Iraq Insurgents Go for Large-Scale Assault Tactics
While Israelis by and large would rather not think about the prospect of future Palestinian terror, Palestinian terror chiefs are keenly tracking the tactics employed by Iraq’s insurgents and their al Qaeda allies to see what they can learn. They are already deep into a test program for extending the range of the primitive Qassam missiles that long plagued the Israel town of Sderot from the Gaza Strip and getting it deployed on the West Bank. The Palestinians have also begun training large military units 30-50-strong to storm fortified Israeli military targets and large civilian centers.
debkafile‘s military experts therefore envisage a dramatic shift in the next phase of the Palestinian-Israel war in the wake of the latest Iraqi trend.
The Palestinians found an impressive example on Saturday, April 2, in the Iraqi guerrilla-terrorist onslaught on the US Marine base guarding Abu Ghraib prison on the western outskirts of Baghdad. Military experts agree that this operation was the best-planned, most extensive and cannily combined Iraqi rebels have staged in two years of guerrilla warfare. Had it succeeded, more than 2,000 jailed Iraqi insurgents and terrorists would have made their escape.
The attack began at 6 am. Creeping through the concealing urban landscape surrounding camp and prison, the raiders were undetected from the base until they were close enough to open up with a hellish hail of 81-mm and 120-mm mortars. The din muffled the slow advance of the first bomb car until it drew to a halt opposite the American positions. The vehicle then drew US fire and blew up. It was apparently a decoy to draw the Americans’ attention and firepower away from the second bomb car that was speeding in from the opposite direction. Its function was to breach the prison’s outer wall. However, American gunfire triggered a second explosion when the vehicle was still short of its target. While this was going on, two guerrilla columns, 20-30-strong, were advancing shooting on the American camp – one from the direction of Falluja in the east and the second from the south.
The combined fire and explosive power of the storming units and their bomb cars were so intense that the Marines guarding the camp’s southern wing were forced to retreat. It was the first time in the two-year Iraq war that US forces fell back in face to face combat with Iraqi insurgents. The rebels were only held back from bursting into the US facility by the timely arrival of American reinforcements that called up Apache gun-ships and artillery.
The battle raged fiercely for three hours.
debkafile‘s military experts comment that the Iraqi guerrillas withdrew from the battle zone in exemplarily orderly fashion despite the gunfire that aimed at pinning them down. Dead and wounded were gathered and removed to medical aid stations that must have been set up in advance.
A total of 44 American troops and 12 detainees were injured in the Abu Ghraib battle as well as an estimated 50 insurgents. US military sources calculate from the testimony of the soldiers that took part in the battle that the assault force numbered from 40 to 60 fighting men. debkafile‘s military experts compute the indirect participants in intelligence-gathering, transporting the fighting units to target, evacuation of dead and wounded, must have numbered 150 to 200. It is worth noting that as recently as late last year, the Iraqi guerillas and al Qaeda combined were not capable of mustering an organized force on this scale to withstand the American Falluja offensive.
Two days after the Abu Ghraib battle, on Monday, April 4, another large guerrilla force took on two Iraqi army battalions which were on “a cordon and search mission” for rebels and arms caches in Diyala province. Here too the Iraqi force had to call on American help to repulse the attack and the US unit summoned air support. All the same, three soldiers died in the engagement, two Americans and one Iraqi.
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s al Qaeda wing claimed to have carried out the Abu Ghraib action with the help of seven suicide car bombs. Our American and Iraqi military sources strongly doubt the veracity of this claim. The Jordanian terrorist is not known to command large numbers of guerrilla fighters. The attack-force was more likely to have been made up of the three elements which are the backbone of the Iraqi insurgent movement, ex-Baathists, al Qaeda and foreign Arab fighters.
Iraq’s rebel guerrillas have long drawn heavily on Palestinian terrorist tactics – suicide killers, bomb cars, shooting ambushes. Now, Palestinian commanders are learning from the Iraqi experience, often using as their medium Hizballah officers who fought with the insurgents in Iraq and are now transmitting their acquired skills to willing students in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They are helping the Palestinians perfect their missile strikes against urban centers, upgrade their explosive belts and train for combat in densely-inhabited districts of large towns. They are preparing for larger and deadlier combined strikes with rockets, mortars, suicides, and massed combatants against Israeli military targets and the towns and highways of the southern and central regions.