US-Iraqi Battle for H-3 Air-Missile Base

While President George W. Bush was in mid-negotiation for congressional authorization to use force against Iraq, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources report that fierce battles erupted early Monday (Sep. 30) between US commandos and Iraqi Republican Guards special forces units around the H-3 air-missile base complex in West Iraq.

On the diplomatic front, the UN strove to have arms inspectors sent to Baghdad as quickly as possible and France and China pushed hard to prevent America from striking the Saddam regime. Undeterred by these pressures, US and British warplanes continued to knock out Iraq’s military radar stations, missile sites and mobile anti-air missile launchers, to soften up resistance to the coming full-scale offensive.

Monday, both sides rushed reinforcements to the battlefield – US Marines flew in by helicopter from Jordan’s Ruwayshid base near the Iraqi border; fresh Iraqi troops were drawn off from the air-ground H-2 base NE of Ar Rutbah. However, early Wednesday, October 2, the clashes continued around the crucial H-3 base complex.

The fighting first erupted Monday over Iraqi attempts to install surface missile batteries with unconventional warheads in place of the hardware damaged in the heavy US-UK bombardment of the H-3 complex on September 5. Despite the siege American and Jordanian special forces laid to the strategic complex, Iraqi military engineers were able to repair some of the damaged H-3 installations and make some of the plowed-up runways operational.

In the last week of September, Iraqi air transports escorted by fighter planes, were able to fly in troops, communications equipment and commands to the beleaguered base.

General Tommy Franks’s request for permission to use the air force to shoot the Iraqi transports down was denied. The request, brought before the president, was turned down at a White House conference attended also by vice president Cheney, for fear that the discovery that the war was already in force would embarrass the Bush team and upset its efforts to win a mandate from Congress and get a tough new resolution through the UN Security Council.

An air battle would be impossible to conceal.

However, the lack of an air option gave rise to two Iraqi military initiatives, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources:

First, deciding they had a good chance of breaking the American siege of H-3, the Iraqis sent ground convoys of reinforcements speeding under air cover to the blockaded base. The Americans countered by flying in fresh special forces and marines by helicopter.

Second, Sunday night, September 29, under cover of dark, the Iraqis began hauling replacement surface missile batteries from H-2 and hideouts in the Western Deserts – some with chemical and biological warheads – aiming to set them up in firing positions at H-3 and point them at Jordan and Israel.

Franks, when he heard new missile batteries were on the move, ordered the ground troops blockading H-3 to prevent them from reaching their emplacements by destroying them en route.

Early Monday, September 30, the US special force units pounding the moving missile convoys were attacked themselves by Republican Guard special units who appeared suddenly from their rear and flanks. The engagement went on Monday and Tuesday, when the Americans threw into the fray the Jordanian special forces manning the sector, as well as more US commandos from the Jordanian base.

The skies over the battle arena are meanwhile clear of warplanes.

According to the last reports reaching DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources, some of the Iraqi missile convoys have been destroyed, but at least one or two batteries may have slipped through to H-3 and been set up on launching pads.

This probability was enough to prompt a supreme missile alert for most of this week for US military forces in the Middle East, Jordan and Israel.

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