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Ground Forces - 1991

In early 1991 Iraq's military reflected the influence of both the British Army and the Soviet Army. The British influence remained in staff organization and in reliance on the corps as the largest independent operational unit. Soviet influence, dating from the 1960s, was clearest in the heavy reliance on artillery and in a broad range of Warsaw Pact equipment and weapons. But in replacing losses and upgrading capability since the war with Iran, Baghdad had incorporated weapons and other technology from many countries, including Italy, Yugoslavia, Austria, Romania, Switzerland, the Netherlands, South Africa, and the People's Republic of China. Iraq also flew French helicopters and used a variety of American equipment.

By February 1991 Iraq had an army of more than 1 million men-about 950,000 regulars, of which some 480,000 were reserve and new conscripts, and about 90,000 volunteers. The regulars were organized into seven corps and the volunteers into the corps-size Republican Guard Forces Command, the offensive component of Iraq's military. Three corps were deployed northward, partly facing the borders of Turkey, Syria, and Iran. The remaining four corps and the Republican Guard Forces Command were in southern Iraq, in Kuwait, and along the eastern part of the Iraqi-Saudi Arabian border and thus were of immediate interest to Central Command.

The corps was the principal controlling headquarters in the Iraqi field forces. Each corps commander controlled a variety of combat support and combat service support units: air defense, reconnaissance, engineer, chemical defense, medical, aviation, antitank, signal, electronic warfare, and special forces battalions. Of these elements, coalition commanders paid the most attention to artillery, air defense artillery, and rocket brigades. Each artillery brigade nominally had seventy-two weapons, and in some sectors brigades had twice that many. These mortars, howitzers, and guns generally reflected the Soviet inventory and included at least six sizes, ranging from 100 mm. to 160 mm. One type of Iraqi towed artillery, the South African G-5, with a range of 25 miles, particularly concerned allied ground commanders.

Each rocket brigade probably had eighteen transporter-erector launchers able to launch one of two major weapon systems: Soviet-made FROG (free rocket over ground) rockets, and three types of Scud intermediate-range ballistic missiles. The designation Scud was the NATO code name for the Soviet-designed SS-1 missile and its variants, which the Iraqis had bought from the Soviets and North Koreans during the war with Iran and modified to extend the range. With clearance from the General Headquarters, corps commanders could use the Soviet Scud-B or either of the two Iraqi-modified Scuds, the Al-Hussein and the Al-Abbas, with ranges between 200 and 400 miles.

Iraq's missile inventory represented a two-pronged threat to the effort to liberate Kuwait. On the strategic level the Scuds menaced the integrity of the allied coalition. Capable of reaching Israel, the Scuds could provoke a counterattack by the Jewish state, the archenemy of many of the Muslim countries that had deployed military contingents against Iraq. Such a development would almost certainly fragment the coalition. On the tactical level the missiles, as well as a variety of artillery pieces and aircraft, could be used to unleash a threat of great concern to coalition field commanders and governments alike: chemical attack.

During the seven months of the Gulf crisis, the Iraqi Army had between fifty-five and sixty divisions, the number fluctuating with draft calls, training cycles, and attrition rates. The Iraqis fielded several types of divisions: armored, mechanized, and motorized infantry. Each was nominally organized into three maneuver brigades, divisional artillery, and various combat support and combat service support units. A typical armored division had two armored brigades and one mechanized brigade; a mechanized division had two mechanized brigades and one armored brigade; and a motorized infantry division had three infantry brigades and one tank battalion. After extended deployment, however, many divisions evolved to meet specific situations, expanding to include as many as eight maneuver brigades of any type, depending on the perceived threat in a particular sector. The large numbers of tracked and armored vehicles in Iraqi divisions-4,500 main battle tanks and 27,880 armored personnel carriers all told-indicated impressive battlefield mobility and offensive potential. This armored capability was strengthened by the direct support of some 3,300 artillery pieces in the Kuwaiti theater of operations.

By mid-February 1991 the Iraqis had forty-three divisions along their southeastern border and in Kuwait. These divisions were organized in the II, III, IV and VII Corps of the Regular Army and in the Republican Guard. The Iraqi order of battle in the triborder area included thirty-one infantry, four mechanized infantry and eight armored divisions arranged in distinct lines and masses. A nearly solid line of infantry divisions, stretching from the Persian Gulf across southern Kuwait and extending about 100 miles farther west into southern Iraq, faced coalition forces and the Saudi Arabian border. Behind the east end of this infantry line, in a defensive arc south and west of Kuwait City, stood two mechanized infantry and two armored divisions; behind the west end, another armored division. This front line of Iraqi units totaled twenty-eight divisions, all Regular Army. A second tier of fifteen divisions, including the remaining armored and mechanized infantry divisions, deployed in a more dispersed pattern across northern Kuwait and southeastern Iraq. Twelve of those divisions, five of them armored, were Republican Guard units.

According to Iraqi prisoners interrogated after the war, many Iraqi units deployed to Kuwait with 75 percent or less of their standard number of personnel, and some units were manned at only 50 percent. Although CENTCOM and the DIA prudently assumed a minimum of 500,000, even before Desert Storm began, the total Iraqi force probably numbered less than 400,000. Once the Allied bombing began, tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers deserted their units. Iraqi prisoners later reported an overall desertion rate of over 30 per cent. Because of this mass desertion, the total Iraqi force probably fell below 300,000 troops, and possibly below 200,000 troops.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 02:48:15 ZULU