Kuwait, April 5: American M1 Abrams tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and armoured personnel carriers sliced through parts of Baghdad, giving television dramatic live footage. The apparent ease with which US armour was able to move through Baghdad is confirmation — if any were needed — of the overwhelming military superiority of the world’s only superpower.
But what has happened to the Iraqi resistance, the six rings of defences, the street-by-street fighting for the Iraqi capital — a city of over 5 million'
After 12 years of sanctions, three wars in 20 years and a military leadership whose hyperbole is aimed more at getting sympathy in the Arab world than at galvanising forces on the ground, Baghdad is enfeebled.
That still does not explain why Baghdad should look like it can fall in hours when it takes the British forces nearly three weeks to get into Iraq’s second city of Basra, the US Marines 10 days to An Nasiriyah — a city of 200,000 people, less than half the population of Baghdad — and a week to An Najaf.
Baghdad has not been captured yet. There is also no information on how much of the city is under American control or, indeed, if the Americans were actually occupying ground in the city. Visual evidence on television and the accounts of the war available so far from the coalition command suggest that Iraqi forces have been whittled down — either by their command or because of US military action or a combination of both.
It is clear that the Iraqi forces have refused to fight a conventional war, the terms for which are being dictated by the Americans. The startling absence of expected defences from a regime fighting for survival against a military invasion can be explained only after the war has passed. For now, there are military moves that the Iraqi forces did not make for unknown reasons.
First, the roads to the city from the south and the east were left open. They were not mined.
Second, crucial bridges were not detonated. American forces command claims it was because of special operations.
This is not wholly convincing. It does not take much for a regime expecting a war for so long to fix charges to bridges and simply blow them up at the last minute to deter an invading force. It is an uncomplicated, simple tactic, quickly executed. Likewise with dams and barrages.
Third, even with a depleted armour, the Republican Guard and the Special Republican Guard were estimated to have at least 600 tanks. Where did they vanish'
It is entirely possibly that Baghdad’s defences were heavily degraded. Also, “probes” into the defences and swift actions by the 101st Airborne Division preceding the entry into Baghdad by the 3rd Infantry Division had revealed their weak spots. More likely, the US forces were acting on intelligence that commands issued from the top will not be executed lower down the hierarchy of the Iraqi military.
The US forces in their march into Baghdad from the city’s south have not yet crossed the Tigris (at the time of going to press). The thrust of the US Marines heading into Baghdad from the east may be approaching the river in the city.
The armoured vehicles from the 3rd Infantry Division that first entered the city were definitely on a scouting mission — as is usually the case with any heavy advancing column — but so weakened apparently are Saddam Hussein’s forces that a scouting mission can turn into a coup de main, a heavy armour charge.