The Iraq War
Report for 2003-03-31

March 31, 2003, 1828hrs MSK (GMT +4 DST), Moscow - During the night of March 30-31 the situation on the US-Iraqi front became increasingly more critical. All indications are that the coalition has launched a new attack.

Following a three-hour-long artillery barrage and several nighttime aviation strikes the coalition forces came in contact with the Iraqi troops near Karabela and attempted to move around the Iraqi defenses from the east.

For now the coalition is limiting its actions to probing the forward layer of the Iraqi defenses, attempting to assess its density and organization after nearly five days of artillery and aerial bombardment. There have been no reports of any coalition breaks through the Iraqi defenses in this area. At the same time morning radio intercepts uncovered a large US military convoy moving around the Razzaza Lake. At the moment it is unclear whether the purpose of this movement is to get to the town of Ar-Ramdia or a wider maneuver leading to the town of Al-Falludja.

Another [coalition] convoy numbering up to 100 combat vehicles was seen near the town of Al-Hillah moving in the southeastern direction 30 kilometers from the strategic Baghdad-Basra highway. Given there is no Iraqi resistance this coalition force will be able to reach the highway by tonight. So far there were no reports of any losses in this area.

The US forces resumed attacking Iraqi defenses near An-Najaf. The US group of forces in this area has been reinforced with at least three reserve Marine battalions and now Americans are trying once again to capture this key town. According to the US intelligence Iraqi defenses in this area number up to 3,000 troops aided by around 1,500 volunteers and [Ba'ath] party activists. The Iraqis here are armed with around 30 T-55 and T-62 tanks, up to four artillery batteries and more than 300 various anti-tank weapons. The town is being stormed by the elements of the 1st Marine Division numbering up to 6,000 troops assisted by 80 tanks and 60 artillery systems. Additionally, aerial support is provided by up to 40 helicopters. So far the Americans were unable to push the enemy. Early this morning an American tank was destroyed near An-Najaf. At least two of its crew were killed.

Intensive exchange of fire is continuing in the vicinity of An-Nasiriya. The US Marines have so far been unable to side nth [?] staging area they captured seven days ago on the left bank of Euphrates. The bridge connecting this staging area with the main coalition forces is nearly destroyed and is under constant fire from the Iraqi defenses located in the riverside city blocks. This is the reason why the [coalition] troops holding the staging area can only be reinforced by small and lightly-armed units and only during nighttime. During the past night alone the Marines holding the staging area sustained 2 killed and 5 wounded.

The situation [for the coalition] is complicated by the fact that the residential blocks occupied by the defending Iraqis come to the very edge of the river, giving a significant advantage to the defenders who control the river and all approaches to the river. Currently the coalition artillery and aviation is methodically destroying these blocks in an attempt to push the Iraqis away from the shoreline.

Intercepted radio communications indicate that the Marines engineering units have been ordered to build a pontoon crossing upstream from An-Nasiriya and move up to three battalions of Marines and troops from the 82nd Airborne Division to the left bank of the Euphrates for a future strike in the rear of the An-Nasiriya garrison. The coalition command would have been ready to bypass other defended crossings on the Euphrates if it wasn't for one problem: the entire group of forces has only two pontoon units. Any new pontoon units will arrive not sooner than in mid-April.

A standoff between the Basra garrison and the British marine infantry is continuing in the area of Basra. Using localized attacks the British are attempting to "lean" on Basra as closely as possible and to tighten the blockade, but so far they were unsuccessful. Thus, during last night the British attempted to take the town of Al-Hasib located 7 kilometers southeast of Basra. The British plan was to reach the Al-Arab River and to slice the local Iraqi defenses in half, separating Basra from the defending Iraqi forces on the Fao peninsula. Up to a battalion of the British marine infantry supported by armored vehicles entered the town of Al-Hasib from the south but in less than an hour they were stopped by Iraqi fire and requested aviation and artillery support.

Fighting for the control of the town is continuing. At least two British soldiers were killed and three were wounded in this battle. One British armored personnel carrier was destroyed. British commanders are reporting killing 50 Iraqis and capturing 10. In the area of the As-Zubair River port, which was declared to be under full coalition control just a week ago, a British patrol boat was attacked. The boat was carrying its crew and a marine infantry unit. As the result of the attack at least 4 British soldiers were killed and 9 were wounded.

The official coalition losses are, to put it mildly, "falling behind" the actual figures. The 57 dead acknowledged by the coalition command reflect losses as of the morning of March 26. This information was provided to a BBC correspondent by one of the top medical officials at a field hospital in Al Kuwait during a confidential conversation. "We have standing orders to acknowledge only those fatalities that have been delivered to the hospital, identified and prepared to be sent back home. The identification process and the required standard embalming takes some time - occasionally up to several days. But only the command knows how many casualties we sustained today and you will learn about it in about three days." [Reverse-translated from Russian.] This conversation was taped by the journalist and sent to the editor via a cellular phone network.

Based on the radio intercepts and internal information networks of the US field hospitals as of this morning the coalition losses include no less than 100 killed US servicemen and at least 35 dead British soldiers. Additionally, some 22 American and 11 British soldiers are officially considered to be missing in action and the whereabouts of another 400 servicemen are being established. The number of wounded has exceeded 480 people.

US experts at the coalition command headquarters studied the cases of destroyed and damaged M1A2 tanks and various APCs. The conclusion was that without a doubt the Iraqis do possess modern anti-tank weapons but so far use them on a "very limited scale." Only three tanks have been hit by guided weapons which destroyed these tanks with the first hit. The rest of the tanks were destroyed with more standard weapons. Some of the most common causes [of destroyed armor] include: anti-tank guns (about 40% of all hits), man-portable rocket-propelled grenade launchers (25% of hits), and landmines (25% of hits). Effectiveness of anti-tank artillery has been particularly high. "Impacts by high-velocity projectiles do not always destroy the tank and its crew. However, in 90% of all cases the tank is disabled and the crew is forced to abandon the tank on the battlefield." - says the report that was distributed to the commanders of the forward units for analysis.

Russian military analysts are advising the Iraqi military command against excessive optimism. There is no question that the US "blitzkrieg" failed to take control of Iraq and to destroy its army. It is clear that the Americans got bogged down in Iraq and the military campaign hit a snag. However, the Iraqi command is now in danger of underestimating the enemy. For now there is no reason to question the resolve of the Americans and their determination to reach the set goal - complete occupation of Iraq.

In reality, despite some obvious miscalculations and errors of the coalition's high command, the [coalition] troops that have entered Iraq maintain high combat readiness and are willing to fight. The losses sustained during the past 12 days of fighting, although delivering a painful blow to the pride and striking the public opinion, are entirely insignificant militarily speaking. The initiative in the war remains firmly in the hands of the coalition. Under such circumstances Iraqi announcements of a swift victory over the enemy will only confuse its own troops and Iraq's population and, as the result, may lead to demoralization and a reduced defensive potential.

Russian military analysts believe that the critical [time] for the US duration of the war would be over 90 days provided that during that time the coalition will sustain over 1,000 killed. Under such circumstances a serious political crisis in the US and in the world will be unavoidable.

(Translation by Venik.)


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