Thunder Run: The Armored Strike to Capture Baghdad Page 5

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Q. Was there any one moment or incident that you wished to have included in the book but didn’t? What  was it and why didn’t it make it in?

A. I think I managed to cover all the major incidents and events involving the 2nd Brigade and its battle for Baghdad.

Q. Assuming an ability to get the information, what other story of the Iraq War would you like to have  written if given the choice? Why?

A. I would loved to have been “embedded” with Iraqi forces in order to get a better understanding of their tactics, expectations and performance. I interviewed several Republican Guard generals and Iraqi officers after the war to get an idea of what happened on the other side of the war, but a first-hand experience would have been invaluable.

Q. What did the Iraqis say?

[Note: Zucchino answered this question by sharing an August 2003 article he had written for the Los Angeles Times, portions of which are presented below, with some placement of text moved for contextual clarity… the entire article (“Iraq’s Swift Defeat Blamed on Leaders” 08/11/03) is available for purchase from the LA Times web archive]

A. Iraqi forces, who did not anticipate Americans would use tanks in urban combat inside the capital city, were largely unprepared for the ensuing armored onslaught. Hussein, convinced that Republican Guard units posted south of Baghdad would repel American tanks, had decided not to mine highways or blow up bridges leading into the capital, commanders said. The infrastructure was left intact so that it could be used by Iraqi forces mounting counterattacks. But entire Republican Guard divisions were ravaged, first by coalition warplanes and then by tanks approaching the capital.

“We should have mined the roads and bridges. We should have planned a guerrilla war,” said retired Gen. Ahmed Rahal, 51. “We were crippled by a lack of imagination.”

Iraqi military planners assumed that Americans would dare not send tanks into an urban area and did not anticipate a direct tank assault on the capital, retired Gen. Rahal said.

Several commanders said that American casualties inflicted by Somali fighters in 1993 convinced the Iraqi leadership that U.S. forces had no stomach for a prolonged urban fight — apparently overlooking the fact that the U.S. had no armor in Somalia. The Iraqi leadership prepared instead for an airborne assault on selected regime targets, building a network of defensive bunkers and trenches.

“We weren’t prepared, but it didn’t matter because the tank assault was so fast and sudden,” said Gen. Omar Abdul Karim, 50, a regular army commander. “The Americans were able to divide and isolate our forces. Nobody had any idea what was going on until it was too late.”

At times in early April, elite units went to great lengths to project a facade of invincibility — even as they were going down in defeat. After U.S. tanks smashed through southwest Baghdad on April 5, killing nearly 1,000 Iraqi soldiers according to U.S. commanders, Fedayeen militiamen claimed victory and celebrated downtown. They displayed charred Korpses they claimed were bodies of U.S. soldiers, [Republican Guard Col. Raaed] Faik said.

“I looked closer and saw they were Republican Guards, still in their uniforms with insignia,” Faik said. “I spent 12 years in the Republican Guards. I know the difference between a Republican Guard soldier and an American soldier. I was appalled.”

When he returned to headquarters an hour northeast of the capital and told fellow commanders that American tanks had penetrated Baghdad, Faik said, they called him a liar. But the truth was becoming inescapable. By April 7, according to two former soldiers, Saddam and Qusai Hussein had been reduced to commanding the military from a roving convoy of vehicles trying to stay one step ahead of American tanks pouring into the city center that morning.

Others were deluded by the regime’s own propaganda. Many commanders said they actually believed Hussein’s hapless minister of information, Mohammed Said Sahaf, who brazenly denied that U.S. forces had entered Baghdad on April 7 and described the slaughter of Americans.

Talal Ahmed Doori, 32, a burly Baath Party militia commander and former bodyguard for Hussein’s older son, Uday, recalled turning a corner in his car early April 7 and coming face to face with an American M1A1 Abrams tank posted next to a tunnel in central Baghdad.

“I was absolutely astonished,” Doori recalled. “I had no idea there were American tanks anywhere near the city.”

After the information minister claimed that Iraqi forces had retaken the Baghdad airport from U.S. troops, two former commanders said, Republican Guard Gen. Mohammed Daash was dispatched to check out a rumor that four or five American tanks had survived the Iraqi counterattack.

Daash returned to his headquarters in a panic. “Four or five tanks!” the commanders quoted Daash as telling his fellow generals. “Are you out of your minds? The whole damn American Army is at the airport!”

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