which the Iraqis put years to recapturing from them; and when they did, they were so proud of their achievement that they invited the journalists from all the Arab countries (and the others as well) to show them the miracle the victorious Saddam has just carried out. For days and days, they explained and re-explained the strategy and tactics of that deed elevated to the rank of Hannibal and Alexander’s accomplishments. When I think that it took only a few days é maybe no more than 48 hours- for the American-British alliance to control the Fao, I fall from my little bubble.

I do not believe that the American and British soldiers are supermen, although one must recognize that it requires a lot of courage to fight at thousands of miles away from home. Yet, there must be a good reason for this failure of Saddam’s army. Where are the tanks that crushed Kuwait in 48 hours? Where is the aircraft feared even by the Israelis? And what about these fabulous infantrymen who in September 1980 penetrated deeply in the Iranian Khuzistan, then held the Iranians at the gates of Shot al-Arab eight years long? What happened to them?

It is true that Desert Storm has destroyed important potentialities of the Iraqi army, but it is a common belief that the war did not entirely disarm Saddam. This is precisely the reason behind the program of disarmament settled by the UN. Yet, the non-conventional weapons were actually the objective of that program, whereas we are here talking about a quite conventional war, so far. Then, has the Iraqi army é or at least an important part of it – defected?

We must not omit that those who are still resisting are not necessarily the soldiers of that army, which invaded Iran and Kuwait, but merely the militia of the Baath Party, and the Republican guard. How could thousands and thousands of soldiers supposed to defend the country vanish in the desert? When Iraq invaded Kuwait, the question was: what happened to the Kuwaiti army? Then Saddam’s propaganda machine pretended that a coup occurred in Kuwait. The Kuwaiti army was therefore part of the coup.

I think we would not be far from the truth if we say today that a coup is just happening in Iraq. Inside the Iraqi opposition, the Iraqi Free Officers is a movement led by General Najib Salhi who claims influence within the Iraqi army. The Iraqi National Movement (INM) is led by General Hassan Nakib, former deputy chief of staff of the Iraqi army. The INM is a recent merger of the Iraqi National Liberals and Iraqi Officers Movement, headed by General Fawzi Shamari. The group like the INA (Iraqi National Accord, led By ex-Baath officials Salah Omar al Ali and Ayad Awali), claims support in key central provinces. And General Nizar Khazraji, a former chief of staff, and Wafiq al Samarrai, a former intelligence chief, who both claim influence within the Iraqi army.

These are only examples of well-known people who oppose Saddam with support inside the army. The question is then: Could the present operation have occurred without exchange of information and advice between the American strategists and those men?

If the answer is no, then we are here before a pure imperialist invasion of Iraq, which would soon or late end into a dark catastrophe. Besides, if this is the case, we still can neither understand the absence of the Iraqi army nor its little weight in the war. But if the answer to the question is positive, then the defection is not only comprehensible, but also a strategic asset in the hands of the US-led coalition.

The main goal stays however in Baghdad. Maybe this would be a very difficult stage in the war, but what would happen once the main “strongholds” of the regime fall in the hands of the Americans? And since we were talking about a Coup, what would a coup do but take the Presidential palace, the Ministries, the Broadcast house, and the airport? Once all these places are in the hands of the assailants, who would control the country?

At the time of this writing, Lt. Colonel Peter Bayer was declaring that ” troops were near the tomb of the unknown soldier and the information ministry” and that “they are the proud owners” of the presidential palace. So, if Mr al Sahhaf é information minister- could still make commentaries of the kind (we’re going to make another Dien Bien-phu to them), we can just believe that it is perhaps a last kindness of the Americans to allow him such a rant, when they are at two steps from him.

Hichem Karoui is a writer and journalist living in Paris, France.