Verdun on the Tigris
This AH and its outcome will
clearly trouble some readers, and hopefully provide a fertile ground for debate,
so it is necessary to discuss some of the background to the 2003 Iraq war
beforehand. This is based on what
has been discovered since the war:
Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of
reading round the recent war in Iraq. Something
that keeps hitting (oww) me is the fact that Saddam took almost no special
precautions against an American invasion – either though a conviction that the
Americans would not invade or though a manic conviction that he could not lose.
Some Iraqis fought well and bravely, others were forced to fight, but few
had the weapons, training or planning to overcome the American forces.
Part of that was that Saddam’s
forces were distrusted by the regime. Another
major factor was the lack of experience combined with fear of Saddam’s secret
police. There were thousands of
volunteers from Arab nations – mainly Syria – to fight for Saddam, but the
Iraqis gave them almost no training beyond the very basics.
I am presuming that Saddam was capable
of being rational. The Japanese in
1941 were very rational – provided you bought the underlying assumption behind
pearl harbour – and were capable of executing a carefully thought out plan to
take most of the resources they needed. Saddam
needs to understand several important points:
1) If American goes all-out for victory, they will win. Iraq cannot hold off the Americans, they must deter them.
2) If America goes for all-out victory, Saddam’s power is doomed. If he’s not killed or captured, a fugitive from the US cannot hold to wield any power.
3) Iraq cannot count on help from other nations directly, however, many nations might be prepared to help out covertly.
4) A porcupine is weaker than most of the creatures that prey upon it. However, the cost of eating a porcupine is less than a rabbit, therefore the predator will leave the porcupine alone if there is easier prey. Along similar lines, Iraq does not have to match the Americans, merely to make the task of taking Iraq look very costly. This is basically the same principle that saved Switzerland in 1940 and Finland in 1944. (Ref: ‘A Porcupine's Worth is His Price’, below)
To attempt to hold all of Iraq is impossible.
Saddam’s forces cannot hope to match the Americans, even if everyone
remains loyal, so spreading out the Iraqi forces means they will be defeated or
avoided by American forces.
Bearing all those in mind, it is
possible to develop a plan for the defence of Iraq that is within Iraqi
capabilities and will look imposing to the US when – as they almost certainly
will – they pick up the details. As
a POD, let’s have Saddam’s son (the one who likes movies) watch a video of Enemy
at the Gates the night before an Iraqi planning conference in January 2003.
(Do I get a prize for most unusual POD?)
He proposes that the Iraqis:
1) Start preparing Baghdad for a siege or attack. Stockpile food, water, weapons, radios and whatever chemical weapons (mainly gas) the Iraqi process. Dig tunnels, camouflage important supplies, hide as much as possible from US satellite recon.
2) Draw towards Baghdad every able-bodied man from the surrounding towns and villages, as well as most of the Fedayeen.
3) Booby-trap the villages on the route from Kuwait to Baghdad.
4) Defend the Oil Refineries at Ar Rumaylah with a two-tier approach; outside, regular, less trusted regular army troops, inside Fedayeen. Take the families of the regular army troops to Fortress Baghdad as hostages and task the Fedayeen with mining the oil refineries. Further, move as much radioactive dust as the Iraqi nuclear program can produce to the refineries and pack it into bombs.
5) Defend the Iraq/Kuwait border with untrusted troops, again holding their families’ hostage. If the Americans invade, they have to go though them fast, making them fight rather than be captured too easily.
6) Recruit as many gullible young American haters as possible from the surrounding countries. Bring them to Fortress Baghdad and train them as much as possible. Further, invite as many experienced solders from the Arab world and menicaries to come, offering them high positions to share their experiences with the troops.
7) Invite reporters from all over the world to be based in Baghdad, as well as Red Cross observers, US inspectors, Amnesty International, et al. This provides independent coverage of events in Iraq. Saddam’s doubles get employed to make bombastic speeches about how Fortress Baghdad is the bulwark against American imperialism. More practically, they provide a channel for Saddam-approved information and – as a last resort – serve as human shields.
Finally, prepare plans to take as many of the citizens of Iraq down with
Saddam. The purpose is to cause a
massive human crisis that will be blamed on the US.
The Americans may or may not pick up
on these developments. They may
also fail to understand the point (some US men were suggesting that Saddam
should be allowed to fall back so the loyalists could all be killed at once).
Regardless, both for logistical and political reasons, moving the date of
the invasion forward might be difficult. The
US needs to scrape together the forces required to take the nation.
I am presuming that the Americans kick
off their invasion on the planned date of March 21, 2003.
