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“Shock and Awe” Strategy on Day 3 of the Iraq War

March 21, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


MARGARET WARNER: And that comes tonight — as it has throughout the week — from retired Colonel John Warden, former air force deputy director for strategy, doctrine, and war fighting, during the 1991 Gulf War; retired Army Colonel Patrick Lang, a former special forces officer and defense attache in the Middle East, and chief Middle East analyst for the defense intelligence agency during the Gulf War; and retired Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner, who teaches military operations and planning, and is a long-time consultant to the Defense Department. Joining them tonight is Yitzhak Nakash, a professor of Middle East history at Brandeis University. He’s the author of “The Shi’is of Iraq.” His parents were born in Baghdad, and emigrated to Israel in 1951. He is an American citizen. Welcome to you all.

Col. Warden, we finally seeing the shock and awe campaign that we were expecting?

COL. JOHN WARDEN: Margaret, I think we’re seeing a pretty good chunk of it and certainly we are seeing an awfully impressive display of our ability to bring very large numbers of important strategic targets under attack at the same time. I would find it very difficult to conceive of how those utterly critical internal security organizations, the things on which Saddam Hussein depends, I find it very difficult to think that they could really be functioning and could maintain the degree of repression that they need to if even the guy is still alive.

MARGARET WARNER: Very carefully selected targets.

COL. JOHN WARDEN: Very carefully selected.

COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: I think there are a couple of things we are seeing. First of all, it is only a part of the bigger campaign. We had heard 3,000 targets in three days. This day was only a couple hundred, if the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman said.

MARGARET WARNER: I think he did say there were going to be a few hundred before the day is out.

COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: Before the day is out. But it would have been, had to have been in the neighborhood of a thousand to be at the level we would have expected. The other thing is the good part. The one very interesting thing you could watch as you watch those attacks on Baghdad, the electricity never went out, which is the key to the humanitarian stuff. If you don’t take down the electricity, the whole thing falls in place.

COL. W. PATRICK LANG: You know, I really appreciate the care with which people are trying to avoid unnecessary civilian deaths in the air targeting of all this stuff, but I’ve been in Baghdad a lot. And when you look at where these targets were, right down the central core of the city along the Tigris River, this is the densest part of the city.

MARGARET WARNER: You mean, even though — along the river — that’s where these government buildings are – there’s also a lot of civilian residential areas.

COL. W. PATRICK LANG: There are bound to be people in the area. So I think people should not expect that there will be no civilian casualties in this.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me just go back to Col. Warden for a second. Col. Warden, some presidential palaces were also hit which, as we know are really complexes, it is believed that under them are bunkers and tunnels and all sorts of things. Can these bombs penetrate down to levels beneath, below the level of the ground, and if so, how far?

COL. JOHN WARDEN: Well, the answer is that they can penetrate well below the ground level and that there were at least two different kinds of ordinance that were used today that have significant penetration. The one, the 3,000-pound penetrating warheads on the conventional air launch cruise missiles that were fired from the B-52s, the other ones are these, what are called these enhanced GBU-27 bombs that have a very, very hard bomb body that is delivered by the F-117. And they can get really far down underneath. There are other bombs that perhaps that have not been used yet, that if we find we need to get down still farther, we can probably get down as far as the Iraqis can dig. It is probably that simple.

MARGARET WARNER: Let’s turn to the ground war, particularly in the south, Col. Lang. As we heard, the Marines finally did take Umm Qasr, the small port city, but the British commander there said the resistance was tougher than they thought. There is supposed to be also fighting in another part of southern Iraq up near Nasiriyah. And then of course we just had the report from Safwan. What does all that add up to in terms of the level of the Iraqi resistance?

COL. W. PATRICK LANG: I think it is as predicted. You know, in fact, the regular army is not going to fight very hard in an organized way. And so our forces are just running right over them. The Marines are exercising some caution not to lose men unnecessarily over these. But the third infantry division has advanced with great rapidity to Nasiriyah. It is a little bit disturbing to hear this talk of these pockets of resistance here and there, because as the reporter said, Iraqi society is very complex thing and people have many different motivations. If it turns out that even though resistance is light, there are going to be a bunch of pockets of resistance, we have to start thinking about how we are going to secure our rear area as we continue to move forward.

MARGARET WARNER: Colonel, they have not, the Marines have not yet taken Basra, the marines nor the British. Again, on the game plan we all talked three days ago, that was probably going to be taken by now. How do you read that?

COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: Well, I think what I sort of read emerging is the care with which they’re going to go into cities. I think that’s what it is really about.

MARGARET WARNER: Basra is the second largest city in Iraq.

COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: Yes. About 1.5 million people. It’s a big city and I think that what they’re sort of doing is doing it very, very carefully so they don’t have casualties. And the interesting thing is that the British will occupy that. That is one mission that has been given the British.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Prof. Nakash, let’s bring you in here. You’re the expert in this region. First of all, what did you make of two reports we had today — you heard Dexter Filkins and we ran a clip of this. When American soldiers, when the Marines went into Safwan, they ripped down these huge portraits of Saddam Hussein. There are also reports that when Marines went into the port city, they first put up an American flag, though that was taken down. What impact do you think that kind of thing has?

YITZHAK NAKASH: Well, if Iraqis can actually see it on their TV that posters of Saddam are being torn down, that the American flag is being raised instead of the Iraqi flag it would have a very powerful and symbolic impact. The whole issue of the flag is a very interesting one. When the flag of Iraq is being taken down and the American flag is up, I mean there’s obviously here a signal of a new power. And it would be very interesting to see how Iraqis, if they can see it, would react to it.

