WASHINGTON—The Republican Guard division now arrayed against American forces on the approach to Baghdad has tangled with the U.S. Army once before.
The result was a disaster for what a Pentagon official described as one of Saddam Hussein's most powerful divisions.
The Medina Division has 10,000 to 12,000 troops in two armored brigades and one mechanized brigade. Like all Republican Guard units, it is considered more loyal to the regime than the regular army. But the defense of Baghdad itself is assigned to a Special Republican Guard, known more for its fealty to Saddam than its military prowess.
On Feb. 27, 1991, at a place that has gone down in military lore as Medina Ridge, the tankers and gunners of the Medina al Munawara (Medina, the Luminous) Division came face to face with the U.S. 1st Armored Division.
Within an hour, the M1 Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles of the 1st Armored's 2nd Brigade had destroyed 61 Medina Division tanks and 34 of its armored personnel carriers.
Also on Feb. 27, 1991, in the vanguard of U.S. forces sweeping across Iraq in a "left hook" attack, the 3rd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division plowed, head on, into the Medina Division and elements of four other Iraqi divisions.
That opened a battle in which the American forces destroyed 82 tanks, three armored personnel carriers, 11 artillery guns, 48 trucks and three anti-aircraft batteries, according to a later count.
In the battle, the U.S. forces lost two Bradley fighting vehicles. One American was killed in action and 30 were wounded.
Now the Medina Division faces the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division again, along with Marine forces.
The ground fighting in the first Gulf War, though lasting only 100 hours, was on a scale much larger than in the current Iraq war to date. Tank fights took place in open desert, where the superior firepower and mobility of the Americans forces were used to great advantage.
Today, if the U.S. Army battled the Medina Division in open desert, the Iraqi unit would likely be even more devastated than it was in 1991.
Its Soviet-made T-72 and T-52 tanks have only gotten a dozen years older.
Saddam's plan may be to avoid a full-scale battle in the open and to pull the Medina division back to Baghdad. The American strategy appears to be to pin it down and destroy it where it is.
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.