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Fighting Three Wars At Once In Iraq

File photo of a US aircraft carrier battle group.
by Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington (UPI) Feb 08, 2007
"One war at a time," U.S. President Abraham Lincoln famously said when dismissing a proposal to risk war with the British Empire, the most powerful nation on earth, when he already had his hands full waging the U.S. Civil War. But as the United States heads for a full-scale confrontation with Iran, it risks fighting three separate wars simultaneously in the same theater of operations.

The first war is already raging at fill intensity, and the United States and the Iraqi government are still losing it: That is the struggle against the Sunni insurgents in Iraq.

This weekend Lt. Gen. David Petraeus will get his fourth star. Petraeus will succeed Gen. George Casey, slated to be the U.S. Army's next chief of staff, as the next U.S. and allied ground forces commander in Iraq. He has already made clear he wants to saturate Baghdad with troops and clear insurgents out of Sunni majority neighborhoods to end their violent onslaught in the Iraqi capital of 6 million people.

In recent weeks, far from abating, Sunni insurgent violence in Baghdad has reached new levels of intensity with scores and even hundreds of people at a time being killed in mass terror bomb attacks.

However, even while U.S. policymakers await hopefully but uncertainly to see the results of Petraeus' new strategy, they're also hunkering down for a looming confrontation with Iran over its refusal to heed United Nations Security Council Resolution 1737 of Dec. 23 and abandon its nuclear development program.

A second U.S. aircraft carrier battle group has been dispatched to the Persian Gulf. An aviator admiral with no experience of dealing directly with land warfare but with almost unrivalled experience in directing carrier-launched aircraft against mainland targets, Adm. William Fallon has been chosen by President George W. Bush to head Central Command or CENTCOM, the U.S. command that includes both Iraq and Iran.

And the U.S. government has sent new batteries of Patriot anti-ballistic missiles out to the region to protect U.S. bases and ground forces, Israel and other potential targets of Iranian ballistic missile attacks.

Meanwhile, the Iranians appear to be expecting a U.S. attack. In the past three days, they have announced successful tests of their new, state-of-the-art Tor-M1 anti-aircraft missile system, jut received from Russia, and of their older but still potentially dangerous Sark anti-ship missile system, also supplied by Russia.

The Iranians would have other forms of retaliation available too. In the event of a U.S. air strike on their new nuclear centrifuges and other faculties, they would almost certainly unleash the Mahdi Army of Moqtada al-Sadr, the highly popular Iraqi Shiite leader, which is particularly strong across southern Iraq and in the Sadr City Shiite poor neighborhoods of Baghdad, where 2 million people live.

But if the U.S. Air Force and Navy aircraft strike Iranian nuclear facilities, then Washington policymakers could end up directing three separate but overlapping wars at the same time.

For the war Gen. Petraeus has been sent to fight against the Sunni Muslim insurgents in Iraq, especially in Baghdad, is a very different kind of war from an air campaign involving possible retaliation by anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles. And if Sadr's Mahdi Army were to rise, especially, if it was supported by other Shiite militias or even by significant elements in the U.S.-raised and trained new Iraqi army, that would be a third, even more complicated war.

Historically, even the finest armies have often been unbalanced, caught by surprise and even annihilated when they were forced to fight very different kinds of enemies simultaneously or in quick succession.

The Norman Conquest of England in 1066 only succeeded because King Harold of England had had to fight and destroy the Norwegian army of Harald Hardrada at the Battle of Stamford Hill to the north only weeks before he fought and died at the Battle of Hastings.

More recently, the German Sixth Army in World War II, reputed to be the finest infantry force in the world at the time, was ground up and decimated in street fighting in the Battle of Stalingrad. Neither the Sixth Army's own top officers nor the German High Command paid any attention to the build up of reserve Soviet Red Army forces on the flanks of the Sixth Army until they attacked in November 1942 and cut the German force in the city off from behind.

Two years later, in the fall of 1944, the German Army ruthlessly and effectively crushed the Armija Krajowa, the Polish Home Army, after its unsuccessful rising in the Battle of Warsaw. But they proved no match for the rested Red Army in conventional battle when it swept across the River Vistula and scattered German reserve forces to the winds in its January 1945 offensive.

Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, the greatest British combat commander of World War II, always emphasized the importance of balance in full-scale army formations deployed to fight major land battles. But if an army's operational and planning energies are focused on defending their lines of communication, maintaining control of large cities, or in fighting and suppressing large irregular forces, then they may be disastrously distracted from the main axis of conventional attack against them.

If U.S. forces in the Iraq-Iran region are forced to fight two or three major but very different campaigns simultaneously within a small geographical area, they will run the risk of confusion and dispersal of effort that could generate this kind of dangerous distraction.

earlier related report
Gates cites "pretty good evidence" of Iran link to Iraq bombs
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said Friday that the United States had "pretty good evidence" linking Iran to powerful roadside bombs used against US troops in Iraq.

Gates said the US side was surprised when Iranians were captured in sweeps aimed at insurgent arms supply networks in Iraq but not that Iran was involved in providing the more sophisticated "explosively formed projectiles."

"I think Iran is very much involved in providing either the technology or the weapons themselves of these explosively formed projectiles," he said.

"Now they don't represent a big percentage of the IED attacks but they are extremely leghtal," he said.

The bombs have shaped charges that can penetrate the armor of an M-1 Abrams battle tank, a level of technical sophistication that Gates said pointed to an Iranian source.

"I think there are some serial numbers, there may be some markings on some of the projectiles, fragments that we've found," he told reporters here.

"I'm just frankly not specifically certain myself of the details. But I understand there is pretty good evidence tying these EFPs to the Iranians.

The US military had been preparing to go public with the evidence to back its frequent charges that Iran has been supplying Shia insurgent groups with weapons and training to attack US forces.

But a briefing that had been scheduled for reporters in Baghdad was postponed, raising questions about how solid the evidence was.

The Bush administration also has been moving to lower rising tensions with Iran which have been stoked by the deployment of a second aircraft carrier strike group to the Gulf and the capture of Iranians in raids in Iraq.

They have come on top of a mounting diplomatic confrontation over Tehran's nuclear programme.

"My impression frankly over the last few weeks there has been an effort in Washington to tone down everybody else," Gates said Friday. "I don't know how many times the president, the secretary of state and I have had to say we have no intention of attacking Iran."

Iran's supreme leader Ali Khamenei on Thursday vowed retaliation against US interests worldwide if the United States attacked Iran. Earlier this week, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard tested an anti-ship missile in an apparent reminder of the risks to US warships in the Gulf.

But Gates shrugged off the Iranian posturing as "just another day in the Persian Gulf."

However he acknowledged Friday that the announcement of the carrier deployment and the raids in Iraq had caused a stir.

But he said US forces were not specifically targeting Iranians in those raids. "Some of us were surprised that they actually did find some Iranians involved in that," he said.

Source: United Press International

Source: Agence France-Presse

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