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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:

  1. Saddam seems not to have grasped the fact that the US was determined to dispose him this time.  Based on past experience, that was a valid belief.  That has to change if Saddam’s defence plans are to be improved.
  2. Saddam’s OTL war plan was based on the above belief.  It basically consisted of using small forces (with secret police as minders) to cover as many vital areas as possible.  However, the US was determined, had the ability to ignore most of the deployed forces and the deployment allowed many of the less-then-eager Iraqi troops to desert or surrender easily. 
  3. The US had TOTAL aerospace dominance.  However, the US was reluctant to bomb targets that were in civilian areas or not strictly necessary, causing many Iraqis to believe ‘Baghdad Bob’ until the US actually invaded Baghdad itself.  On the other hand, any Iraqi unit out in the open, as many of them were, was dead. 
  4. Finally, what WMD existed in Iraq will probably never be known.  Inspectors have discovered evidence of the deadly toxins Ricin and Botulinum at a laboratory in northern Iraq, used as a training camp for Ansar al-Islam, a terrorist group with ties to the al-Qaida terrorist network.  I’ve included them and age-old tricks such as poisoning the water with dead animals in the scenario. 

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)

5)      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.  

8)      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 defiant speeches. 

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 rebuilding. 

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 world. 

So I guess we’re lucky it did not turn out this way and Saddam was incapable of accepting his own end. 

Author’s Notes:  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

The Iraq War Reader.  (Contained the suggestion that Saddam might irradiate the oil fields)

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