An article in the International Herald Tribune describes Saddam’s supposedly fearsome “Special Republican Guard” units, a cadre of about 15,000 apparently fiercely loyal security troops from Saddam’s own tribe, and run by his younger son Qusay.

Underestimating one’s opponent in war can be didtrous, but I really think the article portrays these units both a lot more dangerous and a lot more potentially effective in a war than they really would be.

For one thing, the article completely ignores the fact that the whole reason that the Special Republican Guard exists is to protect Saddam from his own army, whom he and everyone else knows that he cannot trust. Up until the 80’s, the task of keeping the nearly one million men of the regular army in line and preventing coups was the task of the soldiers of the “unspecial” Republican Guard, but when their numbers grew to about 100,000, Saddam realized that they too could not be trusted and so he created the Specials, whom he keeps close to him at all times so as to absolutely guaruntee loyalty.

They weren’t even really created to fight. They were made so that the rest of the army would be intimidated into fighting Saddam’s enemies rather than Saddam himself. And to make sure that they have the firepower to ensure such intimidation, for years, both before and after the Gulf War, Saddam has been depriving the regular army of much of the essential logistics and training that would make them something more than cannon fodder, and hoarding any actually working equipment for his Republican and Special Republican Guards.

And one must remember, during the first Gulf War, whenever we came into contact with the RG (which was much better equipped and trained than they are today), it was an Iraqi bloodbath, even when by chance our forces became badly outnumbered at one point. Methinks the writer of this article is taking the role of the hyperbolic doomsayer. But he’s from the Washington Post … he couldn’t possibly have an anti-war bias, could he? Say it ain’t so!

Predictably, the Guardian does the same thing, only to much more dishonest, fever-pitched degree. They claim we don’t only have to worry about the “elite” units that the IHT described, but that the entire Iraqi army is a highly trained, deadly fighting force.

Stop laughing. It’s the Guardian, after all. They can’t help be idiots.

In the event of an invasion, US forces will face an army that has been thoroughly indoctrinated, with party commissars in every unit. In addition, a ruthless system of surveillance and constant purges mean that the officer corps has had to renounce political activity to survive. To quote President Saddam Hussein: “With our party methods, there is no chance for anyone who disagrees with us jumping into a couple of tanks and overthrowing the government . These methods have gone.”

Of course Toby Dodge lives up to his namesake by absurdly sidestepping the obvious and all-too-salient fact that Saddam doesn’t just make his military brass cross their hearts and hope to die that they not try to start a coup against them. Rather he has ensured that this will not happen by removing and killing anyone who not only shows political aspirations, but anyone who displays any kind of particular ability at military command, leaving him with an officer corps that could be generously described as unthreatening middle-achievers.

After the Gulf war defeat, the Iraqi army was cut to less than half its original size. The idea was to create a smaller, more disciplined force, ideologically committed to defending the regime.

If that was Saddam’s goal, it was an abject failure, if only because just about part of Saddam’s military, save for perhaps the 15,000 Specials, is now so lacking in any kind of training or support and thus, morale. It’s also a safe bet that most of those soldiers either remember or have heard horror stories of the terror that was visited upon the Iraqi military during the air portion of Gulf War I. That’s an important demoralizing force, and this time it seem even more terrible because of the increase of precision arms.

In addition, members of President Saddam’s tribe, the Albu-Nasir, and those hailing from his hometown, Tikrit, dominate the army and security services’ command, benefiting from regime patronage and enforcing his rule. They are also more than aware of the anger that will be directed at them if he goes . Because of this, those hoping for a coup may be disappointed. The regime has created a “coalition of guilt” that underpins its continued rule with corruption and great fear about what will happen when it is finally toppled.

Just like Dodge said, such people who are tied with any significance to Saddam are incredibly few compared to the army at large. The fact that they are in a place of command really isn’t that important.

At the outset of any full scale offensive, the US would first seek to completely obliterate Iraq’s already horrendously damaged communications and transportation infrastructure, and by doing so, to effectively cut the head off the army. Against a military force such as the United States, with its training emphasis on flexibility and personal initiative, this doesn’t need to be a crippling blow. But to a traditional Arab army, it’s positively devastating, since authority is so thoroughly centralized, as demonstrated in this now well-known article.

In contrast to 1991, the battle this time will be not for a foreign land but for the very survival of a regime many have spent their lives serving. An invading US army will face 375,000 Iraqi troops and 2,200 tanks.

That is simply not true . As shown above, the force that the US ends up actually having to engage on the ground will be a tiny fraction of that number. Also, saying “2,200 tanks” doesn’t mention the fact that these are decrepit, barely working Soviet relics, that never worked very well in the first place.

One of the main problems during the Iran-Iraq war was the army’s inability to act on its own initiative. To counter this, Baghdad has reportedly decentralised its army command and control down to the lowest level possible. Responsibility for each urban centre, from Basra in the south to Mosul in the north, has been delegated to a trusted high-ranking soldier. Each town has been garrisoned with troops, and stockpiles of weapons and food have been built up.

Call me overly optimistic, but I am going to make the prediction that once the war starts, each of these command centers (and yes, there’s a good chance we know where they are) will be immediately turned to rubble.

If Mr Bush orders US troops to invade Iraq to topple the regime, it will not only be the most important and risky decision of his presidency, but a momentous event in world politics. The only thing certain about it is that it will not be as simple as Mr Rumsfeld says.

Rumsfeld has stated that the war could last as long as 5 months, and claimed merely that this “won’t be World War III .”

Dodge seems to think this is some kind of pie-in-the-sky assessment of the situation. I hardly see how that could be the case. I would be genuinely surprised if the war lasted more than 2 months.

At the end of the article, Dodgeis identified as “Iraq expert.” That may be the case, but it seems to me that he’s more concerned with anti-war spin than he is with actually applying his expert knowledge honestly.

last update : 23-5-2018

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