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[casi] "Storming" of Basra as a crucial PsyOps campaign

Hi all,


Regarding PsyOps.

For that, please see especially on (the city of) Basra in the item below
checking against forthcoming news on the "Battle of Basra".

" .... "US officials are publicly discussing the storming of Basra as a
crucial PR campaign, rather than a strategically important military
operation. According to one report, 'Military and allied officials hope to
capitalise on any scene of liberation [in Basra] and beam it to a sceptical
world' ..."



18 March 2003

Military disengagement

by Brendan O'Neill

It will be 'the most devastating opening punch in history' said the Miami
Herald, after US military officials unveiled plans to attack Iraq with
awesome airpower for three days before sending in ground troops to finish
off the job (1).

The US military intends to use 'shock and awe' tactics in Iraq - to
demonstrate its 'massive military capability' to Iraq's leaders and
soldiers, in an attempt to 'terrify them into submission'. US Lieutenant
General James T Conway says the US airforce will 'reach out 72 hours in
advance of the ground troops [going in], and knock the hell out of things
with the 3rd Marine Air Wing, the biggest and most powerful in the world'.
'It's not a fair fight', says Conway; 'we didn't intend it to be' (2).

America and Britain's war on Iraq - whether it starts in 24, 48 or 72
hours - will certainly be devastating. But it will also be a cowardly war.
It looks set to be a precautionary war, where every feasible measure will
be taken to 'minimise the risks' faced by US and UK troops. The statements
and leaks currently coming from the Pentagon suggest that America is hoping
for a war without risk, using massive bombardments, special 'effects' and
plain old wishful thinking to compensate for traditional military

And this kind of war from on high - driven as much by fear and cautiousness
as by ambition and conquest - is likely to prove deadly for those on the
receiving end.

The US military is apparently planning to open the war with an
'unprecedented' aerial bombardment, in order to weaken Iraq's military
capability and infrastructure and to 'minimise risks for [American] troops'
who will later go in on the ground. According to military officials, there
will be a 48- or 72-hour 'blitzkrieg' across Iraq, before US and British
troops will be allowed anywhere near Baghdad and other major cities. One
military analyst points out that 'during the last Gulf War the allies
launched 325 bombs on the first day…[now] they are talking about 3000 bombs
in 48 hours' (3).

At the same time as the US airforce drops thousands of bombs across Iraq to
'soften the ground' for the entry of troops, the US military is planning to
launch a soft war in the south. One of the allied forces' 'first
objectives' will be to take the southern city of Basra with ground troops.
According to one report, taking control of Basra is a 'key American
objective', seen by the US and British military machines as being central
to the campaign in Iraq (4).

American and British forces know they will face little fighting in the

The attraction of Basra as a ground target is not hard to work out. Most of
Saddam's Republican Guard troops have been withdrawn from Basra already,
taken back to Baghdad, meaning there is likely to be little resistance to
the arrival of US and UK troops; Basra is a mere 30 miles from the Kuwaiti
border, making it a less stressful trek; and Basra's population is largely
made up of Shi'ite Muslims who, as one US official points out, 'are no
friends of Saddam's Sunni regime' and therefore unlikely to be hostile to
allied forces.

While Baghdad is a far harder target that will have to be pummelled by
bombs before being approached on foot, Basra is seen as the easy option.
American and British forces know they are likely to face little fighting in
the deserts of the south. According to Colonel Michael Marletto, commanding
officer of America's 11th Marine Regiment, 'the indications we're getting
from over the border is that there's not much motivation for a fight' (5).
In recent weeks, groups of Iraqi soldiers in the south have already
surrendered. According to Marletto: 'A bunch of them came up to the Brits
and tried to surrender, but the Brits said: "It's not time yet, go back."'

US officials are publicly discussing the storming of Basra as a crucial PR
campaign, rather than a strategically important military operation.
According to one report, 'Military and allied officials hope to capitalise
on any scene of liberation [in Basra] and beam it to a sceptical world'

The aim of the Basra operation will be to send a message to the world, as
well as to Iraqi troops, as the New York Times reports: 'Officials say they
are aiming for a rapid and benign occupation of Basra that results in
flag-waving crowds hugging British and American soldiers - all of which
would create an immediate positive image of American and British war aims
while undermining Iraqi resistance elsewhere in the country.'

(Though the hugging and kissing element of taking Basra may have to be kept
to a minimum. In response to reports that Saddam has sent Ali Hassan
al-Majid, otherwise known as 'Chemical Ali', to Basra, in an attempt to
ward off US and UK troops, allied forces will apparently be told to wear
chemical suits as they 'liberate' the city. According to one US official,
the people of Basra 'are probably going to think they are having a close
encounter of the third kind...').

