Wednesday 9 April 2003

It's not over yet

Dan Plesch is a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute meaning he's yet another head of the beast. Still a good article though.

Reports of victory may be premature. The British and American forces could still face protracted and bloody resistance - and worse

by Dan Plesch

The huge psychological victory for the coalition produced by the arrival of US tanks in front of the media centre in Baghdad has not finished off the regime, even though this coup came so soon after their shock arrival at the international airport.

A compilation of the military detail in reports from journalists in Baghdad and an ear for the changing spin from Centcom gives a less victorious picture of the battle for the Iraqi capital than is shown in the media. For example, for three hours on Saturday Centcom said the US was in Baghdad to stay, not on a raid. Then, after some armoured vehicles had been damaged and some troops killed and injured, it became a raid as the troops withdrew. The selective and censored TV coverage obscures a military reality that has been neither as successful nor as difficult as it has seemed. Now, reports of total victory may be premature.

The initial high expectations soon turned into expectations of disaster as we watched the images of US prisoners, sandstorms and ambushes. Then, just as the impact of a real war had sunk in, victory again seemed assured as US tanks dashed into Baghdad and the British took Basra. But President Bush has made the more accurate assessment: Saddam Hussein is losing his grip on Iraq "finger by finger". Unless killing him brings down the regime, it is even possible that civil war will erupt before the coalition has destroyed all organised resistance.

In Baghdad, it appears that most of the 20,000 fighting troops of the US Army 3rd Infantry and 1st Marine Expeditionary Force are still several miles from the central district. The 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Division reached the river but appears to control a narrow strip of land on the west bank of the Tigris, while the other brigades defend the international airport and attack through the northern suburbs. The US does not yet control either the Mansur district, where it tried to bomb Saddam, or the central military airport, both to the north of Saddam's riverbank palaces.

Since the weekend the Iraqis have launched determined counterattacks with Republican Guard and army brigades at the international airport and along the US line of advance to the centre of the city. The Iraqis' most dramatic success was to blow up the HQ of 2nd Brigade with a missile that destroyed 17 vehicles. These events have been reported accurately, with frequent quotations from US officers. But they are reported as details in other stories rather than in their own right. Reporters are rarely in a position to put the different pieces together. The short TV clips of fighting that we see repeated endlessly show how little broadcasters are able to see or allowed to transmit.

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