The incident that started the war a day early may not repeat itself in
this timeline, so the Americans will move to the same basic plan, but a day
late. The American marines will
head for Ar Rumaylah (1st Marine Division). When they get there, the Marines will meet tougher resistance
from the regular troopers (the refinery workers having been moved or
‘eliminated’), while the Fedayeen destroy the facility.
Suicidal resistance from them prevents the marines from saving the plants
from destruction. Saddam’s propaganda proclaims that the Arabs have destroyed
the oil to thwart American imperialism. Bush
informs the world about the presence of radioactivity on the site, but many Arab
and European sources reply that such material is common to many nuclear plants.
The revised Iraqi war plan calls for
the abandonment of Basra, Um Qasr, Najaf, and Nasiriyya.
However, before withdrawing the remaining forces, Ali
Hassan al-Majid, Saddam's paternal cousin, orders the Shia notables to gather
and massacres them, while killing many other citizens of the region and
destroying as much of the infrastructure as possible.
The purpose is to dissipate American resources as the media force them to
care for the survivors and to deny any future Iraqi government the resources of
the current government. The
American/British forces take over the remains of the cities, but anti-Iraqi
feelings are running high amongst their personal.
The Fedayeen enhance those feelings by hit and run raids on
the coalition forces and by the brutal murder of Jessica Lynch.
The western press reports many incidents of US forces accidentally
killing Iraqi citizens as the Fedayeen have been using civilian clothes.
It is highly unlikely that the
measures I’ve proposed will prevent US forces from sticking to their OTL
timetable. Therefore, US forces
should arrive on the outskirts of Baghdad on April 2nd, 2003. Instead of the minor, but fierce fighting they faced in OTL,
they get slapped back by a carefully constructed trap, manned by regular troops,
dug-in tanks, all the rockets left and secret police to shoot deserters.
That little mishap and the reports of a heavily fortified Baghdad give
the US command pause, they focus on sealing off the city and laying siege to
Saddam. The reporters in the city
happily feed Saddam’s data to the western public and provide videos of his
As the US commanders bicker with the
president about the problems faced by a direct attack into the city, Saddam
unveils another trick. Claiming
that Baghdad is a castle under siege, Saddam offers to allow the women and
children (apart from those still useful as hostages) to leave the city. An hour after Amnesty International is informed of this
action, the non-combatants are released (or, more accurately, shoved out) –
far too early for the US to make any provisions for their care.
Many of them starve or are in desperate medical condition, others are
active agents for Saddam; others are scared of the US troops.
US logistics are disrupted by this, forcing a division of resources to
construct refugee camps and food supplies for them.
This forces back the date for an attack on Baghdad. The only bright news
for the US is the fall of Tikrit, Saddam’s hometown,
on April 10th.
The US is
divided. The political pressure to
end the war is growing. General
Franks wants to lay siege to Baghdad until the defenders stave or surrender.
President Bush wants the city to fall quickly – even considering the
use of a nuclear weapon – as he is facing growing concern.
Reluctantly, Franks prepares a plan to take the city/fortress by storm,
building up the Coalition forces. This
concentration means that there are collisions between Turkish troops and Kurdish
irregulars in the north, distracting the US from its goal.
Saddam makes inspirational speeches to his men.
The US and
British forces attack the city on April 27th.
They encounter a fortress of immense dimensions, a Stalingrad, but not
built to defend, but to bleed. Fanatical
Fedayeen fight desperately, using
tanks, guns and RPGs to bleed the US white.
Others surrender to the US, then grab their weapons and fire once the US
troops get too close; others hide in buildings until the US forces have slipped
past, and then slip into firing position and engage the follow-up US forces.
US air power bombs the city mercilessly, killing thousands of Iraqis, but
often hitting US troops by accident. US
forces swiftly learn to shoot first, not to accept surrenders if there’s a gun
in view and to destroy suspicious buildings.
Large parts of Baghdad are reduced to rubble as the US uses its extra
firepower to smash their way though towards the centre.
Saddam uses his remaining weapons. Chemical weapons and the few confirmed Biological weapons
(plus any WMD that have been missed) are deployed in the streets.
Both Saddam’s troops and US troops die before the US can use their
safety equipment. The US troops are
slowed down by their equipment, but are in time to save many of the reporters
from being massacred by the Iraqi Fedayeen, rather ungratefully, most of
the reporters continue to report unfavourably about the US invasion.
Saddam himself is killed by a US air strike on his palace as American
troops advance towards it, although there is considerable confusion caused by
the capture of one of his doubles. Saddam’s
sons are killed in a much-publicised (by the US) attempt to escape the dying
city. Their deaths cause many of
the surviving defenders to lose heart and they start to surrender or engage in
pointless suicide attacks. The US
declares victory on May 15th. It
is a very different world, though; Saddam’s forces have done their work well.
