The Course of the War--So Far
Saddam Hussein has won the opening exchanges in the psychological war. When the Coalition Forces launched Operation Iraqi Freedom on March 20 they targeted Saddam directly in the hope of persuading the Iraqi people that this was a war against Saddam, not a war against Iraq. Millions of leaflets were dropped over southern Iraq bearing a similar message. By conducting the war in this manner, allied commanders hoped to encourage the Iraqi people to join them in liberating the country from the Ba'athist terror regime.
Unfortunately for the allies, Saddam appears to have beaten them to it, albeit by using his customary tactics of brutality and coercion. While the Iraqis are well aware that they cannot start to compete with the overwhelming military superiority presented by the allied forces, they have devised a series of tactics that are designed to make the task of the invasion forces immeasurably more difficult. To this end Saddam's Ba'ath party has been able to pre-empt the allies' psychological warfare tactics by intimidating Iraq's civilian population to the extent that they dare not contemplate a national insurrection. Saddam's tactics are particularly apparent in Basra where the Ba'ath party's fedayeen loyalists have been targeting civilians trying to flee the city with mortars and machine guns. There have even been reports that potential traitors have been hanged in public "pour encourager les autres." A similar pattern of violence and intimidation has been detected in other parts of the country, with women and children being used as human shields to protect fedayeen fighters attacking allied positions.
Combined with the Iraqi regime's ability to present a united front each day on Iraqi television, the prospects of the allies' psychological war achieving its goals is fast fading. The more Saddam can keep Iraq's civilian population locked up in the cities, where they face the prospect of becoming "collateral damage", the less likely they are to join a war of liberation. Which, of course, is just what Saddam wants.
Having won - from his point of view - the diplomatic war, Saddam genuinely believes he can win through this conflict. To do this he has two objectives in mind. Firstly, Saddam is aware that this is not a popular war, with a large body of world opinion and the UN Security Council against military intervention in Iraq. If the number of civilian casualties in Iraq reaches an unacceptable level, London and Washington will come under intense pressure to call a halt to hostilities. By confining Iraqi civilians to urban areas, Saddam is increasing the likelihood of Iraqi civilians being killed and injured by allied air strikes. Secondly, Saddam is also aware that Western public opinion is uncomfortable about American and British soldiers being killed in action. If the number of allied casualties becomes too high, the US and British governments will come under strong domestic pressure to call a ceasefire. This explains Saddam's decision to show pictures of dead and injured allied servicemen on Iraqi television. It also explains Saddam's reluctance to engage allied forces on the battlefield, where his ageing equipment would stand no chance against the allies' technically superior tanks and aircraft.
Saddam wants to lure the allies into bloody street battles in the Iraqi cities where it is likely there would be both heavy Iraqi civilian casualties and significant allied casualties. If that were to happen Saddam believes he could survive this crisis, just as Yasser Arafat ultimately survived the siege of Beirut in 1982.
Con Coughlin is the author of Saddam: King of Terror.