Iraqi Tactics: Avoid Early Combat

Amman, Jordan — Iraq is likely to employ tactics designed to minimize the effectiveness of coalition air support, according to military experts in Jordan.

Jordanian military commanders knowledgeable about the Iraqi Army’s training, tactics, and weaponry say Iraqi troops will likely try to avoid major combat in the ground campaign’s early stages. Instead, they will seek to lure United States-led coalition forces well into southern Iraq and Kuwait before counterattacking with main-force units.

Radio Baghdad confirmed that a series of smaller Iraqi Army units were already engaged in the ground war’s first day.

Contrary to last week’s claim by Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf III, the U.S. coalition commander, that the Iraqi Army is close to collapse, these experts suggest that Iraq retains a formidable fighting force with strong morale.

Iraqi troops’ greater combat experience, familiarity with the terrain, and need to defend their homeland will likely make the ground war last longer and claim more coalition casualties than leaders of the anti-Iraq alliance expect, military experts and Western diplomats here say.

The coalition air strikes designed to soften Iraqi ground forces have probably destroyed fewer targets than coalition spokesmen claim, these experts say.

“I think the reports that you hear about casualties are totally wrong on both sides,” says a recently retired brigadier general who holds a senior civilian post in the Jordanian government and still has access to official intelligence.

One of Jordan’s highest-ranking military commanders agrees. “I don’t believe they’ve knocked out half of what they say.”

According to Radio Baghdad and the pro-resistance Kuwaiti News Agency, the ground war began in several locations, including an amphibious landing on the Kuwaiti shore and ground attacks launched from Saudi Arabia into Kuwait and southern Iraq.

The Iraqi military was expected to take advantage of its well-protected defenses and hidden underground bunkers. The Kuwaiti News Agency reported yesterday, however, that tens of thousands of Iraqi troops surrendered in initial hours of the assault. The reports could not be independently confirmed. Radio Baghdad said its forces were holding firm.

“[Iraqi forces] will not expose themselves,” says the retired Jordanian commander. Once coalition forces are drawn into the theater of battle, then Iraq’s main forces, including the 125,000-strong Republican Guard, will attack, he says.

If the war lasts longer than a few weeks, as experts here expect, weather may also play a role. The dry season in the Gulf usually begins in early March. Windstorms of desert dust, known as the khamasin, can be like raging blizzard snowstorms. Appearing without warning, the khamasin can bring troop movements to a standstill, ground planes, and wreak havoc on motor vehicles and especially high-technology equipment.

Despite the coalition’s technological superiority in weapons, Iraqi troops still have advantages over the coalition forces, military experts and diplomats here say.

Iraqi forces’ extensive combat experience is one asset, says a Western diplomat. The eight-year Iran-Iraq war produced a generation of combat veteran soldiers and officers.

Iraqi soldiers’ familiarity with desert conditions and knowledge of southern Iraq and Kuwait is another likely advantage. They know the layout of cities and outlying areas, while the terrain is new to advancing coalition forces. Dug-in Iraqi troops will make use of the terrain’s ”natural defenses,” military experts say.

Directly contradicting claims by coalition spokesmen, Jordanian military experts say morale could prove to be Iraq’s greatest asset. At least 600 Iraqi soldiers have deserted, and those interrogated paint a picture of a battered and demoralized Army, coalition spokesmen say. Nevertheless, military experts here emphasize that Iraqi forces will be defending their own national territory.