The Mother of all Battles: Saddam Hussein’s Strategic Plan for the Persian Gulf War by Kevin M. Woods. The Official U.S. Joint Forces Command Report published by the Naval Institute Press, 291 Wood Road, Annapolis, Maryland. 384 pages, 2008.
It is easy to be dismissive of the losing side of any war, but that would be a tragic mistake. For no military history is complete without taking account of the adversary, with the support of the Joint Forces Command, the Naval Institute has published the Iraqi account of Operation Desert Storm. Rationalizing the Iraqi decisions for their deployments and military decisions designed within the constraints of their polity, capability and psychology is important for America’s future military leaders. Part of the future of military education is not to create sympathy but empathy for an adversary and this requires an immersion in the documents of our adversaries. Kevin Woods and the Joint Forces Command have done a great service with their Iraqi Perspectives Report. The book begins with an overview of Operation Desert Storm laying the overall political climate that led to Iraq invading Kuwait in August 1990.
The book contains many surprises, such as clear Iraqi reconnaissance photographs of Kuwaiti ministries and government buildings perhaps the only successes of the Iraqi Air Force was its use of MIG-25s in the surveillance of Kuwait and the Saudi border town of Khafji in Saudi Arabia. The utility of reading Iraqi source documents is getting into Saddam Hussein’s deep psychological and allegorical frame of mind. Saddam would be heavily influenced by the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), and what he took from that was playing off the international community to gain an advantage. Some of Saddam’s allegory is not rooted in any western military tradition, but harkens back to pre-Islamic Arabia where he refers to the Iranians as the Sassanid Persians, the United States as Christian Byzantium, Israel as the Byzantine vassal state of Abysinia and finally as Iraq as pre-Islamic Arabia or Mecca sandwiched between these great powers. These allegories require an understanding of Arabia both at the time of Prophet Muhammad and before around 570 CE. A Saddam quote that you will ponder, “If you decide to fight your enemy then you have to make him look like the aggressor.”
Saddam’s conspiracy theories, regional jealousies and grand strategy at the end was reduced to money by 1990. Iraq’s war with Iran, depression of oil prices, OPECs inaction, and seeing him loose $1 billion per year for every $1 decrease in the price of oil per barrel, led to Saddam’s calculus to first intimidate and then take over Kuwait. A letter sent by Saddam to the Emir of Kuwait contained his final demands, $2.4 billion compensation for the disputed Rumailah Oil Field, $12 billion for Kuwait’s role in depressing oil prices, $10 billion in debts to be forgiven, and a long lease on the Kuwaiti island of Bubiyan. Impossible demands for Kuwait to accept and they dismissed Saddam’s bluster.
Chapters reveal the most intelligent historical analogy offered by Saddam’s ministers was from his Minister of Higher Education who compared Iraq’s seizure of Kuwait to France’s retrieval of Alsace-Lorraine after World War I. Planning for the invasion of Kuwait was done exclusively by the Iraqi Republican Guard and its Chief of Staff General Aayad al-Rawi. This robbed Iraq of talented planners like the Army Chief of Staff and Iran-Iraq hero General Nizar al-Khazraji, he along with other service chiefs were informed hours before the invasion. General Ra’ad Hamdani, a brigade commander in Operation Iraqi Freedom, during Operation Desert Storm, worked the tactical solution of an armored thrust 160 KM south towards the southern tip of Kuwait City, his need for intelligence was so great he planned a covert operation in which he dressed as a sergeant under the guise of picking up supplies for his platoon to reconnoiter the Kuwaiti port of Ahmadi. It was called off by his division commander, and they were reduced to using dated maps of 1: 100,000 scale, what helped was aerial reconnaissance of Kuwait City.
Iraq’s Chief of the Navy was informed 36 hours before the invasion of Project 17 (the plan to invade Kuwait) and was given the mission of taking Faylakah Island and assume tactical control of Kuwait’s naval bases. The main invasion comprised of three separate division level thrusts into Kuwait. Despite the failure of Iraqi Air Units in providing air-ground support and damaging Kuwaiti airfields, they did succeed not just in reconnaissance but its helicopters did work relatively well in moving Special Forces units.
Kuwaiti resistance took advantage of Iraq’s undisciplined regular Army units, luring troops with alcohol and slaughtering them, or into houses and killing them. Iraq’s Taha Ramadan was appointed literally a minister in charge of looting Kuwait. A chapter focuses on how Iraq planned to keep Kuwait, and among the surprises was the quotation from a candid book published by Iraqi General Hazim Ayyubi entitled, “Forty-Three Missiles on the Zionist Entity,” which details Iraq’s SCUD missile preparations that do back to 1988. This is a demonstration of the need to translate, analyze and discuss Arabic books of military interest. The book ends with a chapter on Umm al-Maarik, (Mother of all Battles), and Saddam deriving the lesson from Operation Desert Storm that President Bush Sr., did not succeed because he (Saddam) was not removed from power. This is an important read in the current climate of attempting to understand the Arab way of conventional and guerilla warfare.
Editor’s Note: Cmdr. Aboul-Enein has been publishing essays highlighting Arabic books of military significance for years. His work appears in such U.S. Army journals as Infantry, Armor, and Military Review. In 1997-1998, Aboul-Enein served at sea in Operation Southern Watch that focused on the containment of Saddam Hussein’s forces in the southern Iraq.