• Chapter 48: Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire

    February 12, 2016
  • Turning up the Heat

    Today the Coalition turned up the heat one more notch. Baghdad was subjected to the most intense bombing since the first few days of the war. Another twenty six hundred sorties were flown in all. Six hundred seventy five were attack missions in Kuwait and two hundred twenty five attack missions were flown against the Republican Guard. B-52s Pummeled the Republican Guard for another day.

    As the Iraqis in and around Kuwait were being pounded from the air, Coalition artillery conducted the largest barrage to date. A 1st Marine Division 155-mm Howitzer Battalion, three Saudi artillery Battalions, and Saudi MLRS units shelled Iraqi troop concentrations for three hours. The USS Missouri joined in the barrage and fired 18 rounds into enemy positions.

    While the Navy, Marines and Saudis pulverized the Iraqis, engineers from the 1st Cavalry Division moved forward to select breach points along the berm in the wadi. Battlefield preparation had begun in earnest. Gen. Schwarzkopf’s deception continued also. While the massive artillery volley was directed against Iraqi frontline units, it was not concentrated around the Allied breach points.

    As much as the Allies tried to eliminate the threat, some Iraqi Scud launchers continued to elude detection and destruction. Three more mobile launchers drove into the desert and within minutes managed to set up and launch their missiles. As two of the Scuds fell on Israel and another on Saudi Arabia, the launchers slipped back into hiding.

  • The Oil Fire Conspiracy

    It was now clear to the Iraqis that an Allied ground offensive was imminent. Allied air attacks were increasing daily on frontline positions. One attack accidentally set several oil wells ablaze in the 2nd Marine division’s sector. After the war, Iraqi commanders told their captors that they believed the fires had been intentionally set. They had reasoned that the Marines we're going to use the fiery geysers as beacons to guide on while advancing into Kuwait. The Iraqis claimed that they started setting more oil rigs ablaze to confuse the enemy ground forces. Other sources claim that Saddam ordered the destruction of the Kuwaiti oil fields. Either way the resulting smoke and fires seriously hampered the Marines and caused one of the largest ecological disasters of modern history. Over fifty oil fires were reported burning in Kuwait on the 12th.

    My research concludes that the Iraqis, responding to orders that came straight from Saddam himself, set the oil wells on fire deliberately according to their plan of defending their positions in Kuwait. As I've mentioned before, I will be sharing an exhaustive list of my resources and references at the conclusion of this blog for anyone interest in fact-checking.

    Let's start first with an experiment Saddam conducted some time in October (not 100% sure of the time) on the utility of burning oil to obscure targets with smoke and setting of fires to "drag heat rockets" away from their targets. According to Saddam, the experiments with the smoke were a great success and created clouds rising to "500 meters where they could not see the plane." He directed his subordinates to apply this technique to "the entire state," but especially around troop concentrations and "sensitive facilities."

    During a series of meetings in early October with petroleum and military engineers, the navy fleshed out Saddam's ideas for "oil in the battle." The overall operation, which would eventually go by the code name "Project Tariq," had three distinct tasks. The first task was to use oil "in front of the troops" to protect them from air attack. The second task of the project was to use oil along the Kuwait coast and around Bubiyan Island. The third task was to create a large "oil stain" (spill) that would extend outward from the Kuwait coastline. This third project area was assigned to the naval command.

    Saddam personally approved the details of Project Tariq. Those involved were directed to plan "without using any [documentation], in order to ensure complete secrecy." As the intensity of the Coalition operations picked up, so too did the Iraqi attempts to respond. One such response was the partial implementation of the Tariq Project. For the oil-as-a-weapon plan, the commanders of the Iraqi III and IV Corps had the authority to initiate preliminary demolition without higher command concurrence. Not surprisingly, as smoke from oil fires began to darken the battlefield, the Coalition interpreted this defense move as an attempt to preempt the invasion with a scorched earth withdrawal. On the 22nd of February, a U.S. military spokesman in Saudi Arabia reported that Iraq had set fire to more than 140 oil wells and was igniting oil trenches along the Kuwaiti border.

