- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 22, 2003

WASHINGTON, March 22 (UPI) — As Saturday drew to a close the Second Gulf War was going far more America's way than Iraq's with U.S. grand strategy appearing very much on track towards a lightning fast knockout. But several wild cards remained very much in question.

The reported surrender en masse of the Iraqi Army's 51st Infantry Division outside Basra was an immensely encouraging and potentially crucially important development for the Allies.

It was extremely solid evidence that the psy-ops and political targeting of the Iraqi Army's leadership and regular troops has indeed been highly effective.

It is too soon yet to be sure that a similar rot will spread throughout the Iraqi armed forces, but the Pentagon has indicated it is confident that this will happen. And certainly, the mass surrender outside Basra could well prove to be the first domino to fall in an escalating series.

The unit had the reputation of being one of the better ones in the regular Iraqi army.

The second big positive strike that U.S. war planners can celebrate is the likelihood that they may have at least injured Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. At the time of writing he has yet to be confirmed to be active and speaking since he was reportedly seen being wheeled away wounded following the first wave of "decapitation" precision missile and bomb strikes on his command centers that started the war.

Almost no war, however, goes exactly according to plan even for the most dominant and efficient victors and two planned major components in U.S. strategy appear to have already proven duds.

First, the civilian overlords of the Office of the Secretary of Defense finally admitted defeat Saturday in their efforts to induce Turkey's civilian government to allow the U.S. 4th Infantry Division to be deployed in their country to strike south towards Baghdad through the friendly Kurdish north.

Instead, reports said, the division, whose remaining forces have been forced to cool their heels in Fort Hood, Texas, will now be rush redeployed on to the main southern front from Kuwait heading north. There is also widespread speculation that some of them may be air-carried into newly captured airfields in western Iraq to improvise a "left hook" flank attack east across Iraq's Western Desert.

If the Iraqis can reestablish command and control and if their army does not melt away, then this failure to deploy and launch the 4th ID from the north could have very serious, even dire consequences for U.S. forces. For, as UPI's military analyst Thomas Houlahan has pointed out, the original plan was for the 4th ID all by itself to take out or at least demand the attention of no less than 12 full Iraqi divisions — the 7th, 16th, 4th, 1st Mechanized, Adman Republican Guard Mechanized, 38th, 5th Mechanized, 8th, 15th, 34th, 4th Armored and another Republican Guard motorized division — on its own drive to Baghdad.

Instead, not only was the 4th ID never allowed into Northern Iraq in the first place, but Department of Defense civilian planners remained enamored of the idea and refused until now to cut their losses and decisively redeploy it.

Having said that, all this would only be serious for the U.S.. forces if the Iraqi army retained command and control cohesion and its troops showed a determination to fight it out in the open as well in major cities. And early indications at least support DoD's most optimistic projections that this will not be the case.

However, a second "wild card," that of a Shiite popular rising in the South, now looks increasingly unlikely to come off. Mohammed Baqir Hakim, head of Supreme Assembly of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq or SAIRI, told the Qatari-based al-Jazeera television news network Saturday that it would not join the United States in its war to topple Saddam and his regime.

SAIRI is the main Shiite opposition movement in Iraq's south and Shiites make up a majority of the total population of Iraq. So Hakim's statement was of great importance. Its longer-term consequences are likely to be even more so.

In southern Lebanon, Israel found after starting its occupation in 1982 that guerrilla warfare from the Shiite community backed by Iran was devastating in the casualties it inflicted. Any plans for U.S. military occupation in Iraq after even a lightning quick blitzkrieg victory in this war could be complicated and soured by a far more massive guerrilla campaign in oil-rich, majority Shiite areas.

Also, SAIRI looks to Tehran for leadership. And therefore its refusal to raise a finger to topple Saddam, despite his ruthless crushing of a Shiite popular uprising after his 1991 Gulf War defeat, confirms trends United Press International Iran Media Watch columnist Mojdeh Sionit has been tracking that the Tehran government now looks upon a confident, aggressive United States newly victorious in Iraq as a far more dangerous and immediate threat than Saddam, even though he killed close to a million Iranians in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War.

On a third wild card, U.S. and British forces were able to sidestep Basra, Iraq's second city with 1.3 million people, and avoid being sucked into delaying and potentially high casualty urban fighting there. But they may yet be unable to avoid going that route when they get to Baghdad. Will Baghdad fall like a ripe plumb? Or will it hold out and prove a rallying point for Iraqi opposition? Right now, the strong betting is on the former, optimistic scenario rather than the bleaker latter one. But we have yet to be sure.

Having said that from America's point of view, amid the inevitable chaos of war, it is striking how much appears to be going right.

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