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Summary: The Allies’ Operational Leadership in the War in Iraq 2003

Philipp Eder

With the War in Iraq modern Western operational art that, over the last decade, has seen a revival of operational leadership, reached a preliminary final stage. While the Gulf War of 1990/91 had in itself been a showpiece of how to conduct free operations, that kind of leadership - strongly inspired by US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld - reached a peak of perfection in the War in Iraq in 2003.

The US Central Command (USCENTCOM) located at Tampa, Florida executed the Operational Planning. USCENTCOM had identified Saddam Hussein’s leadership qualities as the strategic center of Iraq’s unfolding power and ability to act. Once the principle decision on going to war was made in September 2002, USCENTCOM conducted a number of exercises to put pressure on Iraq and started to deploy troops and equipment into the region. Because of Saudi Arabia’s cautious straddling, the air base in Qatar assumed an important role. Initial deployment got under way on 24 December 2002, when Secretary Rumsfeld alerted the bulk of the active divisions and by the end of February 200,000 troops were deployed, half of them in Kuwait.

The actual maneuver phase set in 20 March 2003 with the so-called Decapitation Attack, a limited air strike against the assumed location of the Iraqi leadership, which failed, however. A day later ground troops crossed the Iraqi border moving toward Baghdad, engaging defending forces only when absolutely necessary. The operational concept ha three objectives: a) gaining control over the oil-abundant southern region, b) ensuring freedom of movement and action in Western Iraq in order to prevent a potential attack against Israel possibly entailing weapons of mass destruction, and c) establishing air sovereignty over Iraq and air superiority over Baghdad, which was facilitated by extensive prior US presence for the purpose of no-fly-zone surveillance.

Further objectives comprised taking terrain needed in order to ensure supply lines, controlling the coast and harbors, gaining support of the Shiite majority in Southern Iraq, and stabilizing Northern Iraq in order to prevent an escalation of Turkish-Kurdish tensions. Militarily it was in first place a matter of fighting terrorism and neutralizing the Republican Guards that were believed to have more combat power than the regular Iraqi Forces.

Aside from a short phase of weakness at Nassirijah (23 March 2003) the allied ground troops rapidly advanced toward Baghdad, achieving important breakthroughs when penetrating Republican Guard defense lines at Kerbala and Al Kut. After 21 days and 750 km of advance they were able to zero in on Baghdad, after having taken the airport. When the tanks of the Allies moved into Baghdad, it soon became clear that organized resistance no longer existed, and on 1 May 2003 US President George W. Bush was in a position to announce that "major combat operations” in Iraq were over.

The War in Iraq clearly demonstrated the superiority of the Allied Forces, who succeeded, because of the optimal synchronization of forces while using relatively low force employment, comprehensive preparations and reconnaissance of the theater, which ultimately led to command superiority.

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Eigentümer und Herausgeber: Bundesministerium für Landesverteidigung | Roßauer Lände 1, 1090 Wien
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