Why the Iraqi army did not fight

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue May 27 07:36:31 MDT 2003


(I am posting the entire article since it is available to subscribers only)

The Independent (London), May 27, 2003, Tuesday

IRAQ: RULING THE AIRWAVES - HOW AMERICA DEMORALISED IRAQ'S ARMY

ROBERT FISK IN BAGHDAD

According to an Iraqi former general, Republican Guard troops simply
abandoned their equipment and went home AP

FOR THE brigadier general commanding Baghdad's missile air defences last
month, the voices that cut into his military radio traffic were what
signalled the end of the war.

"I would talk to my missile crews and suddenly the Americans would come on
the same frequency," he said yesterday. "They would talk in Arabic - with
Egyptian and Lebanese accents - and they would say, We have taken
Nasiriyah, we have captured Najaf, we are at Baghdad airport'. It was the
psychological war that did the worst damage to us. The Americans knew all
our frequencies. "By then, we had no radio news broadcasts of our own just
the Americans talking directly to us on our radio net. I could have replied
directly to those voices, but we were ordered not to, and I obeyed for my
own security."

In the years to come, the Anglo-American invaders and the Iraqi army that
resisted them will try to produce a history of Saddam Hussein's downfall;
but the brigadier general - he asked that his name should not be used, to
protect his family - is one of the most senior Iraqi officers so far to
have given a version of the last days of the Saddam regime.

In an interview with The Independent yesterday, he described how Republican
Guard regiments were withdrawn from the desert west of the capital to
Baghdad on the orders of Saddam's son Qusay - soldiers vital to the city's
defence who then took off their uniforms and went home.

The general's 30 batteries around Baghdad fired just over 200 Russian- made
Sam 2, 3, 6 and 9 anti-aircraft missiles at American and British aircraft,
with several French-made rockets; he lost 30 of his missiles crew members,
with another 40 wounded. "They were my men and I knew them all," he said.
"Their bodies were taken to the military hospitals where their families
collected them."

The white-haired ex-general - his status and rank officially under the new
American occupation orders to former members of the Iraqi armed forces -
talked to me in the home of a relative, a house furnished with giant china
pottery and chandeliers. The conversation was interrupted by the family's
constant supply of tea, the noise of children and the hissing of the
generator- powered air conditioning. But nothing could take away from the
drama of his story.

Baghdad's anti-aircraft missile commander realised the end was near, he
said, when he fired his last missile - a Sam-3 - from a battery in the
Dijila area of Baghdad at a low-flying US aircraft at 8pm on 8 April, the
night before American forces arrived in the city centre. "Just after that,
we lost all our telecommunications with our most senior officers. In my
headquarters, we stayed at our post, in uniform. Then on the morning of 9
April, we went out in civilian clothes to check on our crews at their
various locations in the city.

"That's when we saw the looting - and we realised everything was finished.
At that moment, we remembered what happened in 1991 after the Iraqi rebels
in the south and north of the country rose up in response to President
George Bush Snr's appeal - at that time, the robberies had started and
there were many killings of army officers. For us, that was the end."

Like many other senior officers in the Iraqi defence forces - the general
was a serving soldier and had little contact with Saddam's Republican
Guards or the Baath party militias - he believed until the last moment that
war could be averted. Even after the Anglo-American invasion began, he
thought the initial setbacks around Basra and Nasiriyah would force the
Western armies to open negotiations for a ceasefire.

He said: "Our own troops were fighting in the south much better than around
Baghdad. They had help from the people in the villages, the tribal people.
The Americans and the British thought these people would support them, not
fight against them.

"The defence of Baghdad was planned with two belts of army defenders, one
set 100 kilometres from the city, the other at 50 kilometres. The inner'
ring ran through the towns of Hillah, Tarmiya, Suweira and Mishaheda.

"Our southern troops were in real fighting in the south in the first days
of the war but on about 30 or 31 March, the Republican Guard were ordered
out of the deserts and back into Baghdad. We don't know why.

"The order came from Qusay and his officers. We then learnt that many of
their soldiers, with other fighters, were told to leave their duties and
stay at home. We found out that most of them had specific orders to stay at
home."

When the regular army in the south heard the same news, the general said,
their resistance, which had hitherto prevented the capture of a single city
by American or British forces, began to collapse.

It was on 6 April that the southern Baath military commander, Ali Hassan
al-Majid - called Chemical Ali for his gas warfare against the Kurds, a
party apparatchik who had earlier been falsely reported killed by British
forces - ordered the regular army to abandon the south of Iraq and redeploy
north for the defence of Baghdad.

He said: "When we were working in my operations room and we heard that the
Americans had arrived in the city, none of us there believed it. This was
impossible, we thought. There was a story that the Republican Guards had
abandoned their desert positions because of the heavy attacks by the
American B-52 bombers - but this could not be true.

"They had experienced worse bombing during the 1991 war. No, they just left
their armour on the roads, in the fields, in the desert, all the equipment
of the Medina division and the Hammurabi division, and the Nebuchadnezzar
division and the Akbar division, just abandoned. There was a game' in the
Republican Guards.

"The result was chaos. We had to fight the occupation with far fewer
troops. On 7 April, even the Minister of Defence went off with his officers
to fight with some troops at the Diyala Bridge in the suburbs of Baghdad .
Our resistance was now very limited.

"And I think it was the psychological war that won over the real' war for
us. Those Americans talking to us over our own radios - that was what
succeeded. We could no longer talk to each other on the radios. But we
could hear the Americans."

Since 9 April, the Soviet-trained general and his former fellow officers
have spoken of little except the war, contemplating the supremacy of
American arms - "their air-to-air missiles had a range of 120 kilometres,"
he said, "ours only 30 kilometres, and my own ground-to-air missiles had a
range of only 43 kilometres" - and the weakness of Iraq's inferior military
equipment.

"Their planes could detect our radar and fly faster than my missiles and
then turn round and bomb my crews.

"So I would send only one battery to engage an American aircraft and keep
the rest safe. We shot down 12 American planes around Baghdad. We saw them
fall. But the Americans rescued the crews and took away the wreckage."

Hope springs eternal, perhaps, among the defeated.


Louis Proyect, Marxism mailing list: http://www.marxmail.org




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