The Dash to Baghdad
Allied forces are stopping for nothing as they race towards Baghdad, Friday, March 21. Unfazed by the first serious Iraqi resistance encountered on the outskirts of the Euphrates River town of Nassariyeh, the main body of the force pressed on regardless, leaving a unit behind to engage the Iraqi troops. The tactical pattern emerging on day three of the Iraq war is built around a rapid advance towards Baghdad without being sidetracked by attempts to seize population centers – as yet. As a result, forty percent of Iraqi territory was in allied hands by Friday afternoon.
Thursday night, the US-led operation encountered its first losses – 4 American Marines and 8 Britons who died in a Marine CH46 helicopter crash on the Kuwait side of the border with Iraq. Friday morning, a US Marine was killed in the battle for Umm Qasr, the important Gulf naval base.
The low casualty rate and the hundreds of Iraqi troops turning themselves in with white flags aloft reflect the low-key nature of the combat in the early days of the offensive. In fact, debkafile military sources report that both the American and British commands are not encouraging Iraqi troop capitulations. They have received intelligence that Iraqi soldiers coming over may be carrying chemical or biological toxins and ordered coalition troops not to approach the would-be POWs but to return them to their own units.
The strategy of moving fast and leaving minor problems for later marks the thinking of the US war commander, General Tommy Franks, at this stage of the war. It has also produced the first lineaments of the momentous geopolitical change in store for Iraq, starting with the southeast.
No sooner had a combined American-British force captured Umm Qasr and the Faw peninsula and was proceeding east towards Basra, Iraq’s third largest town, when they split up. Leaving Basra to the British, the US Marines turned north towards the Euphrates. In a parallel movement, a second column made up of US 1st and 3rd Divisions was pushing in the same direction. Both columns were making for Baghdad and preparing to cover each other’s flanks. Their hurtling momentum won them the epithet of “21st Century Armored Cavalry”.
Meanwhile, as soon as Umm Qasr fell, Kuwait troop units popped up in the captured city. Exacting sweet revenge for the brutal Iraqi invasion of the emirate in 1990, the Kuwaitis gleefully hoisted their national flag over a central building of the captured Iraqi town.
This was more than a historic gesture.
British prime minister Tony Blair may have vowed solemnly after the Azores summit that Iraq’s territorial integrity would be preserved. However, debkafile‘s sources stand by their previous disclosure that the country will be divided into military zones in the early days of the conflict.
Under this pre-arranged partition,Kuwait has been assigned Umm al Qasr and possibly the Faw peninsula, thereby doubling the small emirate’s land mass.Kuwait’s reward for wholeheartedly turning one half of its territory into a key American invasion base is the fulfillment of its national aspiration for a foothold in southern Iraq and command over ingress to and egress from the strategic Shatt al Arb waterway.
The symbolic arrival of Kuwait military in the newly-captured town of Umm Qasr would not have been permitted without Washington’s blessing.
This turn of events radically alters the Gulf balance of power. Until Friday, March 21, it was dominated by the rivalry between Baghdad and Tehran. Iran is now confronted with a formidable new adversary: An American-Anglo backed Kuwait with a military grip on the Shatt al Arb. This is a strong signal from Washington to Tehran not to entertain any notions of exploiting the Iraq war to grab control of this strategic waterway or to further its designs on Iraq’s southern oil fields.
Leaving Basra and southern Iraq to the British bears significance over and above the fact that it leaves American forces free to focus on the drive for Baghdad. The British have been awarded a military zone in southeastern Iraq, both to support the Kuwaiti presence and to carve out a British area of influence in that sector.
As the war develops, similar pre-assigned processes can be expected to take shape in northern and western Iraq.
The Dash to Baghdad