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Republican Guard

The Republican Guard was the best of the Iraqi ground forces. The RGFC was Iraq's most capable and loyal force, and received the best training and equipment. It began as an elite organization tasked with regime protection. This organization served as the core around which to build an elite offensive force, which grew dramatically during the last two years of the war with Iran. During the Iran-lraq war this organization was expanded from a Palace Guard of one brigade into a separate force -- the Republican Guard Forces Command -- of thirty to thirty-three brigades in seven divisions.

The Republican Guard Forces Command possessed advantages of personnel and equipment over the larger Regular Army. RGFC armored battalions had nine more tanks than Army tank battalions, giving them added firepower. Otherwise, the organization of combat arms units in the Guard and regular Army appeared identical. All Republican Guard troops were highly motivated volunteers rather than conscripts. Personnel recruited into the RGFC were given bonuses, new cars and subsidized housing. All had more training than the regulars; and all had the most modern equipment in the Iraqi inventory, including the Soviet T-72 tank with night vision capability. This elite corps included infantry, mechanized and motorized infantry, and armored divisions.

The RGFC was subordinate to the State Special Security Apparatus, not the Defense Ministry; it was believed to be under GHQ operational control during combat. Although the Guard and regular Army were maintained as separate institutions, they had demonstrated the ability to fight effectively in the same offensive or defensive operation.

Early in 1986 Saddam took the Iranian town of Mehran, and said he would trade it for Al Faw. Instead of acquiescing, Iranian forces recaptured Mehran and drove off the Iraqis, humiliating Saddam and raising doubts about his ability to prosecute the war. A few days after the debacle at Mehran, the leaders of the Baath Party held an "Extraordinary Congress" in Baghdad and decided on a mobilization. Colleges were to be closed and students put into summer training camps. To sweeten the call-up for these students, the Baathists announced that volunteers would be accepted into the Republican Guard. The chance to enter the Republican Guard was attractive to ambitious students. Before the announcement, only young men from Tikrit, Saddam's hometown, were allowed into the "elite" Guard. The Republican Guard began changing from a praetorian bodyguard for Saddam to a tough, well-equipped force for special missions. Later in the war, the expanding Republican Guard would enter its final phase, becoming the Iraqi Army's major offensive element.

The RGFC had been the key to the victory over Iran in the final battles. The RGFC was the major assault force in each of the 1988 multi-corps offensive operations that reclaimed the Al-Faw peninsula, Fish Lake and the Majnun Islands from the Iranians. In these operations, regular forces fixed the enemy while the RGFC attacked. These offensive operations in 1988 were notable for their detailed preparation and planning. The Guard's defensive mission was strategic reserve, withheld until it could influence the battle decisively with a counterattack, or shore up collapsing Army positions. To prevent the fall of Al-Basrah in 1987, 12 Guard brigades were committed to battle. Without the determined RGFC defense, the Iranians would have penetrated the Iraqi lines. In early 1988, RGFC elements again were sent hurriedly to shore up a weakness in the Al-Basrah defenses in anticipation of an expected Iranian offensive. GHQ usually reserved authority to commit the RGFC to battle. The RGFC also was an important political force supporting Saddam, used to counterbalance the regular Army in case of revolt or to deal with civil unrest.

Despite the guard's offensive successes of 1988 and 1990, Republican Guard tactical successes were largely set-piece affairs, hinging on extensive planning, logistics stockpiling, and rehearsals. After 1987 all guard offensives were conducted against vastly weaker forces: Iranian formations encountered in 1988 were debilitated by the failed Karbala offensives of 1987 and collapsing civilian morale. Kuwaiti armed forces were taken by surprise in 1990, only one brigade of which opposed the RGFC as the bulk of the Kuwaiti forces were overrun in garrison. Republican Guard tactical doctrine was probably strongly shaped by (if not identical to) regular army tactical doctrine. The only significant tank battle the Iraqis fought was a static defense against a grossly mishandled Iranian armored division in January 1981.

At the end of the war with Iran, the RGFC consisted of eight divisions. Combined with its independent infantry and artillery brigades, the RGFC comprised almost 20 percent of Iraqi ground forces. Most RGFC heavy divisions were equipped with Soviet T-72 main battle tanks, Soviet BMP armored personnel carriers, French GCT self-propelled howitzers and Austrian GHN-45 towed howitzers -- all modern, state-of-the-art equipment.

Iraqi Republican Guard units began moving from garrisons around Baghdad as Saddam made his 17 July 1990 speech accusing Kuwait (among others) of cheating Iraq of oil revenue and of occupying territory belonging to Iraq. By 21 July, a RGFC armored division had deployed just north of Kuwait. There were reports that as many as 3,000 military vehicles were on the road leading south from Baghdad to the Kuwaiti border. In two weeks, the bulk of the combat power of Iraq's best military force -- the Republican Guard -- was moved hundreds of kilometers into positions that would permit an attack into Kuwait with almost no warning.

By 01 August 1990, there were eight RGFC divisions (two armored, one mechanized, one special forces and four infantry) between Al-Basrah and the Kuwaiti border. The rapidity of this buildup indicated the quality and extent of Iraqi staff planning. Some units had moved as far as 700 kilometers from their home bases. The Iraqis had assembled almost 140,000 troops, supported by more than 1,500 tanks and infantry vehicles, plus the required artillery, and logistics.

The Republican Guard Forces Command was divided into two subcorps groups, an independent division, twenty special forces (commando) brigades, and one naval infantry brigade. The heroic names of some of the subordinate elements underscored their elite character. The 1st Subcorps Group, deployed in southern Iraq and northern Kuwait, consisted of two armored units, the Hammurabi and Madina Divisions; one mechanized infantry unit, the Tawakalna Division; and a motorized infantry unit the Al-Faw Division. The 2d Subcorps Group deployed south of Baghdad consisted of two motorized infantry units the Nebuchadnezzar and the Adnan Divisions. The independent mechanized infantry unit was the Baghdad Division, stationed in and around the Iraqi capital. This RGFC mechanized division was stationed in Baghdad throughout the Gulf War, a visible and powerful deterrent to potential mutineers. Additionally, four RGFC infantry divisions, not committed to the KTO, were formed during the war to provide internal security. In January 1991 the formation of five more Republican Guard divisions was announced -- all motorized infantry. The names of only three of them were known to Central Command: the Al-Abed, Al-Mustafa, and Al-Nidala Divisions [Al Mustafa, which means 'The Elect', is not readily associated with any known Republican Guard division].

In 1995, several military officers of the al-Dulaymi tribe from western Iraq staged a coup attempt in May. Hussein tortured and executed the participants, then returned their mutilated bodies to their kinsmen. In response, a Republican Guard battalion led by outraged al-Dulaymi military officers attacked the Iraqi prison at Abu Gharayb. Two loyal Republican Guard brigades defeated the rebels, but Hussein was disturbed by the fact that some of his normally loyal Republican Guards had turned against him. A purge of the Republican Guards followed in July.

The RGFC was a separate command composed of two corps. It was the best equipped and trained force in the Iraqi ground forces. It was a self-contained force with its own organic combat, combat support, and combat service support elements. The RGFC was assessed to include four armored/mechanized divisions and two infantry divisions. One or more special forces brigades could also be subordinate to the RGFC.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 02:50:19 ZULU