The March to Baghdad 2003

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U.S. Army (USA) M1A1 Abrams MBT (Main Battle Tank), and personnel from A Company (CO), Task Force 1st Battalion, 35th Armor Regiment (1-35 Armor), 2nd Brigade Combat Team (BCT), 1st Armored Division (AD), pose for a photo under the “Hands of Victory” in Ceremony Square, Baghdad, Iraq during Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. The Hands of Victory monument built at the end of the Iran-Iraq war marks the entrance to a large parade ground in central Baghdad. The hand and arm are modeled after former dictator Saddam Hussein’s own and surrounded with thousands of Iranian helmets taken from the battlefield. The swords made from the guns of dead Iraqi soldiers, melted and recast into the 24-ton blades.

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The campaign began a day ahead of schedule when intelligence indicated that Hussein might be at a hideout in Baghdad. A hurriedly mounted F-117 strike hit that target just before dawn on March 20, but the dictator was elsewhere. On the following night the “shock and awe” offensive began blasting downtown Baghdad. Coalition aircraft and ships launched 600 cruise missiles, while strike aircraft, including B-1s and B-2s, flew 700 missions and struck more than 1,000 targets. Although a stunning display of military might, the attack on Baghdad had an unintended effect: by leveling ministry and party buildings, it destroyed much of the evidence of the regime’s crimes as well as the administrative apparatus necessary to govern the country. Yet the attack was hardly sufficient to shake the regime’s political control of Iraq.

Meanwhile, the ground invasion had begun. Under the command of the Coalition land component commander, two corps drove into Iraq. To the west, the 3rd ID spearheaded V Corps; the 101st Airborne and the 82nd Airborne Divisions followed in support of the 3rd ID. To the east, I Marine Expeditionary Force controlled the British 1st Armoured Division, supported by elements of the Marine Corps’ Task Force “Tripoli,” and the 1st Marine Division (1st Mardiv). The British quickly grabbed the Ramalah oil fields (which had not been prepared for demolition) and then continued their advance on Basra.

The advance of 3rd ID up the west bank of the Tigris ran into little serious opposition from regular Iraqi units, which remained in the cities and towns along the Euphrates. However, the division’s brigade combat teams (BCTs), as well as their supporting logistic units, found themselves under constant attack by tactically inept but fanatical bands of fedayeen, as well as a few suicide bombers. Tank crews used few 120mm main gun rounds but vast amounts of machine gun and small arms ammunition.

On March 25 a vicious shamal-a combination of rain, dust, and flying mud particles-blew into Iraq, covering soldiers and marines. Visibility declined to almost zero. Fedayeen attacks increased, while under cover of the storm Hussein’s commanders attempted to move a significant number of units to adjust to the American drive from the south. However, the shamal, although seriously hampering visibility on the ground, failed to screen Iraqi movements from observation by Coalition aircraft. Bombarded by precision munitions from a darkened sky, the Iraqis took terrible losses. Those who survived deserted in droves.

On March 27 senior American commanders agreed on a short pause to prepare their forces for the drive on Baghdad. Part of the reason for the halt: Army units were low on fuel and ammunition. The halt was particularly important for the 3rd ID, which needed the troops from the 101st and 82nd to cover the cities and towns along the Euphrates. Such cover would enable the 3rd ID to concentrate its combat power on the Karbala Gap. On April 1 the Army’s 1st and 2nd BCTs moved across the Euphrates and into the gap. Within a day, the 3rd ID was through the gap, and the road to Baghdad lay open. By April 3 Abrams tanks and Bradley armored personnel carriers had reached the environs of Baghdad International Airport.

The airport was secure by the evening of April 4, and the military leadership then launched the 2nd BCT on a raid into the heart of Baghdad. On April 5 and 6, the Abrams and Bradleys swept through the center of Iraq’s capital with few casualties and the loss of only a single tank, but on the three main intersections a series of ferocious firefights broke out that lasted most of the day. The Americans kept open the supply lines to the 2nd BCT and broke the back of Iraqi resistance in the capital.

While the 3rd ID was breaking through the Karbala Gap, the Marines were having equal success in its drive through the Mesopotamian Valley. In capturing An Numaniyah, the Marines had surrounded substantial numbers of Iraqi troops in the valley, most of whom threw their uniforms away and went home. By April 3, the Marines had seized the bridges at An Numinayah and were crossing to the east bank of the Tigris. With the 5th RCT in the lead, the Marines now began to advance on Baghdad. By April 7 all three RCTs were crossing the Diyalah River on the eastern outskirts of the Iraqi capital. On April 9, in a much-televised event, a crowd of civilians, assisted by an American armored recovery vehicle, toppled a large statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad’s Firdos Square. (Initially thought to be a spontaneous demonstration, the event appears to have been at least partly staged, and most of the civilians were Arab workers from other countries, not Iraqis.) The conventional war in Iraq was over. But in many respects the fighting had just begun.

Bibliography Iraq Body Count. <http://www. iraqbodycount.net/ (May 31, 2005). Keegan, John. The Iraq War. New York: A. A. Knopf, 2004. Murray, Williamson, and Robert H. Scales. The Iraq War: A Military History. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2003. Woodward, Bob. Plan of Attack. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004.

Further Reading Cordesman, Anthony H. The Iraq War: Strategy, Tactics, and Military Lessons. Washington, D. C.: Center for International and Strategic Studies, 2004. Hersh, Seymour H. Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib. New York: HarperCollins, 2004. Zucchino, David. Thunder Run: The Armored Strike to Capture Baghdad. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2004.

 

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