Sunday 30 August 2020

Saddam's Sortie (Part 2): The Iraqi Army of 1990

Armies, it is said, prepare to fight the previous war.  Well, the British military in 1990 wasn't exactly primed for WW2 or Korea**, but it was pretty much characterised by its Cold War stance - and not unreasonably so, seeing as the Wall had only come down the year before and the Soviet Union was still intact.  No apologies, then, for (almost) all our studies being directed towards the Russian military, which we felt we understood pretty well.

When Saddam made his move on Kuwait 30 years ago, with the UK squarely alongside the USA in plans to send him back home with a size-10 Boot DMS in his arse (and Drew back in the Queen's pay to do his bit), we Russia specialists had quickly to get to grips with two new subjects for rapid study: a new geograhical theatre, and a huge, combat-tested army that frankly we'd never given any real attention to.

Saddam's substantial army had been engaged, more or less non-stop, since he invaded Iran in 1980 (he had form as regards invasions).  Wiki has it that the Iraqi army numbered some 200,000 at the outset, and lost "150,000 - 500,000" over eight years of attritional conflict.    Whatever the precise facts behind these arm-waving numbers, by the time of his Kuwait adventure Saddam had at last half a million men in arms, very many of them with combat experience and not a few with genuine, local, hard-bitten war-fighting expertise - a pedigree not to be dismissed out of hand.

So what did we know about them in August 1990?  Clutching at straws, we knew they had some fairly strong British Army organisational antecedents and traditions (directly so, up until their revolution of 1958); and that they were largely equipped with Russian kit.  So maybe they used, errrr, a combination of the British and Soviet military doctrines in which we already considered ourselves well versed? 

Yup, clutching at straws.  There was nothing for it but to knuckle down to some serious study of the Iraqi Army in the salient period 1980-1990.

And we quickly discovered that, whatever were the inputs from more prominent modern armies (happily, Russian doctrine well to the fore), there were a number of Iraqi specifics to be learned about.  Under the intense Darwinian pressures of that formative preceding decade of life-and-death conflict with Iran, the Iraqi army had come up with some genuinely interesting military innovations ...   (TBC)

** Mrs T, of course, was dead keen to re-fight the Falklands war


dearieme said...

A chap I met commanded an RN minesweeper in the Gulf.


"Because the Yanks had effectively no minesweeping capacity."

Astonishingly I gather that they still have effectively none. So a handful of Chinese minelaying subs could imprison almost the whole USN in its ports.

Sometimes you really should be equipped to fight the last war.

david morris said...

"Under the intense Darwinian pressures of that formative preceding decade of life-and-death conflict with Iran, the Iraqi army had come up with some genuinely interesting military innovations"

Don't remember them sending human waves of poorly-trained and ill-equipped young soldiers across minefields to storm fortifications.. Oh wait, that was the Somme.

Anonymous said...

Indeed, wasn't it the Iranian side that used human waves?

jim said...

Interesting to see what if any innovations Saddam came up with. Seems to me he was on a hiding to nothing invading Kuwait and bound to get beaten and gain nothing. A suicide mission for his troops and financial suicide for him. Very short of brain cells.

Curiously we don't seem to have had any intelligence that Saddam was planning such a move. He could have been given a stern Gipsy's Warning. Perhaps it didn't suit or merely another cockup.

BlokeInBrum said...

Apparently the then American Ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie had a meeting with Saddam 8 days before he invaded Kuwait.
Asked by him what the American position was with regards to Iraqs issues with Kuwait, she allegedly said that America had no opinion on it, which he took to to be tacit approval or at least disinterest.

jim said...

Very interesting BiB. A bit of digging reveals a NYT article of

If you can read without NYT nagging for an account id you will find a revealing profile of Ms Glaspie. You don't have to be a genius to see she was entirely unsuited to the job of interacting with Saddam. A bad fit for that Ambassador job. Frequently the Yanks sell Ambassador jobs, but can't imagine anyone paying for Baghdad. Thankfully State shoved her out the way. Curious that the identity of her father seems not so easy to find.

However, Ambassadors are peripheral to Intelligence. Anyway, I look forward to reading about Saddam's genius tactics.

Anonymous said...

Many thanks for continuing this story; I'm sure it will be fascinating.