The Turkish forces have occupied a
large chunk of northern Iraq, ignoring US warnings and the US Special Forces in
the region. The US eventually
threatens air strikes to force the Turks out of the region.
The Turks leave after destroying some infrastructure, as they really
don’t want an independent Kurdish state.
The Shia population has lost most of its leaders and the US is forced to
practically rebuild the government. The
need to feed most of the Iraqi population and provide medical care is acute and
is made worse by Saddam releasing some of the biological agents he was growing.
Large portions of the population have been traumatised by the fighting,
while the cost of rebuilding Iraq falls on the US taxpayer as the Oil Wells have
been damaged beyond immediate repair.
The US military is crippled for a
period by the high death toll and the need to reappraise its doctrines.
Other hostile powers consider making some mischief of their own; North
Korea, China, even Russia continue a slide towards tyranny.
Both Bush and Blair face stronger opposition and Blair loses a vote of
no-confidence, being replaced by a compromise candidate.
Officers on the US/UK armies are often accused of war crimes over
circumstances where Iraqi troops were killed when they tried to surrender.
Other people claim the US fired on the reporters’ hotel deliberately.
US relations with most of the EU are at an all-time low, particularly
over the treatment of Turkey and the lack of European profits from the
The only good news is that few people
now believe in the west that Saddam was somehow a good guy.
The bad converse is that Saddam is now an even bigger hero to the Arab
So I guess we’re lucky it did not
turn out this way and Saddam was incapable of accepting his own end.
The whole premise of this AH rests on assumptions about the sanity and
knowledge of Saddam Hussein. As
such, it must be acknowledged as largely speculative. However, there was plenty of open-source material available
on US military capabilities and Saddam was apparently well informed about his
own forces loyalty and capabilities. I
admit that I am speculating that Saddam simply could not grasp the concept of
losing his power, but the lack of preparation for a scorched-earth policy and
the half-hearted attempts to satisfy the US support that view.
It is a simple fact that any Iraqi
unit in the open would be caught and destroyed by US airpower.
The US military was flexible in ways that Saddam could not hope his own
forces to match and the lack of Iraqi air cover meant that any mission to seek
and engage US forces was suicide. An
incident during the sandstorm in the war illustrated that point perfectly.
The only protection that could be found from US aircraft was the presence
of civilians and neutrals near Saddam’s forces, which would force the US to
fight them at close range.
In close quarter combat, most of the
US advantages would be neutralised. The
US forces would be very good at fighting in the open, but an urban environment,
like Somalia, they would be very little better than the native fighters. The main weakness of the Iraqi forces, notably a reluctance
to fight for Saddam, would be minimised in an area where the secret police could
be behind any back and anti-Saddam propaganda contained.
Further, there would be the constant pressure of American attacks, which
would tend to concentrate their minds on fighting rather than escape or
surrender, particularly if the US had surrounded the city.
A recipe for making people fight desperately, such as the Alamo, is to
make it clear that there is no escape.
Many of the tactics I have described Fedayeen
using are the same as were used in OTL.
I’ve merely moved their fanaticism to a place where their deaths will
serve their leader better. In OTL,
such attacks were uncoordinated and unplanned.
My final pointt is that minds like
Saddam’s – again this is speculation – identify themselves with their
nation. We do have good reason to suspect that Saddam thought this
way – as did Hitler, Stalin, and most of the ancient kings – and he might
try to ‘punish’ the people, particularly the ‘inferior’ Kurds or Shias’,
as his regime died. In a nation
like Iraq, with facilities and infrastructure so badly damaged by the sanctions
– and the deliberate destruction of the infrastructure that brought money,
mainly the oil wells – there would be a massive human catastrophe. The US would have to feed, care for and assist millions of
people, while the rest of the world would look on and blame the catastrophe on
the US. A massive drain on US
resources, which the corpse of Iraq would become, would invite meddling and
interference from dozens of hostile nations, from Saudi to Iran, to Russia and
France. Certainly, it would
dissuade the US electorate from re-electing Bush if US taxes and resources are
being drained to save millions of Iraqis.
Sources and References:
The Struggle for Iraq: http://meria.idc.ac.il/journal/2003/issue2/jv7n2a1.html
The March Up, Taking Baghdad with the
1st Marine: http://www.changingthetimes.co.uk/bookreviews/march_up.htm
The Iraq War, a Military History: http://www.changingthetimes.co.uk/bookreviews/iraq_war.htm
A Porcupine's Worth is His Price: http://www.no-treason.com/Kennedy/3.php