  • The Fear Deception

    The disposition of Iraqi forces indicated that they anticipated an amphibious landing by the Marines, an attack up the Wadi-al-Batin along the Iraq/Kuwait border, and a major offensive directly into the "Saddam Line" at one or more points along Kuwait's border with Saudi Arabia.

    The Iraqis had correctly understood one fact about the U.S. Military. They knew that the United States Marines were the finest amphibious fighting force in the world. The Iraqis did everything they could to fortify the Kuwait coastline against a Marine amphibious operation. Aside from the use of oil as a weapon along the Kuwait coast, tens of thousands of mines were laid in the Persian Gulf. Barbed wire and more mines were placed along the beaches. Every building along the coast was turned into a makeshift bunker. In all, ten Iraqi divisions manned the coastline.

    What was feared most of all by the Iraqi command was an amphibious assault along the beaches in the north western portion of Kuwait Harbor. This would place Marines in the Iraqi rear areas. So, an Iraqi armored force was dug in on Mutlaa Ridge, just north and east of Kuwait City, to encounter just such an attack and throw the Marines back into the sea. Also, giant minefields were created near Mutlaa Pass on both sides of the Kuwait city/Basrah Highway. These minefields were intended to surprise the Marines as they approached the highway and slow their advance so that they would be more vulnerable to counterattack.

    The Iraqi command had assigned other mechanized units to counterattack and repel an amphibious invasion in Kuwait City. These units were bivouacked in central Kuwait, near the "IceTray." These centrally placed units we're strategically located so that they could respond to any other Allied thrust in Western Kuwait. In the coming maelstrom, they would actually attempt to counterattack the 2nd Marine Division.

  • History on Saddam, Part 7

    When Iraq agreed to the cease-fire with Iran on the eighth day of the eighth month of 1988, Baghdad erupted in joy. Unlike Tehran, where the mood was glum, millions of Baghdadis spilled into the streets, dancing and chanting, by night and by day. It was the end of an eight year war. They set off fireworks and shot rifles in the air. Iraq's fortunes had reversed with stunning speed. Just four months before, Iraq seemed to be losing in a long drawn out war of attrition. But suddenly it was all over. One Iraqi described the feeling in Baghdad as one of "delirium mixed with sadness and memory of the losses that came suddenly to mind."

    With the cease-fire, Iraqis looked forward to enjoying life after eight years of terrible war. Iraqis expected prosperity. In reality, Iraq had incurred a debt of more than $70 billion, half to other Arab states and half to the West. People believed that the war's end would somehow restore the prosperity that had existed before the war.

    The Iraqi government faced great problems after the war. Although the regime made much of it's "victory" over Iran, the country had paid a terrible price (120,000 killed; 300,000 wounded; and an astronomical foreign debt). At the end of the war Iraq's army numbered 1 million. Almost all able-bodied men had served some time in the army, many for the war's entire duration. Soldiers do not return easily to civilian life. Men carry the habits they learned at the front back with him. Having faced death so often, they've become less willing than before to obey representatives of civilian authority. Some would turn to crime and become outlaws. Tens of thousands of soldiers had deserted the army during the war. If caught, they risked being shot. They could not work legally and many deserters turned to crime in order to survive. Additionally, a small private sector, which had emerged during the war, became immensely rich. The public sector, which employed the bulk of the labor force, was poor. The country was turning upside down and it was becoming very clear that if there was no "real" victory, there was no real peace.

