After three weeks of intense fighting, the American military offensive
against Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq more or less ended last Saturday.
The military operation can be compared to smashing down pieces on a chess
board by a violent hand and rearranging them according to a new guiding
logic. The manner in which the pieces of the Iraqi regime were smashed down
and are now being rearranged will serve as a basis for the work of
politicians and an inspiration for military planners for years to come.
I was privileged to bear witness to large swathes of the chess pieces
falling down. The 2-7 Mechanized Infantry Battalion from the US army's 3rd
infantry division's first brigade whose forces I joined in the Kuwaiti
desert five weeks ago fought its way across Iraq from east to west, south to
Its engagements began just west of al-Nasariya and continued through
a-Samwa, an-Najaf, Karbala, al Musaaib, Baghdad International Airport and
into Baghdad itself. When I parted from the troops on Sunday evening, they
were resting in western Baghdad at a luxurious villa outside a presidential
The battalion's resident military strategist is operations officer Maj. Rod
Coffey. Coffey, a 41-year-old, blond-haired, blue-eyed, square-jawed former
actor and student of the Catholic priesthood, is an avid follower of the
work of retired IDF Brig. Gen. Shimon Naveh. He believes that what the US
military accomplished in its offensive has shown that as Naveh argues, the
German all-out combined arms operations from World War II is not necessarily
the key to winning in modern warfare.
'What we did here on an operational level has never been done before,'
Coffey explains. 'We showed that if your objective is to destroy a regime,
you do not have to engage at every location. We made very clear to the
regular Iraqi army before we invaded that it was not our target. We also
signaled very clearly to the Special Republican Guard that it was our
target. We rightly assumed that the Iraqi people themselves would not fight
for Saddam's regime.
'All of these actions and presumptions informed our military planning and
operations. We did not get bogged down. we moved straight to our objective.
Our messages were received by the proper Iraqis and they behaved
accordingly, ' Coffey concludes.
Because the US forces had a clear military objective – ending Saddam's
regime – they did not allow themselves to be diverted by pockets of
'Brute force and ignorance' is how Lt. Col. Scott Rutter termed his
battalion's offenses to his troops. 'Keep moving with brute force and
ignorance. Kill the enemy and move on,' he yelled repeatedly into the
battalion's radio network.
'I think one of the most significant aspects of our operation is that we
never stopped moving. The battalion commander said to keep moving and we
did. We drove for 18 hours straight and pissed in bottles, stopping only to
refuel. The enemy could never sway us from where we wanted to go,' says
25-year-old Steve Gleason, scout platoon commander.
On a larger scale, the focus, discipline and success of the US ground
offensive in Iraq has sent a clear message to terror-supporting regimes
throughout the region and the world.
'What this operation has done is to tell every regime in the world, 'if you support terrorism even tangentially, we will destroy you.' No doubt the regime in Iran, Syria and even Saudi
Arabia are taking note of this,' says Coffey.
'They will think twice about supporting terrorism in the wake of this operation in a way they never did before.'
AS FOR terrorism, the result of the offensive shows just how dependent on
terrorism Saddam's regime had become. While the 2-7 battalion was the only
task force to directly engage Iraqi tanks in battle, the most prevalent
fighting tactic of the Iraqi forces was indiscriminate RPG fire, small arms
and truck-mounted anti-aircraft artillery guns – that is terrorist warfare.
Interestingly, Baghdad itself was defended not by the Iraqi military, but by
a smattering of special Republican Guard troops bolstered by Palestinian and
Syrian irregular forces. It was these terrorist elements who fought hardest
for their patron Saddam, thus giving lie to the accusation that the US
operation in Iraq had nothing to do with its war against global terrorism.
An important lesson of the US offensive is that it is possible to deter the
use of weapons of mass destruction if one's offensive posture is
sufficiently strong. The 2-7 battalion acted as a buffer force on the
western edge of the city of Karbala as the rest of the 3rd infantry division
bypassed the city to the battalion's west. At the Karbala gap, a flat of
land only 8.5 km. wide, the Iraqis could have broken the US offensive at
least temporarily if they had used chemical weapons against the troops. Two
hours before the advance began, 3rd infantry division soldiers donned their
protective rubber boots on top of their protective chemical suits.
'I believe the Iraqis were deterred by our show of force. If some Lt.
Muhammad was ordered to chem us, he probably decided not to bother after he
saw our tanks and Bradleys plowing through,' says Gleason.
As it was, Iraqi resistance at the Karbala gap – where US forces were most vulnerable – was
No doubt the most important and most daring aspect of the US operation in
Iraq is found in its name – Iraqi freedom. The attempt to bring freedom and
democracy to Iraq is the first time since the end of World War II that the
US has set for itself the aim of forcing freedom on a people that has never
Tonight, the Jewish people begin a week of celebrating our own emergence as
the first people in human history forcibly freed from bondage. We know that
had it not been for Moses we would have never left Egypt. In retelling the
story of the Exodus, we learn that while freedom can be won by the sword it
can only be maintained in the mind.
Watching thousands of civilians looting and plundering in the streets of
Baghdad, it was clear to me that the Iraqi people already have the first
inklings of what freedom can be. In raiding Saddam's store houses, they
quite clearly were saying 'no more' to his tyranny. In the days since, Iraqi
civilians have actively sought out US forces to point out weapons caches and
suspected chemical weapons depots.
At the same time, anti-US gunmen and terrorists proliferate. The sullen
faces of young men with neatly cut hair in civilian clothes are seen next to
the exuberant pillagers throughout the city. If these men, Saddam's
soldiers, are not separated from positions of influence they may convince
the people to return to their lives as slaves.
For Israel, the American experiment of bringing freedom to Iraq is
enormously significant. The core of Arab rejection of Israel is the absence
of freedom in Arab lands. Israel must be hated, otherwise our success in
making our desert bloom is proof that tyranny stands at the heart of Arab
backwardness and defeat. A free Iraq may be a seed for change in the
mind-set of the Arab world and hence the first seed of true peace for
On the eve of the Seder, as we celebrate our freedom from bondage, we must
also celebrate the possibility that the same freedom may become the lot of
our neighbor to the east spreading from Baghdad to Damascus, Teheran,
Beirut, and Cairo.
Originally published in The Jerusalem