- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 7, 2003

Iraqi military forces are setting up a two-layer defense ring around Baghdad in preparation for U.S. military action, according to U.S. intelligence officials.

Planning of the defense perimeters has been under way since November and involves the deployment of units from the regular Iraqi army and the Republican Guard in an outer ring around the Iraqi capital.

A closer defense ring is being set up using troops and forces belonging to the Special Republican Guard. Those units are assigned with leadership protection, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The Iraqi military believes that U.S. and allied forces will break through the first ring but be held back by the inner ring's better-trained and better-equipped Special Republican Guard, the officials said.

Baghdad's deployments indicate that a key element of the Iraqi war strategy is to draw U.S. and allied forces toward the capital, where urban fighting could prove difficult and lead to high military and civilian casualties, the officials said.

Disclosure of the Iraqi defense preparations coincided with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's Army Day speech in which he declared that his country was prepared for war and said U.N. arms inspectors are U.S. spies.

"The enemy will be defeated disgracefully," Saddam said in a taped speech broadcast on Iraqi television. "When the enemy comes as an aggressor, the victory will go to the people of right when they are inside their homeland."

President Bush responded by saying that it doesn't look like Saddam wants to comply with the U.N. Security Council's demand to surrender any weapons of mass destruction, "but he's got time."

The U.N. inspectors' first report is due Jan. 27. Administration officials have said Mr. Bush will review the report before deciding whether to pursue war with Iraq.

The establishment of two defense perimeters is one of several recent signs of Iraqi military preparations. In September, two Republican Guard units were moved from bases to less vulnerable sites in Iraq.

Other signs include construction of earthen barriers, the dispersal of ammunition and the movement of surface-to-air missile batteries.

Military experts said the Iraqis plan to trap U.S. and allied forces, which under current plans would begin a ground invasion after extended bombing raids. The double perimeter may be designed to draw U.S. and allied forces toward Baghdad and then conduct artillery attacks on them using shells filled with chemical and biological weapons.

The attacks would make it difficult for the United States to retaliate with tactical nuclear weapons without causing large-scale civilian casualties.

Retired Army Lt. Col. Robert Maginnis said the dual defense rings would serve two purposes: keep foreign troops from reaching the capital and prevent defecting Iraqi forces from attacking the city.

"If there is penetration of the outer ring, that will be overcome to a certain degree by better defenses dug by the Golden Division," a Special Republican Guard unit that has orders to protect Saddam and high-value targets such as chemical and biological weapons, Col. Maginnis said.

"I don't put a lot of credence to the outer ring," Col. Maginnis aid. "But it's the inner ring and the paramilitary forces scattered around the city that are going to be the real problem."

Col. Maginnis said he believes that the Iraqi military's loyalty is questionable.

"I believe that given the right circumstances, most Iraqi forces will collapse," he said. "We have to get behind the scene and contact the commanders covertly."

Anthony Cordesman, a military specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said urban warfare in Iraq would be a dangerous trap for U.S. forces.

"Extended urban warfare would create major military and civilian casualties on both sides, and greatly increase civilian casualties and collateral damage," Mr. Cordesman said in a recent report.

"The situation would be particularly serious if Iraqi forces throughout the country maintained control of all urban areas and rallied to Saddam for nationalistic or other reasons."

Col. Maginnis said Iraq's military has been working on defensive positions for years and skillfully uses decoy forces that are designed to make U.S. air power waste limited precision-guided bombs and missiles on wooden silhouettes of tanks or other weapons.

"Unless we have up-to-the-minute data and are watching very closely the movement of decoys, we're not going to know where his guns are," Col. Maginnis said of the Iraqi leader.

Mr. Cordesman estimated that Iraq has six Republican Guard divisions, each with 6,400 to 8,000 troops. They include four Special Republican Guard brigades of several thousand troops each.

The regular army has about 10 divisions with 5,600 to 7,000 troops each, including three armored divisions and three mechanized infantry divisions, Mr. Cordesman said.

Former U.N. arms inspector Scott Ritter said the battle for "Greater Baghdad" would begin as U.S. ground forces approach the cities of Baiji in the north, Ramadi in the west and Suweira-Kut to the south of the city. All are fortified with Iraqi forces.

"These positions represent the geographic reach of Greater Baghdad, and it is here that Saddam's plan of urban-oriented defense would probably begin," Mr. Ritter said.

At Baiji, about 800 Iraqi Special Republican Guard forces have been building up ground and air defenses at an underground complex in the Jabal Makhul mountains. One of Saddam's presidential palaces is located in the complex.

According to Mr. Ritter, any military operation against Baghdad will require knocking out the Baiji defenses.

"As long as the Iraqis hold Jabal Makhul, any invasion force coming from the north will have to move westward, into the desert, to bypass the defenders, thus extending lines of communication and complicating logistical support," Mr. Ritter wrote in a recent journal article.

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