War that was
Ramandeep Singh

The Iraq War: A Military History
by Williamson Murray and Maj Gen Robert H. Scales Jr.
Natraj Publishers, Dehradun.
Pages 312. Rs 350.

The March 2003 invasion of Iraq had its roots in the 1991 war to liberate Kuwait from the illegal occupation of Iraqi forces and preempt any further adventure into Saudi Arabia. The Americans and their numerous allies had spectacularly routed the Iraqi forces and infrastructure in 1991 using air power in a way never seen before in the history of warfare.

The Iraq War is an historic account of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It contains a brief account of the 1991 war; of how Saddam Hussein came to power and what is the Baathist ideology and a brief history of how Iraq came into being. But the prime focus of the book is on what brought about this war—Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction and his supposed proximity to Al Qaida—and the strategy employed by the US and British armed forces to overwhelm the Iraqi army and remove Saddam from power. The authors also throw light on the order of battle on both the sides and the tactics and weapon systems deployed by the opposing sides and how they were used or not usedin the case of the Iraqis.

The whole campaign was meticulously planned and brilliantly executed. Such was the dominance of the invading forces that a US general described hitting Iraqi targets as easy hitting a "tethered sheep". The Iraqi army was strong only on paper and its equipment was obsolete owing to the sanctions in place for more than a decade. As the authors have aptly put, an army (Iraqi) whose main task is to prosecute its citizens can never defend the country from outside invasion because its focus is on regime defending and this has ill effect on the training and morale of the troops —an earlier prime example being the 1991 war and the 1982 Falklands conflict in which the Argentinian armed forces were outclassed by the British in spite of having better equipment. Even the famed Republican Guard divisions— the elite of the Iraqi army— were unable to play any part in stopping the invading army. Primarily because their command and control structure was decimated and secondly they were, realistically, no more effective than the regular conscripts.

Air power once again played a major part in this war too. The allies had more precision guided ammunition in 2003 and used unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) more extensively to gather intelligence, both strategically and tactically. Special forces were deployed—small teams of British, American and Australian special forces were plying their trade much before the war started, unlike the previous Gulf war—and they were the eyes and ears of the commanders and played a stellar role in identifying the targets and assessing the strength and morale of the Iraqi forces.

On the whole what won the war was the quality of the material, both human and equipment, on the winning side. From the generals down to the foot soldier or marine, competency was the key, and they had it in ample supply. The generals gave the soldiers on the ground a plan and they implemented it. No questions asked. There were no retreats or setbacks as the Iraqis were hardly given any space to manoeuvre, regroup or counter-attack as they were constantly on the run. They could not even hide either as day or night, in rain or sandstorm their movement and positions were constantly monitored by the surveillance platforms ranging from the humble UAV to satellites in space and special forces deployed much ahead of the advancing troops.

The Iraq war is a very good read and easily the one of the best accounts of the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the subsequent downfall of Saddam. Its a superlative account of what a superpower backed by political willpower, first rate soldiery, state of art weapon systems can inflict upon a nation which does not toe its line, though now the Americans are in a quagmire in Iraq but that is a completely different story.