Defense Update News Commentary

Monday, April 07, 2003

US Dilemma in Iraq: Threat of Extended Guerilla and Terror Warfare

With the Iraqi regular army and Elite Republican Guards virtually hors de combat the battle for Freedom Iraq is by far over, leading Israeli analysts warn.
In fact, the campaign could enter into a new, even more dangerous phase, in which combined guerilla and Terrorist warfare will harass US forces, especially their long and vulnerable lines of communications, encampments and vital logistical installations. Such low intensity warfare could draw the forces into prolonged and costly anti-guerilla operations in urban environment, to rout out terrorist hideouts in densely populated areas.
This kind of warfare is widely different from the High-Intensity operations, which were conducted under full air superiority, bringing to bear maximum firepower and sophisticated weaponry against an enemy fighting under asymmetric combat conditions.
In guerilla warfare, which includes all aspects of terror in total disregard of human cultural values, regular troops fighting along conventional tactical procedures, are forced to operate under difficult constraints, which frequently degrade their combat effectiveness.
Such constraints include, apart from the military limitations, trying to avoid serious collateral damage to civilian property and lives, stringent political considerations which enhances military asymmetry to an even more critical element in this type of warfare.
After warnings from Iraqi officials that thousands of Islamic militants would join in a guerilla-style campaign aganist the "Invading Infidels" the first signs of such a dangerous turn have already become evident. Volunteers for a new Jihad (Holy War) are not lacking in the Muslim world. US Marines have fought against Jordanian, Egyptian, Palestinian and Sudanese guerilla in the southern outskirts of Baghdad, sofar engaging these in relatively open terrain, they could neutralise them quickly with superior firepower, but future clashes will be fought under more difficult conditions, when regular forces will be attacked in ambushes, hit-and-run raids, roadside bombs and last not least-suicide bombers. The US armed forces have little experience with this type of clandestine warfare. The British troops have gained some taste of this in Northern Ireland as well as in historical campaigns in Malaya, Kenya and Cyprus. But nothing of this kind matches the painful combat experiences that the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) have gained, the hard way in the conflict with Hizbullah guerilla and the Palestinian terrorist groups.
Fully aware of their shortcomings in this realm, a delegate of senior officers from the US Army paid a visit to IDF HQ in Tel Aviv recently to study the Israeli experiences in anti-guerilla and counter-terrorist warfare gained in Lebanon and especially the urban warfare tactics employed in the counter-terrorist campaign in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
US intelligence sources have focused their attention already to the new potential terrorist
threat, which they anticipate will increase substantially during a protracted military US presence in Iraq and the Gulf countries. Such a presence could stir violence throughout the Middle East, also spreading to the United States and its allies. Leading American counter-terrorist experts have been astonished that sofar anticipated terror attacks have not materialised. But a long unpopular US occupation of Iraq could further inflame the already highly tense anti-American sentiment throughout the Muslim world, causing extremist groups to step up their efforts in terrorism acts.

The Paramilitary Fedayeen Saddam ( 'Saddam's Men of Sacrifice')
Iraq's natural breeding ground for potential terrorists are Saddam's ultra-loyalist fighters, the Fedayeen Saddam. Those people are not only dedicated to their leader, but for years have undergone sophisticated brain washing, turning them into highly dangerous fanatics,
who would not hesitate suicide missions in sacrifice of their goal.
The Fidayi ( Fedayeen) Saddam had an estimated total combat strength between 18000-40000 men before the Coalition onslaught. Their present number seems to be about 15000-20000 according to intelligence assessment.
Originally the Fedayeen were raised as a political strongmen element, to secure the Ba'ath Party throughout the country against local and outside dissidents. Saddam Hussein's elder son Usay became its first commander in 1995, but was soon removed, after an incident in which Uday transferred, without his father's permission, some sophisticated weapons from the Republican Guards to his own depots. Saddam then passed the command to his younger son Qusay. The deputy commander before the present war was Staff Lieutenant General Mezahem Saab Al Hassan Al-Tikriti, a trusted loyalist officer from Saddam's hometown.
The Fedayeen forces incorporate a widely feared special unit popularily known as the Death Squads. These men, Saddam's hard core of ultra-loyalists are wearing masks, so not to be recognised. They perform some of the most grisly tasks for their master, including executions, torture and beheadings of suspected dissidents. Those Fidayi operate under a carte blanche from the president, completely outside any law, or legal political structures.
In order to work under anonymity, the Fedayeen usually operate out of their own districts or even region. Thus they maintain clandestine presence in major cities in which the population is of Shi'ite or Kurdish origin and thus mistrusted by the regime. Fedayeen forces were located in Basrah, Nasiriyah, Najaf and Karbalah, and fought coalition troops fiercely sometimes to the last man, after the defending regular troops, and even the crack Republican Guard gave in to overwhelming firepower. Regarded as aliens by the local population, the Fedayeen by their presence and brutal acts, held the Shi'ites and Kurds under a terror regime for decades. At present they have nothing to lose and thus can be expected to continue their fight, as an undercover guerilla force, when most of the country will be under coalition control and the Saddam regime eliminated. It can be expected that the local population, especially the Shi'ites in the South and in the northern districts of Baghdad ( which number over 60% of the total Baghdad population) will rise and revenge on those Fedayeen, which they can lay their hands on. But it would be wrong to underestimate the survivabilty of those staunch and ruthless fighters and it must be expected that they will pose the sharp fighting edge of the oncoming guerilla and terror war against the coalition and even the new Iraqi administration, as it tries to promote law and order in the chaotic circumstances, which will certainly follow the end of the fighting.
After decades of an iron grip rule by Saddam's ruthless regime, loss of central control will erupt into total chaos, in which local warlords and strongmen will assume power by force, to further their own interests. Under such conditions, guerilla warfare and clandestine acts of terrorism flourish in an ideal combat environment. The highly trained Fedayeen will be the core, around which more subversive elements from in-and outside will form to wage a guerilla war to overthrow the new administration, haras the coalition or any future peacekeeping forces which might releave them eventually in attempt to restore law and order in the chaos. What they will face in Iraq will resemble a similar situation already prevailing for years in the Palestinian Authority Territories and Israel.

