| Children play with the head of a bronze statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad. (AFP)
Doha (Qatar), April 15 (Reuters): There were no chemical weapon attacks, there was no “war within a war” between Turkey and the Kurds, no refugee crisis, no mass destruction of oilwells, bridges or dams and there was no “Stalingrad” urban bloodbath.
Was Iraq the dog that didn’t bark'
With US Marine chemical warfare experts in Baghdad now turning decontamination kits into hot showers for the troops, the worst-case scenarios predicted before the US-led invasion of Iraq less than a month ago look ridiculously overblown.
And yet US military planners say that were it not for the lightning speed of their push forward and the potent combination of arms — from devastating air power and disruptive special forces to intelligence and psychological operations — those scenarios might well have come to pass.
War commander Gen. Tommy Franks applied many of the lessons learnt in the Afghanistan conflict of 2001 to Iraq. Among these was the extensive use of special operations forces, teams of 10 or 12 people who — according to one source — waged “a guerrilla war of their own”.
“The special operations raids early on destroyed command and control centres, they seized oil infrastructure, they took airfields, they began to establish a presence inside Baghdad and get the targeting information we’ve used...” said Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
He told a briefing on the war in Washington that the juxtaposition of US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s ideas for “innovation and special operations” with the military’s preference to go in big and strong and conventional had worked.
The command structure of now-deposed President Saddam Hussein’s giant military machine was modelled along Soviet lines: it was one where divisional commanders waited for orders and were not expected, perhaps not trusted, to take initiatives.
And so by quickly ripping Iraq’s command and control capability to shreds, the US-led forces reduced the chances that orders to use weapons of mass destruction or blow up bridges, dams and oilwells would ever reach its front lines.
Planners believe their leafleting campaign may also have made Iraqis decide against torching oilheads or destroying bridges, many of which they say were rigged with explosives.
Some Iraqis captured in the southern oilfields were reported to have told US forces they had been persuaded by air-dropped exhortations not to squander their country’s wealth.
The disintegration of Iraq’s command and control meant that the US-led forces were always 48-72 hours ahead of their enemy, which never had a real-time picture of the battlefield.
And so Saddam, if he was still alive, was probably astonished to find US troops at the gates of Baghdad so quickly.
Brookings Senior Fellow Kenneth Pollack says the Iraqis made the same miscalculation in the 1991 Gulf War.