The focus on Basra as a 'central, key objective' is about creating the
right 'image' for the war in Iraq. According to Major Chris Hughes of the
US Marine Corps, 'The first image of this war will define the conflict' -
and officials clearly want the first image to be ground troops rolling into
Basra (albeit while wearing space suits and keeping a safe distance from
the potentially toxic residents). This is about how the war plays in the
West - as allied forces unleash their bombs in the north, where there might
be some dreaded civilian casualties, they can at least pose for pictures in
the 'conquered' south.

US officials appear cautious about how much 'shock and awe' they should use

A US military official admits that Basra will be done for 'effect'. It
isn't the only aspect of the war that will put effect over engagement.
According to the Los Angeles Times, '"Shock and awe" is the latest Pentagon
buzzword for an American blitz against Iraq that, if war comes, will seek
to defeat Saddam Hussein with "effects" rather than the physical
destruction of enemy troops or their resources' (8).

US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld spelled it out more clearly, claiming
that one of the war's 'major goals' is to 'have the capabilities of the
coalition [made] so clear and so obvious that there is an enormous
disincentive for the Iraqi military to fight'. This is one of the reasons
the US military is planning a 72-hour blitzkrieg - not only to put Iraq's
military infrastructure out of action, but also to 'demonstrate' American
power, thereby 'stunning Iraqis into surrender'.

Indeed, some military officials hope that, having unleashed their bombs and
fury over Iraq, Saddam's regime will just whither away or else be finished
off by the Iraqis themselves. The LA Times reports: 'This three-dimensional
shock-and-awe attack, it is hoped, will stun the Iraqi system and plunge it
into such disarray that mutinies, coups or civil unrest will break out,
isolating Saddam from his forces.' General Richard Myers, chairman of the
US Joint Chiefs of Staff, hopes that, having witnessed America's power,
Iraqis will 'clean their own stable' (9).

Another report says that military officials hope that 'by dawn, Iraq's
military and political infrastructure [will be] shattered. Leaders will
have disappeared, entire military units will have been obliterated, power
supplies will have shut down, but the visible damage will be surprisingly
small' (10).

But US officials also appear cautious about just how much 'shock and awe'
they should use in Iraq - just in case it backfires against American troops
and America itself. In early March 2003, the US airforce unveiled a new
superbomb called the Massive Ordnance Air Blast, a 10-ton weapon packed
with high explosives that can apparently devastate areas of up to 100
metres. But now the Pentagon claims that the superbomb won't be used in
Iraq, because it puts US troops in danger.

According to one report: 'Military analysts in the USA say that because the
bomb is so huge it can be dropped only from a military cargo aircraft that
flies slowly and at low altitudes - and those conditions make it vulnerable
to anti-aircraft weapons.' Apparently, US officials would feel much more
comfortable using the 'wide arsenal of effective weapons the Pentagon has
at its disposal that do not put its pilots at risk from ground fire' - even
if it means leaving their brand new superbomb at home (11).

According to one report, 'urban areas will be avoided if possible'

Similarly, the US military has been toying with the idea of launching its
new 'microwave weapons' in Iraq. These weapons send intense bursts of
energy through anything electronic, destroying the enemy's computers and
telecommunications equipment without harming civilians. But such
'revolutionary' weapons might also be left at home, just in case the
technology falls into terrorist hands and is turned against the USA itself.

As the International Herald Tribune reports: 'The countries most vulnerable
to these weapons are not Iraq or North Korea but societies where computer
chips are indispensable for daily life [like the USA]. Some analysts have
called it the perfect terrorist weapon.' (12) So America may end up not
using two of its newly developed weapons, because they could potentially
prove too risky for US troops and American safety. Even as they launch a
blitzkrieg to devastate a nation, US forces will be thinking risk-aversely,
about how to avoid doing anything potentially dangerous.

Having taken the easy option of Basra and 'shocked and awed' some Iraqi
troops into surrender, the US military apparently plans eventually to move
towards Baghdad. But even this 'final push' to destroy Saddam's regime will
be done cautiously. According to one report, during the trek from Kuwait to
Baghdad, 'urban areas will be avoided if possible'.

