Jewish World Review March 19, 2003 / 15 Adar II, 5763

David Warren

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Hostage crisis


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | With the formal rejection of President Bush's offer to accept a peaceful surrender, on al-Shahab (the Iraqi equivalent to the BBC), Saddam Hussein and his sons have given signal for the U.S. and allied invasion to begin. Mr. Bush will probably still wait the full 48 hours, that expires this evening. Time is being granted for non-combatants to get out of Iraq; the invasion becomes more likely to begin with each passing hour after 8 p.m. EST.

Would that it were possible to temporarily remove the entire Iraqi civilian population, but Saddam won't let them go.

For the war to come is likely to resemble the resolution of the largest hostage crisis in history. The task of the allies is to remove Saddam, and his fellow monsters, while sparing every possible innocent human life that he is holding for his protection. Saddam's strategy, for the battle ahead, as revealed in everything from satellite imagery, to reports from special forces ensconced on the ground, to what is now a flood of information from defectors and even Iraqi general staff, hoping to preserve their own lives through the conflict, is to maximize the carnage and suffering, in the earnest expectation that the world's America-haters will blame it all on Washington, not Baghdad.

But Saddam has succumbed to excessive optimism before. And at the very moment his son Uday was speaking, proposing that Mr. Bush and his family leave the United States instead, the regime's key Western ally was ignominiously washing its hands of him. The French ambassador to Washington explained, that if Saddam should in fact use chemical or biological weapons, the French would take a new view of the matter, and rush to the Americans' aid. How rich.

In Britain, Clare Short, the ministrix for international development who had promised, like Robin Cook, to quit cabinet if war proceeded without a U.N. say-so, quickly reconsidered her position, pricking the Labour backbench balloon; while the polls continued to move sharply in Tony Blair's favor. He, for his part, delivered a speech to the British House of Commons that was not short of splendid, summing the indictment against Saddam, but also articulating the range of larger "geopolitical" issues at stake in the confrontation. He has emerged from the fuss and murk of conventional politics as a great man.

The whole sorry history of the diplomacy is behind us, and now we do stare war in the face. The only questions for the immediate future are the practical ones: how will the war be conducted; how quickly can allied forces proceed, and around what obstacles; how complete a victory can be won, and at what cost in human lives?

Saddam's complete distrust of his own generals, and non-interest in their professional advice, was broadcast with his decision Saturday to place the country under four "warlords", with his son, the psychopathic Qusay, in charge of the key, central sector, which encompasses Tikrit and Baghdad. Each of the couple dozen most senior military men is thus personally held hostage, and through him his troops, under the oversight of one or another of the madmen in Saddam's Tikriti inner family. There will be nothing elegant in the orders they give; none has credible military experience.

Saddam's defense is the usual combination of malign cleverness and bluff, on the tactical questions, with self-delusion on the strategic. He is exploiting the Turkish failure to give U.S. troops timely passage, by withdrawing almost all forces from his northern front; the confirmation of which comes in the defection of a Kurdish terrorist faction that had been doing Saddam's bidding.

To the west of the country, he has left disguised missile emplacements in the hope they can get off quick shots at Israel. But with no significant armed cover, and U.S. anti-missile defenses now sharper than Saddam supposes, and a large allied special forces presence, that threat should evaporate fairly quickly.

It is in the south, and in the space between Kuwait and Baghdad, across a distance roughly that of Toronto to Montreal, that he intends various delaying actions; and then a battle for Baghdad that, if he can make it so, will be so ruinous of the city and lethal to its inhabitants that the allies will be squeamish.

Perhaps his most subtle tactic is to array his IV Army Corps (the so-called "Saladin"), not in the obvious path of the allies, but with seeming irrelevance against the Iranian frontier. Their job is to seal it, so that refugees and deserters are unable to flee towards Iran, and a tide of some hundreds of thousands of them can be driven into the path of the advancing columns of U.S. and British armor, slowing these down. In order to assist in spreading panic, this IV Army comes equipped with chemical weapons suiting; and may well have the weapons, too. Moreover, by having them hugged against the border, Saddam increases the risk that allied air sorties will stray over Iran.

The Americans have, however, anticipated this tide of miserable and terrified humanity. Their ground strike forces will do their best to avoid and ignore them, rolling through; large relief convoys will bring up the rear, with food, drink, and medicine.

The first of two Iraqi holding actions is planned for a line that runs through Al-Nasiriyah, the Shia holy city, under the command of Saddam's cousin, Ali-Hassan al-Majid, known as "Chemical Ali" because he choreographed the genocidal gas attacks on the Kurds in 1988. Nasiriyah will remember him as the man who crushed the Shia anti-Saddam revolt there, after the Gulf War, with unbelievably gratuitous brutality.

It appears that most significant defenses in the south are concentrated in Nasiriyah, not the large port city of Basra. A second such line is drawn through Karbala, another third of the way to Baghdad. In both of these Shia holy cities, as in Baghdad, obvious air targets have been deployed in mosques, and the courtyards of hospices, schools, and hospitals.

But not, apparently, in Basra, which is being offered as a baited trap, the target possibly of chemical or biological weaponry, once it has been occupied by allied troops.

These are all, as Saddam is clever enough to realize, only delaying actions. His defence of Baghdad is intended as the main show. Around that he has placed a double-ring of conventional artillery formations, behind trenches many of which have been flooded with oil. The idea of creating a smokescreen against aerial attack is a vain one: GPS technology no longer requires clear sight on the ground. And the overt ring formations tend to make the "elite" (not really) Republican Guard into sitting ducks.

More formidably, Iraq's "heavy metal" defenses, including anti-aircraft and other blind cannon, have been concentrated within the densely-populated city itself. There may well be little horrors scattered among them, in the hope of creating the appearance that the allies are themselves using chemical and biological weapons in attacks against civilian neighborhoods.

By concentrating the whole national artillery in Baghdad, Saddam has improved the odds of chance hits against allied aircraft. Most of this flak will miss, however, causing random carnage as it comes back down to earth, and giving the appearance that it is part of the allied bombing.

Why so crazed a self-defense? Because Saddam's real strategy can not be to prevail over the invading forces, only to enmire them in a human catastrophe. Yet from all his past experience, he retains one hope: that by animating huge anti-war demonstrations in the West, through the kind of instant-conclusion media reporting we have seen from Jenin and elsewhere, he can force President Bush to sue for peace.

It is a long shot, but his only shot; and we should remember when we see them that the peace demonstrators, in their acute and often willful na´vetÚ, remain Saddam's only effective frontline troops, his single waning hope to keep Iraq enslaved. For the rest, the U.S. and their allies have devised elaborate contingencies, and let's pray they all work.

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JWR contributor David Warren is a Columnist for the Ottawa Citizen. Comment by clicking here.

03/17/02: Bush, the "UN's cowboy," is really the "un cowboy" --- a softie
03/17/02: United? Nations?
03/12/02: Blair goes wobbly
03/10/02: Ready aye ready
03/06/02: Logic of war
02/10/02: Play up, play up
01/30/02: No ambiguity
12/05/02: A farce
11/13/02: A game of chess
10/30/02: Material breach
10/21/02: Armed & dangerous
09/11/02: The enemy within
08/21/02: Bush v. world
08/06/02: Has Sharon gone 'wobbly'?
07/24/02: Evil Sharon
06/19/02: The end is nigh
06/17/02: Those darn American imperialists!

© 2002, Ottawa Citizen