Friday, March 28
Hussein hopes to draw U.S. into urban combat
Sebastian Rotella, Los Angeles Times, March 28, 2003
Saddam Hussein hopes to turn the battle for Baghdad into a Mesopotamian version of Stalingrad.
The Iraqi president is an admirer of Josef Stalin. He has modeled his ruthless rule and cult of personality on the Soviet leader. As the U.S.-led invasion force stretches its supply lines to reach Baghdad, military analysts and Iraq experts say Hussein's most loyal, best-equipped troops are digging in to try to inflict the kind of carnage that stopped Adolf Hitler at the Volga River in 1943.
A first and crucial test is likely to come near the cities of Karbala and Al Kut along a so-called "red line" that forms a ring south of Baghdad, where U.S. troops are massing now. If Hussein can avoid a military collapse there that would drag down his entire regime, analysts expect him to regroup his forces for street-to-street combat in the capital.
And then, he appears to be counting on the modern weapons of media and world politics for his survival.
The Iraqi regime has spent years preparing for this showdown. Its strategists have researched U.S. military involvement in Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia. Experts say videotapes of the movie "Black Hawk Down," which recounts the frenzied combat in Mogadishu in 1993, circulated among military men in Baghdad in recent months.
"People say to me you are not the Vietnamese, you have no jungles and swamps to hide in," said Tarik Aziz, Iraq's deputy prime minister, in an interview published recently by the International Institute for Strategic Studies here. "I reply, 'Let our cities be our swamps and our buildings be our jungles.' "
In tactics, technology and firepower, the force closing in on Baghdad is far superior to the U.S. military that fought in Vietnam, or the German army that slowly froze, starved and ran out of ammunition in the snow and rubble of Stalingrad. But Hussein's strategy relies as much on psychology as it does on armament. [...]
'We will turn Bush into a dog'
The Americans badly miscalculated by believing that the Iraqis would welcome them as liberators
Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, March 27, 2003
Dogs do not live happy lives in Iraq. Considered "unclean" by Muslims and rarely kept as pets, most of those that you see are feral curs slinking through the streets late at night.
It's normal practice for Iraqi soldiers to cull the packs with machine guns. But the commandos of Saddam's fedayeen, terrorist-shock troops organized in the mid-1990s, sometimes tear a dog limb from limb and sink their teeth in its flesh. Repulsive brutality, after all, is a badge of honor for these troops; this particular rite of passage was even captured on a government video.
"The fedayeen are animals!" says a young Iraqi woman who fled her country for Jordan a few months ago. "They are trained to be like animals! Everybody is frightened of them."
And even though there are only an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 of these militia, inside Iraq it feels as if the fedayeen -- meaning "those who sacrifice" -- are everywhere.
These days, Iraqis say, they are forcing others to put their lives on the line in the face of the American invasion. "Saddam has succeeded in establishing a strong structure that is loyal to him," says Issam Chalabi, a former Iraqi oil minister now in exile. "These fedayeen are not only fighting the Americans, they are mainly against those who want to surrender or refuse to fight."
And yet, neither the frightened young woman, nor Chalabi (who is no relation to a would-be exile leader with the same last name), nor any of the other Iraqis or Arabs I've talked to since the fighting began last week, believes that the Iraqis' resistance to the United States is solely a matter of intimidation and fear. That plays a part; the role of the fedayeen is important. But the resistance to the United States "is a matter of Iraqi patriotism," says Chalabi. "No one will accept the Americans' presence there. And if you say anything about me, say this: I am against the war. I am against the occupation."
American administration officials and sympathetic pundits fundamentally miscalculated by believing that, as some exiles told them, because the Iraqi people hate Saddam, they would love their American "liberators." "That's where you went wrong," a Lebanese friend tells me, summing up sentiments I've heard all over the Arab world, "The Iraqis do hate Saddam -- but they do not love you." [...]