Marine Corps Major General James Mattis says: 'We'd much rather go round a
city if we can, even if the main road goes through it.' (13) Perhaps the US
military recognises that not all cities will be as easy as Basra - far
better to let the planes bomb them rather than risk travelling through

Once the allied troops reach Baghdad, US military planners claim that they
will not go into the city until it has been 'reduced and surrendered'.
According to one report, 'Fearing high casualties if British and American
soldiers go in, the Allied top brass are plotting a siege…. They will pile
on the pressure with daily destruction of small sections of the city until
the Iraqi leader surrenders' (14). A US official says that America's
'biggest nightmare scenario' is being drawn into Baghdad for hand-to-hand
or streetfighting combat.

Now, some military officials are even attempting to redefine what a victory
in Iraq will look like - claiming that the war could be won when Saddam is
simply isolated, rather than defeated or killed. Chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers says: 'There are lots of scenarios - but if
the leadership is isolated and not effective in governing the country, that
would be victory….' (15)

The military is doing itself no favours by making an issue out of civilian

The US military appears to be planning a form of military engagement that
doesn't involve too much engagement - where a regime can be toppled (or
isolated) through shock and awe rather than through combat; where troops
can take cities without having to fight in them, and trek across Iraq
without having to go through cities; and where a city like Baghdad can be
won with 'minimum risk' to the troops doing the winning.

This curious kind of 'military disengagement' is captured in the US
military's attitude towards civilian casualties. US officials are desperate
to keep casualties to a minimum, and have made a policy out of avoiding
killing innocents. President Bush says: 'We will do everything we can to
minimise the loss of life, not only American lives but Iraqi civilian
lives.' (16) One US official says America is spending 'a lot of effort and
a lot of time and a lot of energy…doing everything to minimise collateral

Apart from anything else, the US military is doing itself no favours by
making a big issue out of civilian casualties. It is setting itself up for
a fall. An army that says it will do everything to avoid killing innocent
civilians opens itself to criticism and attack when innocent civilians are
inevitably killed. And considering that the military has 'embedded'
journalists with its troops in Iraq, so that reporters can report from the
front line this time around, it is asking for trouble on the civilian
casualty front.

Of course, the fewer civilian casualties there are in Iraq, the better. But
this concern about civilian casualties also appears to be driven more by
fear than by anything like heroic humanism. American worries about civilian
casualties is more about how such issues play in today's supposedly
humanitarian era. At a time when wars are justified in the language of
human rights, when foreign interventions have to care as well as kill,
civilian casualties don't look good. For US officials, being seen to avoid
civilian casualties is a PR thing.

America wants to fight a war that doesn't look like a war. Just as it wants
to take cities without fighting in them and bring down a regime without
facing it, so it would like to launch a war without too much killing and
bloodshed. But the one thing we can be sure of in a war launched from on
high is that there will be killing and bloodshed.

Read on:

(1) Massive US air power poised to be unleashed, Jessica Guynn, Miami
Herald, 17 March 2003

(2) Marine predicts brief bombing, then land assault, Peter Baker,
Washington Post, 17 March 2003

(3) 3000 bombs in 48 hours, Jonathon Carr-Brown and Peter Almond, News
Interactive, 17 March 2003,4057,6138463%5E401,00.html

(4) Taking over Basra a first US objective, The Hindu, 18 March 2003

(5) 'Beware of 'suicide prisoners', troops told', Chris Ayres, The Times
(London), 17 March 2003

(6) 'Beware of 'suicide prisoners', troops told', Chris Ayres, The Times
(London), 17 March 2003

(7) Taking Basra key to strategy, Patrick E Tyler, LA Daily News, 18 March

(8) Will 'shock and awe' be sufficient?, William M Arkin, Los Angeles
Times, 16 March 2003,0,2154122.story

(9) Will 'shock and awe' be sufficient?, William M Arkin, Los Angeles
Times, 16 March 2003,0,2154122.story

(10) Will 'shock and awe' be sufficient?, William M Arkin, Los Angeles
Times, 16 March 2003,0,2154122.story

(11) Mother of all bombs just a huge scare device, Sydney Morning Herald,
18 March 2003

(12) Microwave weapons: the dangers of first use, Thomas Fuller,
International Herald Tribune, 17 March 2003

(13) Civilian casualties a big worry for Iraq attackers, Sean Maguire,
Reuters, 12 March 2003

(14) Siege of Baghdad, Daily Mirror, 14 March 2003

(15) Will 'shock and awe' be sufficient?, William M Arkin, Los Angeles
Times, 16 March 2003,0,2154122.story

(16) US aims to curtail civilian casualties, Tom Bowman, The Sun
(Maryland), 5 March 2003,0,7722715.story?coll=bal-hom

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