MARGARET WARNER: To assess today's military developments, we turn to two of our corps of regular military analysts: Former air force operations planner, Colonel Samuel Gardiner, and former Marine Corps Middle East counterintelligence officer Dale Davis. He's now director of international programs and teaches Arabic at the Virginia Military Institute. Joining them tonight is Adeed Dawisha, a political science professor at Miami University of Ohio, who’s written widely on the politics the Middle East. Born in Iraq, he's now an American citizen. Welcome to you all.
Dale Davis, we saw the Brits going into downtown Basra today, they got to the heart of Basra without firing a shot. As a matter of military strategy, how did they do it?
LT. COL. DALE DAVIS: Well, they did it with what they call the softly, softly approach. They took their time, they developed an intelligence network inside the city, and they gradually made inroads. They captured the power generation facilities, the water distribution facilities and when they thought the time was appropriate and suitable they entered the center of Baghdad [Basra.]
MARGARET WARNER: But they had to take out a lot of Iraqis, did they not?
LT. COL.DALE DAVIS: Yes, but they did it over a period of time. They used the intelligence that developed to locate those centers of resistance, those pockets of defenders of the regime and took them out in a piecemeal fashion so at a point in time when they thought they could bring a large force into the city and therefore demonstrate their control over the city in general.
MARGARET WARNER: What would you add to that Professor Dawisha because Basra was not exactly hospitable when the Brits first arrived two weeks ago?
ADEED DAWISHA: Well, it was very obvious to them that the regime's henchmen were well entrenched in Basra and the people who had been terrorized by this group of Saddamists were not going to go out all the way and show their support. That's where the strategy actually worked. It worked gradually to win the confidence of these people to show them that the, the British were going to be there for the long run until they liberate the whole city. And you find that in fact in the next week, it's not the first week, but the second week, we were beginning to hit important targets.
That told me that we were beginning to get some really good intelligence. And of course culminating about three days ago in hitting the house of Ali Hassan al-Majid. That was the strategy-- they married the political element really nicely with the military element there.
MARGARET WARNER: And if Ali Hassan al-Majid is dead, “Chemical Ali,” as he's known, as the British seem to believe, and the Americans, how significant is that?
ADEED DAWISHA: That is very significant indeed. On a kind of detestation index, he's right up there with Saddam and his two monstrous sons. He's the one who killed thousands of Kurds in the north in 1988 but he also was in charge of and part of a team that went to Basra to the south, not just Basra, but Najaf, Karbala and Nasiriyah, after the rebellion in 1991, and was responsible with others for the murder of 50,000 people in the south.
It's not a coincidence that Saddam Hussein appointed him as the governor of the southern region just to basically show the Iraqis who is there and to rekindle the memories of what happened to them in 1991 so that they will be very careful not to show any support for the invading forces.
MARGARET WARNER: Sam Gardiner on that ITN piece out of Basra though, we also saw looting. How stable or unstable really is the situation in Basra, which is we should remind people is the second largest city in Iraq?
COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: Yes. Well, the thing about the approach which had both its soft and hard elements, is that we now have essentially a leadership vacuum, which is what we have to be careful of. It's interesting, we went into the war sort of with the notion that there would only be a few levels of the government that weren't eligible to stay on.
But as the resistance was stronger than we had expected and as the Brits decided, I guess rather than to take down statues, they went after the Basra leadership, what they've done is to create somewhat of a vacuum. They have to fill that by being a police force, which they don't like to do, but that's the next step if you do that kind of change in the city.
MARGARET WARNER: And, Professor Dawisha, do you think that Iraqis in Basra would accept a sort of British run administration, at least in the interim until something else can happen?
ADEED DAWISHA: I think from the pictures that we've seen so far, there's a lot of support for the British. I think they have been seen finally as liberators, now that the yolk of the Saddam group is out, they're showing their true feelings. So I don't know that there's going to be a lot of resistance to the British.
