A classic moment in the history of warfare took place Monday morning in Baghdad. Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf held an impromptu press conference to declare that no organized Coalition forces remained inside Baghdad; simultaneously on split screen, American soldiers of the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, occupied the Iraqi ceremonial parade grounds in Zawra Park, sitting under the famed crossed-swords sculpture, having just blown to pieces a statue of Saddam on horseback. If footage of Joseph Goebbels during the Battle of Berlin were available it would probably look much the same.
One wonders if the timing of the attack was partially in response to “Baghdad Bob’s” daily flights of fancy. The minister has become a weapon of mass delusion, loosing an incredible stream of — what can you call it — disinformation, strategic misleading, lies, flights of fancy, fantasy, desperation? “They are nowhere near Baghdad,” he said a few days ago. “Their allegations are a cover-up for their failure.” The pictures of Coalition troops at Baghdad airport were “filmed elsewhere.” The troops who say they are there have seen “a mirage in the desert,” despite what their GPS transponders tell them. The minister has a superb talent for confidently stating nonsense, but who can blame him? Talk is cheap, and if he is not imprisoned as a war criminal he will probably be relegated to some form of retirement not in keeping with what he feels is his exalted position in life. That is, assuming he isn’t killed. One could appreciate the humor in Lt. Col. Rick Schwartz’s comment as he stood blocks away from the ministry of information when told of his statement that the Americans had been driven from Baghdad: “We’ll go over there and have a talk with him.”
Images of the assault went out live to the entire world, particularly the Arab world through LBC. The amount of coverage of the ongoing battle was astonishing. One could watch a variety of live shots from different perspectives of the city, and hear real-time narration from embedded reporters with the sounds of continuing battle in the background. The interviews from the front yard of the presidential palace were particularly noteworthy, given their symbolic and political value. If the raid up the Hilla Highway Saturday was a poke in the eye, this was a fist to the face. Brigade commander Colonel Perkins saying he will take a shower in Saddam’s own bathroom, and unfurling the University of Georgia banner were incredible moments, and it was particularly touching to hear him share his thoughts with his former commander Colonel (ret.) David Hunt, a commentator on Fox News Channel.
The mission was undertaken to show the power of the Coalition to move at will through Baghdad, and to challenge the Iraqis to prove otherwise. Though the attack was planned to be a raid, Iraqi defenses have been so weak that it would make sense for troops to hold the ground they have taken. This follows the principle of strategic offense, tactical defense. That is, boldly seize ground that your enemy can’t live without, then dig in and defend it. If the Coalition establishes a strong perimeter around the ground it has already taken, they can then allow Iraqi counterattacks to break their teeth on superior Coalition firepower. And given the symbolic nature of the turf under control, the Iraqis have to counterattack; Saddam cannot allow his enemies to occupy the center of his capital without some type of response. The particular section of Baghdad under Coalition control has enough open ground to form a defensible glacis that would, along with air dominance, doom any counterattack. And to date the Iraqi attacks have been unorganized, under strength, and piecemeal — generally speaking, hopeless.
It was interesting that Saddam’s regime had distributed DVDs of Blackhawk Down to inspire the citizens of Baghdad, to show them how the cowardly Americans can be humiliated and driven from town. But there are significant differences between this battle and Mogadishu. This is not a small-scale air assault by elite forces, but a powerful ground attack by mechanized infantry and armor, with copious tactical air support. This attack is also not in support of a mission with vague objectives and uncertain goals, but a determined assault in a well-defined war with concrete objectives. As well, the American people are not confused and ill informed on the mission, they are familiar with and solidly support the war aims. And, above all, Saddam Hussein is not facing the diffident leadership of Clinton and Les Aspin. He is up against a very determined president in George Bush, and an equally adamant defense secretary in Donald Rumsfeld. It would take more than 19 combat deaths to bring about a Coalition withdrawal. Indeed, U.S. and British forces have suffered over 100 deaths so far, and show no signs of flagging morale or wavering leadership.
This is the end for Saddam. His defeat can no longer be denied, even or especially to his own people. Those who surround him and prop up his regime will now be forced to make the decision to continue or to abandon him to his fate. This attack compels the remaining Saddam loyalists to face the reality of their ultimate, imminent defeat. Beyond that, it showed Coalition war fighters in the best light possible. It was bold, and audacious, and delivered crippling physical, moral and political blows to the enemy. This is shock and awe the old fashioned way, the direct imposition of American will by boots on the ground. Now if we could only show the Stars and Stripes so the Iraqi people know whom to thank for their freedom.
— James S. Robbins is a national-security analyst.