In 1990 the determination of the USA - and the UK as its sidekick - to evict Saddam Hussein from Kuwait by force if necessary, necessitated a rapid learning curve for those of us on the staff, to get to grips with the large, potent and battle-hardened Iraqi army. Which we'd never even given a passing glance to, being 99% focussed on Russia.
Iraq, it turned out, was indeed influenced by Soviet military doctrine - its weapons being largely supplied from Russia at that time - but mostly at the tactical level. When the shooting started (in early 1991), this turned out to be handy: but we're getting ahead of ourselves: thirty years ago today, we were at the start of a sustained period of planning and buildup. The really interesting stuff was what we were learning about how, over the long years of intensive fighting against the significantly greater numbers of the Iranian army, they'd innovated militarily - not necessarily something that (in our arrogance) we'd have given them credit for. In this post I'm going to recount one of these innovations - and there will be a couple more novelties to describe next weekend.
Advanced students of world military history may tell me there's a precedent for what I'm relating here; but I'm only aware of a rather limited forerunner. The Iraqi army operated on the concept of specialist generals for different phases of a battle. So: if there was to be a major offensive, typically there would be an initial preparatory logistical phase; then the assault; then (if all went more or less to plan) the follow-through/consolidation on the objective; and the preparation to receive, and deal with, a counter-attack. Etc.
The Iraqis had formed the view that it might take a different man to lead each phase. It's actually quite logical: why would planning expert General al-Logistics be as good at directing the assault as General bin-Bloodandguts? So that's how they organised their affairs.
This strikes the 'western' military mind as very odd - mainly, of course, our conservatism coming through, reflecting the approach we were accustomed to since time immemorial, of having a single supremo commander on every front. How, otherwise, is the handover managed between the sequence of generals involved? What if things aren't going precisely to plan? (vide, almost every battle in recorded history). Who can delineate distinct phases with such precision? - or rather, what do you lose by way of continuity and effectiveness if you do deliberately divide operations up in that modular way? Had they never heard of the drawbacks of 'silo' thinking, nor the benefits of 'fusion', and seamless, integrated operations?
(It also occurred to me: given Saddam's lethal intolerance towards failure ... how did they come up with this doctrine? Trial and error? Who survived the errors to impement the lessons?)
In favour of this approach, well, they'd had a lot more recent experience of fighting full-scale pitched battles than any army on earth - latterly against a numerically superior army spearheaded by human-wave tactics from the fanatical Iranian Revolutionary Guard. And it seemed to work for them.
Precedent? The Athenians in Thucydides' time seemed sometimes to pick and choose a handful of generals at a time (sometimes even on a democatic basis) for their major, set-piece annual campaigns against the Spartan alliance during the Peloponnesian War, and they seemed to divide up the duties between them according to what they were known to be good at. But not always; and it didn't seem to be a positive doctrine, just an outworking of the rather 'open' way they conducted all their affairs. Anyone know of a more compelling precedent?
Next time: more Iraqi innovations, including one that's truly bizarre (not to say gruesome ...)