Counter-Terrorist Warfare: Israeli Lessons Applicable in Iraq

For a start, the current coalition troop deployment in Iraq present ideal conditions for a guerilla war. Although they have powerful forces and hardware in situ around Baghdad and major cities, most of these remain unoccupied and thus present ideal hideouts for terrorists and guerilla bands. Even if these will eventually come under control, military rule will not be regarded as viable by some sects, as religious constraints will always remain dominant issues in a Muslim population. Even if the "infidel" rulers will excert utmost restraint and goodwill by providing food and and goodies, the majority will continue to view them with deep suspicion and mistrust. The best and most lenient military administration will have to use force from time to time to subdue public disorder raised by irresponsible elements. Such action will always be regarded as alien in the eyes of the local population and shrewdly exploited by terrorists groups to incite hatred and promote further chaos, unrest and violence. This is the environment, in which terrorists strive to achieve popular support and encourage candidates to join their ranks. Religious incitement by fanatic Islamic leaders, is a major source to postulate such activities.
Moreover, the vast distances of Iraq's territory and the long lines of communications will sooner or later render all logistical movement prone to guerilla attacks and require constant security deployments, involving large forces, which will also become targets for ambush and point attacks by guerilla and suicide terrorists. As casualties will mount, more and more troops will have to be deployed and preventive offensive operations mounted, which will further create hostility among the Muslim population and serve as motivation for potential terrorist candidates.
All the ingredients for a guerilla and terror war are already evident in Iraq. While the majority of Iraqis, having lived under Saddam's brutal regime for decades might welcome the stabilising presence of American forces for a while, a strong militant element, motivated by individual ambitions, or religious ideologies, will continue to take up arms against, what they regard as foreign colonialists. The recent suicide attacks on US and British troops signal only the harbinger of what is in store for the occupation or even peacekeeping forces.
Some of the lessons, which the Israeli security forces have gained the hard way may well serve the coalition troops in their task, maintaining some law and order under chaotic circumstances which will surely prevail after a military take over.
One of the most effective counter-terrorist methods is "targeted killing" of major militant leaders. ( for details see JTIC exclusive report: David Eshel: Targeted Killings a military assessment of Israels assassination operations 11 December 2002)
Although widely disputed, it is nevertheless a sound measure in this kind of brutal warfare. Coalotion forces have already made several attempts: the so-called "decapitive" attack on Saddam Hussein's hideout in an opening strike and by the British, hunting down the notorious "chemical Ali" butcher in his Basrah residence. No doubt, as the guerilla war will escalate this kind of warfare will inevitably become a leading counter-terror measure.
Another measure, widely used, will be cordon and search operations. Based on real-time intelligence produced by ELINT, HUMINT and especially cruising UAVs, specially trained commando forces will have to mount silent ingress and grab raids into hostile environment to pin-point militant leaders for intelligence purposes, search and neutralise secret arms depots and caches, destroy explosive labs, safe houses etc.
Preventing suicide bomber attacks will become a major activity of the coalition forces. This presents one of the most difficult and complex operations, as it involves all aspects of military intelligence, monitoring suspect electronic transmissions, using sophisticated preventive measures to deactivate explosive charges before they detonate. Furthermore tight security measures will have to be on constant alert status to defend military encampments, vital administration facilities and routes of communications. These will include sophisticated electronic anti-infiltration devices, which are highly expensive and constantly need high-alert rapid-reaction forces to intervene quickly in case of hostile penetration warnings.
One other element in counter-terrorist warfare is a clear and simple drill for the opening of fire foremost by troops manning checkposts and to a lesser degree those operating in urban environment in ingress and grab raids. The former are operating under constant stress, prone to sudden unexpected attack by hostile elements, using every means of disguise and ruse. Usually such checkpoints are manned by junior troops, commanded by NCOs or subalterns, who have to make sometimes crucial life-or death decisions in split-time. To prevent hit-and- run attacks, roadblocks should not be in place for extended periods, to prevent preparatory observation by terrorists. Preferred are mobile roadblocks, which are placed at random and thus surprise roadbound hostile elements. Furthermore, manning troops should be protected by concrete blocks, and overlooking observation posts, which can fire on approaching hostile vehicles at long range to prevent these reaching the checkpoint itself unobserved.
Special care should be given to the identification drill, to prevent suicide bombers exploding within the checkpoint perimeter. On the other hand, efforts must be made to prevent friendly fire or hurting innocent civilians.
Finally, there is no shortage of weapons, ammunition and explosive charges in Iraq. Weapons chaches are abundant throughout the country filled with sophisticated weapons system, ideal for undercover warfare. Even the best intelligence will need months or even years to uncover most of these. There is also no lack of experts in sabotage and guerilla warfare. The Iraqi secret service has for years trained thousands of Arab militants in all aspects of guerilla and terrorist warfare in its notorious Salman Pak facility, south of Baghdad, which the US Marines have recently captured. These men, having little to lose if they are caught and will continue to form the hard core of guerilla and terrorist leaders waging a brutal war against all attempts to reform a new Iraq.