That said, however, we may occasionally excuse the ravings of the back pages because of the treasures located in the news pages. Wednesday, 22 June was such a day: the Times ran an extremely interesting article by David S. Cloud on the operational methods of the Iraqi rebels’ bomb-makers. Mr. Cloud’s article contained no new information, but did an admirable job of summarizing emerging trends in rebel operating methods.
In discussing the use against US forces of “improvised explosive devices,” or IED’s, the article describes “significant advancements in bomb design” including the increased use of shaped charges (dangerous to tanks and armored personnel carriers), use of infrared lasers as detonators (which avoids jamming countermeasures effective for radio-wave devises).
The article noted that the rebels “are probably drawing on bomb-making experts from outside Iraq and from the old Iraqi Army.” During May, the article says, there were about 700 attacks against American forces using IED’s.
The interesting question here concerns the composition of the rebel forces. The preparation of shaped charges, the use of infrared lasers for triggering, the recognition by the rebels of the need for new tactics to respond to US countermeasures such as electronic jamming, the increased targeting of Iraqi government police and military assets all indicate that the rebellion is no spontaneous uprising of Sunni Iraq; not the product of foreign Arab ardor to go to Iraq and kill Americans. True, the rebellion uses Sunni peasants and useful idiots from the Arab world to do the scut work – drive the suicide bombs. But the ability of the rebels to change their tactics, and their exploitation of available military technologies indicates that the rebels can draw on a substantial body of experienced military personnel. Who are these people ?
The most obvious possibility, of course, are officers and NCO’s of Saddam’s former Iraqi Army and intelligence organizations. But I think it’s possible to be more specific than that, to have a good idea exactly who these guys are, and this requires a brief digression. I’m going someplace with this, so be patient.
Despite all of the hullabaloo over the “Downing Street Memo” and what it supposedly reveals about the Bush administration’s intentions prior to war, the administration’s plans were obvious well before the start of Gulf War II to virtually any observer with a pulse. “Regime Change,” as it was called, was official US government policy for Iraq even before September 11. For my own part, I believed that there would be a war with Iraq on the afternoon of September 11, 2001. Even when it became apparent that Saddam Hussein was probably not involved in that day’s terrorist acts, I believed and hoped that September 11 was going to be the end of Saddam and his regime. The world, in particular, the Middle East, had simply grown too dangerous for Saddam’s Iraq to continue to exist.
Moreover, the US needed a salutary example for other Middle Eastern rulers of the consequences of not working with the American government on Al Qaeda and on other matters. The fall of Saddam was the obvious means of frightening other area despots into cooperating with the US. Consequently, from January of 2002 forward, that is, as soon as the Taliban was finished in Afghanistan, I expected US attentions would turn to Iraq, and I begin to make my own preparations.
I started reading up on the Iraqi military. I re-read everything I could find on Gulf War I, and hunted down everything I could find in English on the Iraqi military’s order of battle. In particular, Global Security.org, and Anthony Cordesman’s absolutely superb papers on the Iraqi military at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) were invaluable. My friend T gave me Kenneth Pollack’s excellent book The Threatening Storm, which supplied more information. In March or April of 2002, I located a detailed map of Iraq, a giant plastic overlay and some colored markers, and began putting the Iraqi military on the map – and, with everybody else, watched and waited on events.
The first thing I noticed, was that Saddam’s military deployment was, well, goofy. The ground threat was coming out of Kuwait. I would have expected to see more troops in the south, near the Kuwait border, both to fight the invading coalition forces, and to keep the Shiites in line. I also would have expected to see significant deployments along the Euphrates River, and south of Baghdad. This did not materialize. Instead, Saddam kept the bulk of his power in Sunni Iraq, mostly at points north of Baghdad.
War came in early 2003 – later than I had thought. I expected war in late January or February of that year, and we now know that February was the Pentagon’s target date, but events were delayed by the foolishness at the UN with the French. In any case, in early March, when it was apparent that things were at last coming to a head, I stated keeping a War Diary – a sort of notebook of what was transpiring politically in Iraq, noting the movements of military units, pertinent political news, etc.
I kept up the War Diary all through the mobile campaign, right up to the fall of Baghdad. My working assumption was that once an Iraqi unit was in contact with a US unit on the ground, the Iraqi unit in question, because of superior US maneuverability and airpower, was effectively toast. There were a few exceptions (the 51st Infantry Division by Basra held out for awhile, as did the 11th Infantry, north of the Euphrates round Naseriyeh), but by and large, the assumption seemed to hold up till the Army and Marines took Baghdad. It’s also interesting how much I was wrong about, but that’s another story.
In any case, right about the time of the fall of Baghdad, a strange thing began to happen. When US forces – Marines from the east. 3rd Infantry Division [Mech.] from the South -- approached Baghdad, the city was not reinforced by the 12 or so divisions available north of the city. Because of US command of the air, it is doubtful much could have reached Baghdad anyway, but the Iraqi command did not even make the effort. Whole corps just started to disappear, before US forces caught up to them. The following is an excerpt from one of the last couple of entries in my War Diary, (16 April 2003), wrapping up my notes on the mobile campaign:
The Special Republican Guard (SRG) was apparently the primary unengaged force left to the Baghdad garrison (see notes for 6 April), and it did not show to advantage. However, there is little or no information as to the disposition, or even the continued existence, of its units. The SRG is a really strange formation to begin with – part secret police, part palace guard, part combat formation, part property custodians, which is perhaps why it seems to have simply melted away. Where did it go ?
I will feel better when these units are more definitively accounted for, because to the extent Saddam had any loyal units beyond his Companion bodyguards (40 men), or the terrorists and bandits in the Fedayeen Saddam and the Popular Army – this bunch was it.…
What followed was a detailed listing of units of Saddam’s “Special Republican Guard” – last known whereabouts, whether they engaged US units (which most did not) and any other details I had. But in any case, in the last days of the war, the most loyal, devoted and well-trained portions of Saddam Hussein’s military apparatus (perhaps 20,000 men) just folded right up and vanished.
I had hoped that these units had given up and gone home. But evidently, they did not. Clearly Saddam expected the invasion, and planned a post-invasion guerrilla campaign. His best troops just disappeared, evidently to fight this campaign – and so did the Weapons of Mass Destruction. Every intelligence organization seriously interested Iraq was certain the Saddam regime had them, and I, for one, am still not buying they were wrong.
We do not know, yet, what happened to WMD’s. But we should have a pretty good idea, now, what happened to parts of the military units described above – in particular the Special Republican Guard. In particular, its officers, warrant officers and non-commissioned officers. Certainly the SRG included the troops most devoted to Saddam, and were probably the most well trained and equipped in the Iraqi services. Although I have no direct evidence on point – it’s my belief and contention that the core of the present insurgency are cadres from the missing SRG military units I mentioned, along with their comrades from the former Iraqi intelligence services and secret police. These are the experienced people who can build shaped charges, use laser detonators, and who probably have the new Iraqi military pretty well infiltrated.
Certainly, there are plenty of warm rebel bodies with no prior or only low level pre-war military experience. But the sophistication of the attacks on Allied forces indicates that the government’s contention that the insurgency is primarily run by “Former Regime Loyalists” – is correct.