MARGARET WARNER: How do you think when British and American forces go into Basra, how will they be greeted by the local population, which is predominantly Shiite?

YITZHAK NAKASH: Yes, Margaret. As you know, the South as a whole, is predominantly Shiite. Shias is 60 percent of the population of Iraq. In Basra, obviously, they are the large majority. I suspect in the short-term, there is a great likelihood that there would be euphoria — that American journalists, American soldiers, would find many people, ordinary people who would be eager to talk to them and to tell people what it was like living under Saddam.

MARGARET WARNER: Pat Lang, how has Saddam Hussein maintained control in that part of Iraq, as Dexter Filkins was mentioning earlier there was the ’91 uprising. Are these all Sunni army commanders — sort of transplants from elsewhere in Iraq, or are these local?

COL. W. PATRICK LANG: Well, he has always been very careful to see to it that the Sunni population of Iraq maintains control. And in the main, that means Sunni Arabs. But in the past, there has always been a great number of soldiers, ordinary soldiers in the Iraqi army who were Shia from the South. And in the Iran-Iraq war, for example, they fought reasonably well for Iraq. But it has always been the case that southern Iraq is treated almost as a colonial area, as a colonized area, and control is maintained from outside the region.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you see it that way, professor?

YITZHAK NAKASH: Yes, traditionally since the creation of modern Iraq in 1921, the country has been dominated by a Sunni minority of about 17 percent. The South didn’t get its fair share of investments, and this created a lot of resentment among the Shiites.

MARGARET WARNER: So part of what I’m asking is, if the sort of overlords for the Ba’ath Party or military or whatever are either run out or detained by U.S. forces, how hard will it be for British and U.S. forces to maintain control themselves down there?

YITZHAK NAKASH: Well, I mean the way to maintain control in the early stages of the fighting and the advance up towards Baghdad would be to try to urge people to stay at home as much as possible. There are various ways to do it. It can be done, I guess, by radio, maybe even by dropping leaflets that tell Iraqis in very simple terms how to behave, and to try to caution them that it won’t be a good idea to take revenge against Sunni Ba’ath government, that it actually may hurt them in the long run.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let’s go to this command and control issue, finally, Col. Gardiner, and we heard Donald Rumsfeld say the regime is losing control, there’s a lot of confusion. Where do you think that stands? What do you make of all the signals we’ve had today?

COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: It’s very interesting. You could almost say that Donald Rumsfeld has more control over the fight than does Saddam Hussein. Donald Rumsfeld said don’t blow the dams. The dams haven’t been blown. He said don’t burn the oil wells — a little bit of burning but not as much as we could have expected. He said don’t blow the bridges. The bridges haven’t been blown. So it doesn’t seem, by the evidence, that Baghdad is running the war the way they want to.

COL. W. PATRICK LANG: You know, there are a lot of strange things going on, like these negotiations with senior commanders outside… You have to be very careful because the Iraqi Muhabarat, the security service, is very good at disinformation, deception operations, things like this.

MARGARET WARNER: Is that the one that one of his sons run?

COL. W. PATRICK LANG: They’re involved in all these things. But on the one hand, you have to pursue this goal as far as you can but on the other hand, you have to be alert at all times that maybe they’re putting you on about this and kind of impatience with lack of results has led to the acceleration of the air campaign, it seems. But, you know, what I have heard very strongly in the sort of informal former intelligence guide network around town here is that, in fact, that the story really is on the strike the other night is that Saddam was really quite badly injured, very badly concussed, broken eardrums, not functioning very well and his eldest son Uday — the guy was, in fact, killed and perhaps Izad Ibrahim, the vice president as well, but they’re not sure about that.

MARGARET WARNER: Could this confusion… we do have a report I should say, that 51st Division, I think, of the regular army has surrendered. It is on the New York Times Web site and there have been other reports today. But if there is all this confusion and lack of sort of central control, could that actually make it harder, Col. Gardiner, to have an organized sort of surrender?

COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: Well, the surrender doesn’t become a central thing. It becomes an individual unit thing, which can have problems and can have pockets of resistance; so that it is a difficult call.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me get Col. Warden back in here. Col. Warden, what do you think now… well first, let me ask about today. The bombing that went on, at least what we could see in Baghdad — because of course there are no cameras in Mosul or Kirkuk — it went on maybe an hour or two but ended way before darkness ended. Did that look like a calibrated pause to you?

COL. JOHN WARDEN: I seriously doubt it. In fact I suspect that all we are going to find that all of this was significantly more scripted than we really think and that is, in other words, that the whole operation so far has been reasonably preplanned with a little bit of variation, with targets of opportunity on that first night. So I believe that this is deliberately laid on exactly the way it is, without sort of that discredited notion of bombing pauses and so on that was such a disaster in Vietnam.

MARGARET WARNER: So then what would you expect in terms of the air campaign in the next 24 hours?

COL. JOHN WARDEN: I would anticipate that we are going to see probably a continuation of similar kinds of things in Baghdad. There are clearly a lot more targets that need to be hit in Baghdad, and probably in some other places, Tikrit, Mosul and so on, with this big emphasis on taking out the strategic center and making sure that it controls, the gravity that Saddam has exercised, simply goes away and that we create these conditions that can lead to, not a surrender, and I think we need to stop using the word surrender because our secretary and president have asked the Iraqi military to do the honorable thing. And the honorable thing isn’t to surrender. The honorable thing is to come over to the side of good, if you will, and oppose the Saddam regime.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. We have to leave it at that. Thank you all four very much.