- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's counterattack strategy has emerged as a mix of guerrilla ambushes, ballistic-missile attacks, and booby traps and human shields placed around critical targets such as Baghdad's state-run television station.
Iraq has not launched a single jet fighter since the war began March 19. Its surface-to-air missile batteries sit mainly silent. No Republican Guard unit has moved from the capital's shadow to confront the ground force approaching from the south.
Instead, Saddam's regime deployed thousands of paramilitary troops to southern Iraq to fight in Basra, Umm Qasr and Nasiriyah as many regular army soldiers waved the white flag and went home.
These Ba'ath Party loyalists comprise a mix of Special Republican Guards, the Special Security Forces and Saddam's martyrs, or Fedayeen. They are springing "dirty tricks" and bushwhacks to inflict casualties on an overwhelming allied force. They fake surrenders, then open fire; they dress in civilian clothes and fire from civilian vehicles. Other security units have booby-trapped oil wells and Baghdad itself.
"I believe these are probably the actions of desperate people that are trying to save a doomed regime," said Army Lt. Gen. John Abizaid, deputy commander of U.S. Central Command. "We have not seen on the battlefield a single coherent military move. These moves are all dangerous to the troops in the field, but they're not dangerous to the success of the mission."
John Hillen, an Army cavalry officer in Desert Storm, said what Iraq is doing in the south may appear significant briefly.
"They all seem very dramatic on the day, but in the great scheme of the whole war, they're not strategically significant," he said.
The objective, Mr. Hillen said, is for ground and air forces to get to Baghdad, destroy the Republican Guard and oust Saddam's Ba'ath party regime.
In this strategy, Army and Marine units are moving north as fast as possible, bypassing smaller cities along the way rather than getting bogged down securing each outpost before moving on.
"The ball is not a bunch of paramilitary running around Umm Qasr and Basra," he said. "The ball is Saddam Hussein's regime and the Republican Guard that protects it."
Still, for one day at least, the irregular enemy forces inflicted what Central Command conceded was a "tough day of fighting."
In an attack on Marines at Nasiriyah, the Iraqis feigned surrender, then opened fire. Scores of Americans were killed and wounded in the engagement, which included a U.S. armored vehicle being hit with a rocket-propelled grenade.
Near the same southern city, paramilitary fighters ambushed an Army resupply truck convoy that got lost. On videotape showed on the Arab-language Al Jazeera television, some of 12 missing American soldiers appeared to have been executed by shots to the head.
Both incidents point more to American mistakes, such as the supply convoy's wrong turn and the Marines' accepting the false surrender, than great Iraqi tactical moves.
Iraqi television on Sunday repeatedly showed the captured and dead soldiers in a propaganda tactic apparently aimed at boosting Baghdad's morale and delighting anti-American Arabs.
The broadcasts, which have also featured taped speeches by Saddam and at least one live press conference by Defense Minister Sultan Hashem Ahmad, raise the question of why Gen. Tommy Franks, the allied commander, has not sent a Tomahawk cruise missile at the station's transmitter.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld strongly implied it is because Saddam has ringed the building with civilians.
Pentagon officials conceded privately yesterday that while they expected guerrilla tactics from paramilitary units, they have been surprised by their fierce loyalty to Saddam. Iraq is not only fighting back, but managing to hold together some regular army battalions or regather them after they melt away before coalition forces and force them to defend Basra and Nasiriyah, a strategic river crossing.
Leading the paramilitaries is "Fedayeen Saddam," a militia group of about 40,000 spread across Iraq to maintain discipline. Units report directly to the presidential palace.
Dressed in black uniforms or civilian clothes, the Fedayeen's troops are recruited from areas loyal to Saddam. His oldest son, Uday, once commanded the group. In the late 1990s, Saddam passed authority to his heir apparent, Qusai, who also runs the Republican Guard.
"I believe that it's clear that certain elements of the Special Security organization and, perhaps, the Special Republican Guard infiltrated forward in an effort to conduct these types of raids as our troops came through the area," Gen. Abizaid said.
The allies' vulnerability lies in the long, lightly defended logistics tail created by rushing forward at 40 mph. By the time troops reach Baghdad, the tail will extend 300 miles, meaning strings of resupply convoys presenting inviting targets.
"I think it's worth the risk we are taking," Mr. Hillen said.
Of the Iraqi strategy, he said, "It makes sense. You cannot stand against the American armada, but you can go to ground and let it pass by and cause a little trouble as it goes by."
Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, Central Command's deputy for operations, called the strategy a "determined resistance by irregular Iraqi forces who in some cases fought in civilian clothes or in modified commercial vehicles."
Said Gen. Abizaid, "In one incident, a flag of surrender was displayed, and it was followed up by artillery fire. In another incident, there were troops dressed in civilian clothes that appeared to welcome the forces, and then ambushed them."
"There are indications that some of the irregular forces are purposely fighting in positions that are occupied by civilians. There's no doubt about that," he said.

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