But at some point there has to be some kind of Iraqi civil administration, and that will be up to the British to in a sense figure out from the second and third strata of Basra society those who have not been in part and parcel of Saddam's regime, some people who will take over.
Look, Basra is a large city. It's a very cosmopolitan city, it has a very large middle class, a lot of businessmen, doctors, engineers, professors, journalists, there are a lot of people who can actually lead the city, who can form a civil administration. The point is, is it for the British to find them and to make sure that they understand that if they take over any civil duties, they're not going to be punished later on by Saddam Hussein.
MARGARET WARNER: Okay, Dale Davis, now on to Baghdad. Does it appear to you as if the Americans are essentially as we've talked in previous programs applying the Basra model to Baghdad, or is there something different about it?
LT. COL. DALE DAVIS: Yes, I think you can draw a parallel between the Basra model, the British model, and Basra and what we're undertaking in Baghdad. Certainly one difference though is that there's a demographic difference in terms of total population and the makeup of the population. And also there's a difference in the sense that the political center of gravity of the regime is in Baghdad and not Basra.
Therefore we see the American forces taking perhaps bigger bites where the British were nibbling away at the regime, the Americans are now taking bigger bites, attacking much more significant targets and perhaps trying to seize and hold symbolic ground in the capital in an effort to try to bring the regime down quickly.
MARGARET WARNER: Sam Gardiner, in that first drive through Baghdad, I think it was Saturday, there was something between a thousand to three thousand Iraqis killed. What does that say to you? Does that say, as some of the British press are saying, that the U.S. soldiers are taking a more violent approach, or is there something about Baghdad that is different and therefore requires that.
COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: First of all, in terms of the number of defenders there, I think Baghdad is different than Basra. If you sort of add up the Republican Guard units that are left, we could very easily have 20,000 defenders, somewhere in that maze of city. I think Basra was the number was close to 5,000. The city itself is bigger -- 1.5 million, versus 5 million. So we're talking in magnitude maybe in the order of four.
It took the British 10,000 people, 10,000 soldiers to free Basra. Maybe we need 40,000 to free, so you can see that the differences become significant. And I think the other thing though is what bothers me a little bit about the way we talk about it is signal sending, messages. We heard the chairman talk about messages.
MARGARET WARNER: Meaning taking the presidential palaces which have already been bombed and abandoned.
COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: That's right. It's interesting -- we've sort of had this parallel from the very beginning of trying to send messages, first with shock and awe, and now in other ways. I once had an ambassador that told me that, or the state department people send messages, you apply military power to achieve an objective.
MARGARET WARNER: Dale Davis, address this question of presidential palaces, one, do you think it's an important military objective to return there? Secondly, U.S. troops decided to stay in one of these palaces overnight pretty much in the heart of the city. Does that seem risky to you? Are they sitting ducks this early in the battle for Baghdad to stay there as opposed to pulling out?
LT. COL. DALE DAVIS: Well, in terms of them staying there, I think we proved yesterday that we could go just about anywhere in the city with our overwhelming fire power we could severally repel any assault that was launched against our forces. I'm sure we took a very deliberate and cautious decision before sending them in to hold the palace.
Now in terms of symbolic attacks, I don't know. We go back to the beginning of this whole campaign and what we did was we took very deliberate steps all along the way to make symbolic gestures, starting with the decapitation strike on the regime.
In other words we took effort to try to cause the regime to collapse on itself. And when it didn't work, we sort of went back to a more conventional method. And I think that's what we're going to see here in Baghdad. We're making this effort to attack and hold a very symbolic site.
And then if the regime doesn't collapse, then we're going to still have to capture and control those other centers of power: power distribution centers, the water distribution, the key bridges, the security facilities, all these things will have to be under our control eventually. We would just like to have the regime to collapse, and if it does then I guess you could say it's worth the effort. It's worth taking a day or two to see if we can cause that collapse to take place before having to follow through on a conventional assault of the city.
MARGARET WARNER: All right, Dale Davis, Sam Gardiner, Professor Dawisha. Thank you all three.