Monday, July 28, 2003

The Ba'ath Are Hosed Down

The Washington Post's Thomas Ricks, writing from Iraq, follows the fortunes of the 4th Infantry Division and puts numbers on the headlines:

In the expansive region north of Baghdad patrolled by the 4th Infantry Division, more than 300 Iraqi fighters were killed in combat operation, the military officials said. In the same period, U.S. forces in all of Iraq have suffered 39 combat deaths.

The US troops that Ricks interviewed were very confident that they had taken the measure of the Ba'ath resistants.

At the beginning of June, before the U.S. offensives began, the reward for killing an American soldier was about $300, an Army officer said. Now, he said, street youths are being offered as much as $5,000 -- and are being told that if they refuse, their families will be killed, a development the officer described as a sign of reluctance among once-eager youths to take part in the strikes. At the same time, the frequency of attacks has declined in the area northwest of Baghdad dominated by Iraq's Sunni minority, long a base of support for Hussein. In this triangle-shaped region -- delineated by Baghdad, Tikrit to the north and the towns of Fallujah and Ramadi to the west -- attacks on U.S. forces have dropped by half since mid-June, military officers reported.

The old habits of the former Iraq ruling class died hard. When a US patrol drove into the town of Thulaya in the heart of Sunni territory, they were haughtily told to leave -- or die.

It was then that "we started to kick down doors," recalled a senior Central Command official. Instead of leaving, at 2 a.m. the next morning, hundreds of U.S. troops cordoned off Thuluya and hundreds more conducted searches throughout the town. F-15 fighters and Apache helicopters whirred overhead, ready to launch missiles on ground commanders' call. U.S. military speedboats patrolled the Tigris River, cutting off an escape route. The aggressive operation set the tone for the new phase of the war.

When the Ba'ath started operating by day to escape US movement by night, the Americans also attacked by day. The unremitting nature of American raids, intelligence seizures and followups created a situation where one raid could be started based on the results of a raid still in progress. Now the Americans think that the Ba'ath may adapt by using standoff weapons, attacking Iraqis working for Americans or US civilian contractors.

Ricks' reportage is confined to a single armored division. Missing from his accounts are the activities of the 101st Airborne, which last week killed Qusay and Uday Hussein. As Belmont Club has pointed out in the past, the deaths of US soldiers in action is tragedy, but the arithmetic of the war is entirely against the Ba'ath. Soon everyone will know that but the BBC.