The US-led Iraq War began on Thursday, March 13 – not with a formal declaration or a spectacular eruption, but as an unfolding campaign.
On Wednesday, March 12, war commander General Tommy Franks returned to his forward headquarters in Qatar carrying his orders, which were to go on the offensive on March 13 — as DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources reported in Issue No. 100 on March 7.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Washington, he acted on three decisions taken by President George W. Bush:
A. The war date – March 13.
B. Not to deliver a formal declaration of war in an announcement to the American people, as he had planned to do, but to kick off the campaign without this formality.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s readers should not be surprised to discover in the next few hours or days that five US special forces battalions have captured Iraqi oil fields along the Iraq-Kuwait border and that American and British commandos are advancing on the large Romeila oil field near Basra. Our military sources report that these military movements are now underway.
C. To stop waiting for the UN Security Council to act, approve or come to any compromises on the Iraq crisis. Continuing diplomatic acrobatics at the Security Council can serve as a useful smokescreen for the action going forward on the battlefields of Iraq.
US military movements
Likewise, American and Turkish thrusts into northern Iraq are providentially obscured, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources in Washington and Ankara, by the uncertainty hanging over whether or not Ankara will approve the transit of US forces into northern Iraq and the opening of a northern front.
Even the latest word that Turkey has refused US warplanes passage through its air space to bomb Iraq is a misrepresentation of the facts to hide what is going on from the Turkish public which is predominantly anti-war. According to the most credible information reaching us, Washington and Ankara are in full agreement on the passage of US troops into northern Iraq along with some 100,000 Turkish soldiers. Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has given the nod to the deal, is waiting for the Security Council to wrap up its debate before convening the Turkish parliament for an emergency session to ratify the agreement.
US-Turkish military agreement – high points
A. The US army will be allowed to transfer as many forces as necessary to the northern front through sea ports, air fields and bases in southern Turkey.
B. Two squadrons of US F-15 and F-16 warplanes already stationed at Turkish air bases will go into action without delay against Iraqi targets in northern Iraq, especially around the oil cities of Mosul and Kirkuk.
C. Along with the US army, seven Turkish divisions comprising 100,000 troops will push into northern Iraq. The Turkish force will be distributed as follows: five divisions will deploy in northern Iraq, or northern Kurdistan, along a line some 50 kilometers (30 miles) inside Iraqi territory across the northern peaks of the Kurdistan mountains; two divisions will move 220 kilometers (130 miles) inside northern Iraq to the town of Sham Chamchamal north of Kirkuk, now held by Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan forces.
For the first time since the start of US military activity in northern Iraq in mid-2002, heavy exchanges of fire erupted in the town today between the Iraqi 5th army and PUK fighters. The clashes effectively kicked off the battle for Kirkuk.
D. A US-Turkish-Kurdish command center staffed by senior officers from all three sides was recently established in a Turkish military camp at Kiziltap on the Iraq-Turkey border. The headquarters will coordinate military movement within northern Iraq to try to ensure friendly fire incidents do not occur.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources, the command center quickly proved its worth earlier Thursday when the Turkish 20th division tried to cross into northern Iraq and drew fire from forces of the Kurdistan Democratic Party led by Massoud Barazani. The Turkish division was ordered by the joint headquarters to pull back and is now parked near the Turkish town of Sino awaiting new orders.
If Turkey drops out, go to Plan B
But just in case the Erdogan government discovers it cannot live up to the Ankara-Washington deal, the US war command headed by General Tommy Franks has prepared a fallback plan.
Parts of the US 82nd and 101 airborne divisions will be dropped over the oil cities and oil fields of Kirkuk and Mosul by hundreds of helicopters taking off from US carriers in the Mediterranean flying across Israel and from American bases in Jordan and Israel.
These troops will link up with the US forces landing Thursday night, March 13 at the big Saudi airbase at Tabuk, near the Jordanian border.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources report that, since Wednesday night, March 12, hundreds of American military aircraft have been coming in to Tabuk – bombers, fighters and Marines helicopters, as well as military and civilian transports carrying legions of ground troops, bound for the western and northern warfronts in Iraq.
Thus far, Iraqi military intelligence has shown an impressive ability to track American military movements and respond at speed. American deployments in Turkey and northern Iraq were discovered and brought forth a rapid change of Iraqi tactics. On the morning of Wednesday, March 13, the Special Republican Guards Adnan Division, which had been on its way out of the Mosul district after being ordered to pull back to the Tikrit-Baghdad central region, suddenly turned in its tracks. By Thursday night, the division was repositioned around Mosul, the oil fields and along the Mosul-Kirkuk highway.