  • The Expendables

    The Iraqi command adopted a defensive strategy that had worked well in the Iran/Iraq war. Iraq's most poorly trained and equipped infantry division had spent months digging in, just north of the Saudi frontier. Their defensive fortifications stretched from the Gulf Coast in the east to about 50 km west of Kuwait. Slightly better units manned a second defensive line farther inside Kuwait. The frontline troops were nothing more then cannon fodder. Their orders were to report the enemy's approach and then attempt to slow the Coalition's advance. The frontline fortifications meant more to the Iraqi command than did the soldiers, mostly conscripts, soldiers who were forced to participate in the war. Once word was passed to the rear indicating the point of the attack and size of the attacking force, the men in the trenches were expendable. However, the front line minefields and trenches were designed to channel the Allied forces into "Kill Zones" where they would be ripped to shreds by Iraqi artillery. Additionally, the front line fortifications would hinder any Allied retreat, keeping them exposed within artillery range even longer. Mechanized infantry and armored units were positioned north of the second line to counter attack the advancing enemy. This was the reason 1st Marine Division and 2nd Marine Division commanders wanted separate beaching points as well as the Arab forces. Too many units trying to cross these obstacles together would take too long and expose us for counter fire in a kill box.

    The basic line of defensive fortification consisted of a berm (a fifteen foot high wall of sand), then minefields, barbed wire, ditches, and finally, dug-in infantry in a honeycomb of trenches and bunkers. Artillery and armor were dug-in to their rear. Fortifications differed greatly from unit to unit. Many of the ditches were either filled with oil or were equipped so that they could be filled with oil. The oil was to be ignited, as the Allies approached, to create a wall fire. A large majority of the frontline emplacements had minefields behind the infantry trench line as well. These mines served a dual purpose. In addition to slowing the Allied advance, they discourage Iraqi conscripts who may have considered deserting the front line. Prior to January 17th, these were formidable defenses. The Iraqis thought they were prepared for a direct ground assault into Kuwait from Saudi Arabia.

    I came in contact with some of these soldiers, or conscripts, during the ground war. The majority of those who surrendered fairly easily were conscripts who were forced to be there and did not want to fight. The regular Army and the Republican Guard were the ones who put up the strongest resistance. During one encounter with a conscript, I learned a few things about his ordeal prior to the ground invasion. I have also found someone who was an Iraqi child living in Kirkuk who wishes to share their story and perspective about the war as they remember it 25 years ago. I will be sharing their stories as well as one from a Kuwaiti civilian some time in the month of March.

  • The Lucky and the Unlucky

    From the Iraqi Lieutenant's diary:

    "I have been here for more than 35 days because leaves were canceled. I am bored and sad. This morning, I learned that 26 soldiers from our division were condemned to death for deserting the front. They were apprehended near Samawa and executed at 2nd Division headquarters. Two of them were from the 68th Tank Battalion that we were with. They were unlucky. Their shame is very great. God is good. God protects."

    We were inching our way closer and closer to the border. Today I got word that we were moving out early in the morning to locate a counter battery position for Romeo Six to a position that was about 3 and half miles from the border. I had started recording a tape that would take me three days to finish. I also received a care package from my aunt, Linda. I do not remember all of the contents, but one thing I remember for sure, was the chocolate pudding. Now typically I would share contents of my care packages. I remember one day trading several can goods of food and some other goodies for a pair of tinted sand goggles. We were not issued any goggles and the sand was constantly getting in our eyes ears and nose. Although I didn't mind sharing things that I received in my care packages, no one was going to lay a finger on my chocolate pudding!

    Whenever I would get a letter or care package from home, it brought a little joy and happiness to my stressful life. As I mentioned in my Welcome! post, I would be sharing the Iraqi's diary to show the difference in morale. I had support, from family, from the majority of Americans back in the States, from our military commanders. This Iraqi lieutenant was cut off from the world, including his own family. No care packages, no incoming or outgoing mail, no support from his own military. And he was suffering from an undisclosed illness by now. I had it much easier than he did. And to top it off, I had my faith; he had his.

    But the letters and care packages certainly played an important role. To know that you have a family that loves and supports you, and will do anything they can for you, meant the world to me. I was a lucky man.

    “Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.” 

    ― George Burns

  • [nxs_button text='< Chapter 47' destination_articleid='1079' destination_url='' destination_js='' destination_target='_self' colorzen='nxs-colorzen nxs-colorzen-c12-dm ' scale='2-0']