After endless delays, the American commander for the Iraq War, General Tommy Franks, has finally extracted the crucial date from his commander in chief, President George W. Bush. DEBKA-Net-Weekly ‘s sources in Washington report exclusively that Bush has given his generals the choice of Thursday, March 13 or Friday, March 14, for launching full-scale military action against Iraq, with a fallback date on April 1, in case of an unforeseen holdup, a real chance to rally international backing or Saddam’ Hussein’s magical disappearance.
By Thursday night, the US president appeared to have given up on these prospects and was getting ready for a solo performance. While not averse to another assault on public opinion, he seems intent on breaking away from the interminable diplomatic wrangling in the background. Britain has practically no chance of stumping up the nine votes needed at the 15-member Security Council to carry a second resolution with a built-in ultimatum for Saddam Hussein. Any such resolution is in any case foredoomed by the oath taken by a trio of veto-packing members – France, China and Russia – plus Germany to block any motion authorizing the use of force against Iraq. Chief UN inspector Hans Blix will sink this motion before it is put on the table by awarding Iraq a good grade for cooperation in his final report to the UN Security Council later Friday, March 7.
Bush’s fateful decision to go to war without further delay brought General Tommy Franks to the White House on Wednesday, March 5, for a last top-level battle planning session that climaxed more than a year of intense and meticulous preparation. Also present at the high-powered meeting were defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers, deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz, secretary of state Colin Powell and CIA director George Tenet.
Above and beyond the fuss over dates, the creeping war effectively in progress for almost a year began revving up markedly this week.
In the last few days, US and British warplanes have been placed on flat-out operational call to handle a stepped-up mission quota of more than 1,000 bombing sorties a day against widening concentric circles of Iraqi targets. They have already destroyed the surface-to-surface missiles launchers which the Iraqi army had begun moving south for action against the American troop build-up in Kuwait and Qatar, as well as wiping out Iraq’s air defenses and their command and control centers. Now, the US-UK air forces are focusing on purging southern Iraq of any artillery threat capable of hindering the US-led northern troop advance.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources, any artillery piece of upward of 30 mm caliber is swatted by allied planes the minute it moves, including mortars, heavy cannon and rocket launchers capable of firing chemical and biological shells and rockets. Every potential threat to the two main US-led main invasion routes into Iraq opening up next weekend has been smashed to bits.
Those routes are:
A. The Kuwait-Basra Axis
One invasion force will follow this route to capture all of southern and southeastern Iraq, including its oil fields.
B. The Kuwait-Naseriya-Baghdad-Kirkuk-Mosul Axis
A second column, made up of armored forces and Marines, will head north at top speed, racing past Baghdad and Tikrit – which will be left other contingents – to hook up with American northern front troops entering Iraq from Turkey. Together, they will seize the northern oil fields.
(Click here for DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s special map on the lines of advance).
These lines of advance will effectively split Iraq vertically down the middle between a western zone and an eastern zone, with Baghdad and Tikrit to the east of the divider.
After a week spent demolishing Iraq’s artillery, US and British warplanes will turn to pounding Saddam Hussein’s tanks, transporters and armored vehicles.
The US war command intends making sure that the US-led ground action beginning on March 13-14 will face an Iraqi army bereft of armor, artillery, missiles and command and communications centers. Iraqi troops will, it is hoped, be left empty-handed, but for light weapons and the option of surrender.
This wholesale scrapping of Saddam’s conventional field weapons will also, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources, make it easier for the attacking forces to locate and destroy the nuclear, chemical and biological arsenal Iraq is still concealing in underground bunkers, especially in the Baghdad and Tikrit areas. Those weapons have not been deployed for combat. In addition, those sources say, on Sunday, March 2, Saddam grounded Iraq’s entire air force and ordered military warplanes and the air fleets of his security arms to be placed under cover in underground shelters and hardened concrete hangars. This action condemned Iraqi ground forces to fighting without air support.
The US war command has not yet fathomed the rationale of this step and wonders what scheme Saddam has up his sleeve. It may be an alarmed reflex on his part to avoid the total destruction meted out to his war materiel and save what little air power is left over for operation at a later stage in the war. But it must also be taken into account that the Iraqi ruler is regrouping his air force to strike at the two American lines of advance.
Those columns, after achieving their objectives, will be free to aid the US-British force pushing into Iraq from Jordan in the west (More on the western front in a separate article below). Together, they will advance on Saddam’s “Iron Triangle” – Baghdad, Ar Ramadi and Tikrit – which Saddam has beefed up heavily as his last line of defense (as reported first in DEBKA-Net-Weekly, 97, February 14, 2003).
US-British Southern Front
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources, southern Iraq will be taken and held by the command core of the British 1st Armored Division, two of its armored brigades and a full US division under British command. Other contingents in-theater, such as Australian special forces, will be attached to this command. This strike force will make for the capture of the city of Umm Qassar, its military base and the Basra area, as their first objective.