Man Without Qualities

Friday, March 28, 2003

Is Baghdad Stalingrad or Hue?

There has been a great deal of consideration recently given to whether the coming attack on Baghdad might bog down into a long siege like the Battle of Stalingrad or or into messy "urban warfare" a fight without scruples for the high ground of propaganda that exploits civilian losses and denies the intruder's superior might. "Urban warfare" is said to be a particular threat, especially if the Republican Guard retreats into the city. Some of the people doing the speculation are actually looking forward to such "urban warfare."

I don't mean to dismiss the possibility of "urban warfare" in Baghdad, or to pretend that I am any kind of military expert. But I think that the threat of "urban warfare" in Baghdad is very limited exactly because it is the capital in which the government is trapped - with no place to go. That's not true of a remote city - such as Hue or Basra - in which many low-tech fighters and installations can be destroyed by the US, but possibly replaced to the extent that the original destruction is all but meaningless. If the Iraqi government and central military command is destroyed or cut off, replacement will not be easy. That appears to me to means that if US attacks - even a single attack - destroy or cut off Saddam Hussein and his central command, then the war probably winds down from there pretty fast. Without anyone to coordinate an "urban warfare" defense of the city, Baghdad should essentially turn into a mopping up operation - messy, but not a bottomless pit.

Put another way: In large measure, kill the brain, you kill the ghoul.

And such an attack seems likely. Eventually the US will determine the whereabouts within Baghdad of Hussein (assuming he is alive) and his central command. And regardless of how deep those Iraqi presidential bunkers may be, it seems unlikely to me that the Iraqis could stop a determined US attack on any particular destination within that city. Such an attack on Hussein's bunker wouldn't be an underpowered hit like the one in Black Hawk Down. That doesn't mean no urban warfare is possible - but its likely scope seems quite limited, at least to me.

It has been reported that video copies of "Black Hawk Down" have circulated among senior members of the Iraqi government. It seems inapposite. "A million Mogadishus" - or any form of "urban warfare" that really bogs down the war in Baghdad - seems unlikely.

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