Concurrent with this maneuver, the 5th Iraqi Army was told to pull out of its positions in northern Kurdistan – particularly Jabel Finjar opposite the Turkish frontier, and regroup around Kirkuk and its oilfields.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military analysts interpret these movements to mean that Saddam Hussein has made a last-minute switch in his plan to concentrate all his military strength in an Iron Triangle to defend Iraq’s heartland and the cities of Baghdad and Tikrit – as we, reported in a previous issue, and has decided instead to defend the northern oil fields after all.
Therefore, if the Americans, the Turks and the Kurds expected the oil fields of the north to drop into their laps without a fight, they will have to think again.
Our military experts recall that a battalion of armed Iranian opposition Mujaheddin el-Khalq suicides is posted at Kirkuk with orders to torch the oil fields when the Americans land.
There is no knowing if Saddam will order this act of destruction to go forward in order to defend the two oil cities, or put it on hold until he sees which way the fighting goes.
US aerial war in force
On Sunday, March 9, Saddam Hussein completed the concentration in the Baghdad region of six of the seven divisions of his Special Republican Guards, his primary combat strength.
Our military sources say that over last weekend, the Tewakalna (Trust in Allah) Division was brought over from the southern Iraqi oil fields and Nassiiryeh.
The redeployment of this fighting division completes the Iron Triangle formation we reported earlier, setting up a shield to defend Baghdad and Tikrit, buttressed by six divisions and covering a piece of terrain with a radius of 50 km.
These divisions have not been permitted to enter either city, but are deployed around them.
General Tommy Franks was waiting for just this moment, when the entire core of Saddam’s combat strength was assembled in a single, enclosed area. Twenty-four hours after the Tewakalna Division moved north, American and British warplanes homed in to strike the optic fiber communications backbone of Baghdad’s defenses and the outer fringes of the new concentration. They are acting on the same strategy in Iraq’s central heartland and cities as they did in the north and south – first knocking out Iraqi communications centers, especially the ones operating on optical fibers, then targeting artillery and missiles – and finally tanks.
The American-led forces have finished stages one and two, but have not yet gone for Iraq’s tank forces. With the vast number of warplanes at their disposal – 500-600 – this softening up preliminary to the invasion, up to and including the destruction of Iraqi tanks, should be over and done with in the space of a week.
Might Saddam’s elite divisions stage a coup?
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military and intelligence sources question if this concentration of Iraq fighting strength in the Iron Triangle will guarantee the defense of Saddam’s regime against an American onslaught. The question facing Saddam Hussein is this: Can he trust those units? Or will they turn against him, when the Americans are at hand, instead of the assailants. His qualms are reflected in the manner in which he has deployed his four elite armored divisions in the Iron Triangle: Hamurabi, Nebuchadnezzar, Al Medina and Saddam’s Fedayeen suicides. To wage a last stand in this arena, Saddam would need to surround it with an outer chain of defense and group his four most loyal divisions in the center – that is in Baghdad. However there is no sign so far that these divisions have been allowed into the city.
Intelligence experts of the US war command suspect the Iraqi ruler may be afraid that, once inside the capital, they will stage a coup to overthrow him and then offer the American commanders terms for entering Baghdad without a fight.
Our military sources report that General Franks has glued every electronic and human surveillance resource at his disposal to tracking the movements of those four divisions. If they are kept out of Baghdad, they will be easy prey for American warplanes and missiles. But if they go in, Saddam and his ruling elite could well become the first casualties of war – and the last.
Southern bridges as potential flashpoints
Thursday, March 13, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources report, 8-10 battalions of US special troops drove from Kuwait into Iraq and split into two columns: Five battalions captured the oil fields on the Kuwaiti-Iraqi frontier and, by Friday morning, were on their way to the big oil fields around Basra, backed up by American and British commandos.
The remaining battalions headed for the two big bridges on the Euphrates River near Nassariyeh. The plan is to drop by parachute large-scale US special forces at the bridges so that they can link up with the battalions and seize the bridges before the Iraqis blow them up. Eliminating the bridges would considerably hold up the progress of heavy US armored forces from Kuwait to Baghdad.
Our sources add that if the Iraqi units guarding the bridges do not surrender, the American invaders will get their first taste of real combat in Iraq.
They also report that all the aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf, including the British Ark Royal, advanced Thursday to the northern tip of the Gulf and are now anchored opposite the Faw Peninsula and the southern entry to the Shatt al Arb. Their escort and auxiliary vessels deployed there two days earlier. The US-UK fleets are now in position to lower the troops on their decks to shore for the conquest of Faw, Umm al Qasr and Basra.