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2 The cost: An army and a
leg By Jason Motlagh
Expensive as nation-building efforts in
Iraq have been for US forces, some observers fear
that a preemptive strike to disrupt Iran's alleged
nuclear-weapons program could backfire and cost
the United States an army.
Nearly 2,900 US
troops have died in Iraq since the 2003 invasion
to oust Saddam Hussein, along with another 21,000
wounded in a
billion enterprise that could rise to "well over
$1 trillion", according to the Iraq Study Group
Report released last week.
The US military
at present depends almost exclusively on a single
supply line that runs south through
Shi'ite-dominated southern Iraq into Kuwait.
William Lind, director of the Center for Cultural
Conservatism at the Washington, DC-based Free
Congress Foundation, argues that if that vital
linkage were cut, US forces would not have enough
fuel to defend themselves under attack or get out
of the country. Simply put, a move on Iran could
render 140,000 troops hostage in the desert.
Iraq has the world's second-largest
crude-oil reserves and was once a major oil
exporter, but ongoing instability has created a
shortage of refined oil products. "Our forces, if
cut off from their own logistics, could not simply
fuel up at local gas stations as German General
Heinz Guderian's Panzer Corps did ... in the 1940
campaign against France," Lind wrote in the
December issue of The American Conservative.
There are two possible ways Iran could
sever the supply line in response to a US or
Israeli attack - seen as one and the same by
Iranian officials - on its nuclear facilities:
Shi'ite militia loyal to Tehran could be summoned
to fight against US forces across the south, while
a riskier strategy would have Iranian armored
divisions moving into Iraq in an attempt to cut
supply lines and turn toward Baghdad.
annals of war history in Mesopotamia provide an
ominous case study. In 1915, a British force
invaded what is now Iraq and ventured up the
Tigris River, stopping in the city of Kut just
south of the capital. They become bogged down when
their supply line was cut along the river, and
11,000 troops eventually surrendered, after 23,000
allied casualties were sustained to save them.
Today, armed groups such as Muqtada
al-Sadr's Mehdi Army, which has clashed on and off
with coalition forces, and the Badr Organization,
the paramilitary wing of the Shi'ite Supreme
Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq
(SCIRI), could mobilize and turn supply roads into
a "shooting gallery 400-800 miles long", according
to Patrick Lang, former head of Middle East
Intelligence at the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Like the Hezbollah guerrillas who managed
to resist an incursion by a far superior Israeli
military over the summer, they would enjoy the
support of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
"It might then be necessary to 'fight' the
[US supply] trucks through ambushes on the roads,"
Lang wrote in a recent Christian Science Monitor
op-ed. He calls this a "daunting possibility",
noting that transport vehicles loaded with
supplies would be defenseless against weapons
currently in use among Iraqi insurgents, such as
rocket-propelled grenades, small arms and
improvised explosive devices - especially "against
irregulars operating in and around their own
The second option, according to
Lind, would be for the Iranian military to deploy
forces in sync with a Shi'ite insurrection at the
US flank. Armored divisions could move to cut
supply lines and then possibly attempt to encircle
US troops from the south in a "classic operational
"At present, US forces could be
vulnerable to such an action by the Iranian army,"
asserts Lind, one of the originators of the
"Fourth Generation War" theory, which describes
the return to decentralized warfare. "We have no
field army in Iraq; necessarily, our forces are
penny-packeted all over the place, dealing with
insurgents. They would be hard pressed to assemble
quickly to meet a regular force, especially if
fuel was running short."
To those Pentagon
war hawks who contend that US air power would
destroy exposed Iranian armored divisions, Lind
says a spoiler might come in the form of a desert
sandstorm. "Like the Germans in the Battle of the
Bulge, [the Iranians] could wait until the weather
promised a few days of protection. After that,
they would be so close to our own forces that air
power could not attack them without danger of
analysts counter that this scenario is a stretch.
A "large-scale Iranian land invasion is just not
going to happen", John Pike, director of
GlobalSecurity.org, told Asia Times Online. "Do
you know what the US Air Force calls Iran's ground
"Look at the Iraqi
Republican Guard when they tried to stand and
fight the US - they just disintegrated." As for
the tactical advantage of bad weather, he said, "A
big sandstorm would just shut everything down, for
both sides ... It's too much of a wild card."
Many observers are also skeptical over the
willingness of Shi'ite