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Iraqi military commanders unaware of location of U.S. troops

MARINE COMBAT HEADQUARTERS, Iraq—Maj. Gen. Sufian al Tikriti left Baghdad on Sunday in a white Toyota sedan, in uniform and alone except for a chauffeur.

Just outside the city, the Republican Guard general came upon a Marine Corps roadblock, where he died.

His sudden death, and a great deal of other evidence, suggests how little Iraq's military knows about the whereabouts and movements of the U.S. and British soldiers who invaded their country three weeks ago.

"I think they are basically clueless," said a senior officer of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (IMEF). "They have no situational awareness," he said, using the military term for knowing the locations of friendly and enemy forces.

Even before the war, Iraq's military had only rudimentary systems for collecting battlefield intelligence and commanding troops.

Their one- and two-man observation posts were equipped with simple radios, regular landline telephones and sometimes cordless phones slightly more powerful than the household variety, plus Thuraya satellite telephones.

Now three weeks of U.S. air strikes appear to have blinded Saddam Hussein's forces and left his commanders incapable of ordering troops to the right place at the right time.

The cuts in communications, plus the Baghdad TV and radio claims of decisive triumphs over the American and British invaders, appear to have left most Iraqi soldiers almost completely unaware of their enemy's advances.

Marines recently reported spotting several Iraqi convoys in single file and close to each other as they drove unawares into U.S. troops.

Several prisoners of war have said they were surprised to encounter U.S. forces because their commanders and Baghdad broadcasts had reported that the Americans were bottled up in southern Iraq.

Intercepts of Iraqi military chatter also show that some commanders have been lying to their superiors about battle results, apparently aware of Saddam's penchant for executing officers who fail in battle.

One key result of the strikes on communications centers was the Iraqi military's inability to fix the position and direction of most of the American troops racing from Kuwait to Baghdad.

Only four of 34 Iraqi artillery volleys fired on Monday landed in the vicinity of Marine forces, said Lt. Col. Nick Morano, the senior watch officer at IMEF's combat operations center southeast of Baghdad.

If the Republican Guard's Baghdad Division had moved from the Kut region to a crossroads 20 miles to the northwest last week, it might have upset the Marine attack from the rear that cut off its only escape route back to Baghdad.

"It's eerie. They're moving units around, but it's almost like they are two days behind their sync," IMEF planner Col. Christopher Gunther said last week.

More importantly, the lack of intelligence about U.S. deployments has left the Iraqis unable to mount a coordinated defense.

"It's clear they don't have the command and control capability to mount an effective, organized defense," Morano said, adding that most of the U.S. battles are now against a "hodgepodge" of small army and militia units.


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.