The Task Ahead
Changing the regime.


What does regime change mean?

In military terms, the Coalition will set the conditions for regime change. What are these conditions? Note that regime is a much broader term than government. It includes government, military, and social elements. As it turns out, “regime change” is a very tough set of military tasks — especially given the Coalition’s concern for minimizing collateral damage and civilian deaths.

What is this regime like? It uses chemical weapons against its own citizens. It has a vast secret police structure. It uses human shields. It is willing to destroy its own wealth in a scorched-earth strategy. It is reportedly not allowing the civilian population of Baghdad to leave the city. Its information minister gives press conferences that display a gross disconnect with reality. Who is he trying to inform? Iraqi citizens throughout the country are living the events — they know the truth. Coalition forces know where they are. Iraqi military leaders know the broad outlines of their failures. Surely the senior civilian leadership of the regime does not believe this story line. Are they trying to convince the “Arab street” that Iraq is doing fine? For a regime credited with being a sophisticated manipulator of global public opinion, this attempt at spin is pathetic.

The information minister’s threat to use unconventional means “tonight” might foreshadow the herding of civilians in front of troops in some attempt to retake the Airport. Or, it might be a threat to use chemical weapons at the airport.

We may learn more about this regime as the battle for the Baghdad Airport plays out. There are reports of Iraqi tanks (or other armored vehicles) in the immediate area, along with many infantry soldiers and antiaircraft guns. These vehicles will not live for long. It will be interesting to see if the airport becomes a magnet for Iraqi troops — a killing zone. There are also reports that the coalition is considering a strategy of probing attacks to fix Iraqi forces, to better understand Iraqi strengths and tactics, and begin a process of isolating Iraqi defenses.

The broad military effort in support of regime change is to cause surrender by political and military leaders. The regular Iraqi military, the Republican Guard, and the Special Republican Guard will be destroyed, or otherwise reduced to military insignificance. The capital and other important cities and ports have been or will be captured or otherwise controlled by the coalition. The regime’s control of its own country is already greatly reduced.

The Coalition will have to remove or otherwise silence Saddam Hussein, his sons, the rest of his family, the government ministers and their subordinates who support him. The military is tasked with capturing them; or denying their escape. It means unseating and destroying the Baath party and its control of Iraqi social and political life.

The Coalition will start the process of ridding the country of death squads and other secret police. It will create increased security for the ordinary citizens of Iraq, which will increase their cooperation and encourage them to point out regime elements in attempted hide.

The Coalition will search out the location of existing WMD capabilities, manufacturing sites, storage sites, training and research sites, and military assembly sites. Similarly, it will search out and take control of more conventional weapons as well — especially those banned by various United Nations resolutions.

The Coalition will search out, exploit, and destroy terrorist training and support facilities. It will kill or capture known or suspected terrorists.

The Coalition military will be alert to preserving the infrastructure and other elements of society and culture.

After the surrender, the Coalition military will continue to provide stability, security, and humanitarian support. And, it will assist in ensuring accounting for treatment of POWs, use of WMD, and other war crimes.

In my last article when I said that Coalition forces will face more strong points than door-to-door (room-to-room) fighting in Baghdad, I was trying to characterize what I think will be their main tasks. They will likely “clear” many buildings on a room-by-room basis, and then secure the buildings to ensure they remain cleared. They will sometimes find a fight, but I think usually not. The Iraqi military has shown a marked proclivity to hunker down and operate from defensive positions, perhaps with human shields. With a few exceptions I don’t think they are agile enough to execute a rolling urban warfare battle.)

— Charles E. Miller is a retired Air Force colonel.


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