The Ground Battle in the Iraq War

The ground attack on Iraq by coalition forces stepped off on 20 March 2003. The overall mission was to remove Saddam Hussein from power. There were four further objectives. First, to prevent Iraqi use of chemical or biological weapons on Coalition forces (which it was believed that they possessed). Second was to prevent the Iraqis from firing Scud missiles into Israel, which could create divisions among some of the Coalition forces. Third, to prevent Saddam's forces from destroying oil wells or polluting the Persian Gulf with millions of gallons of intentionally spilled oil. Finally, the Coalition forces wished to bring humanitarian aid as quickly as possible to the Iraqi people, which had suffered for so long at the hands of the dictatorship.

Map of Ground War in Iraq

The U.S. 3rd Infantry Division (part of V Corp), commanded by Major General Bufford Blount, spearheaded the attack. V Corp led with Black Hawk and Apache Helicopters which had first contact with the enemy. This was followed by the 4th Brigade and the 7th Cavalry in an effort to flush out the enemy for the heavier Battalion Combat teams following up to engage and destroy. The rest of V Corp, under Lieutenant General William Wallace, followed the 3rd division. The 101st Airborne, under Major General David Patraeus, with helicopter assets was used to secure lengthening supply lines and suppress resistance in overrun areas.

Blount's 3rd Division quickly took the bridge over the Euphrates river north of An Nasariya. It was relieved by the Marine corp which would capture the city and secure the remaining bridges in the area. 3rd Division and the rest of V Corp then headed north to As Samawah. On the drive north toward Baghdad the V Corp was hindered, if only slightly, by attacks by the Fedayeen and Baathist party faithful. Ambushes by these fanatical units seldom had any destructive effect on the Coalition force, but did serve to delay it. The V Corp swept through As Samawah and continued on to An Najaf, which was isolated in order to prevent irregular Iraqi Troops from disrupting supply lines.

Ahead of V Corp's movement on 22 March, the 11th Air Helicopter Regiment was sent in to attack the Republican Guard Medina Division. The attack proved ineffective because of miscoordination with supporting arms. On the 24th a shamal or sandstorm/rainstorm blew into the area delaying operations for several days, but also allowing front line units time to refit. It also allowed time for the Iraqis to mass their forces, which would prove to be a grave error (for the Iraqis).

While the Army's V Corp marched north, a parallel move by the Marine Corp fought its way north as well, simultaneously protecting V Corps flank, securing strategic objectives, and ultimately forming the right arm of a pincer that would grip Baghdad from east and west. When the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) had rumbled through the southern oil fields and then reached An Nasiriyah, to relieve V Corp, they were confronted with stiff resistance by the Fedayeen, composed of fanatical troops not only from Iraq, but from Syria, Egypt, and even Chechnia. While elements of the 1st Marine Division continued to secure An Nasariya, the remainder of the MEF continued north toward Al Kut, meeting only light resistance in the form of attempted ambushes by small Iraqi units.

As V Corp reached out toward Baghdad, the Coalition Air Forces were softening up (shaping) the Iraqi units positioned near the capital. In the first few days of the ground battle, the British had taken on responsibility for controlling much of the south of Iraq. This began with the isolation of Basra, and included control of oil facilities throughout southern Iraq. The British also liberated the port of Umm Qasr in the south to allow the flow of humanitarian aid the Shiite south. Eventually, by April 2003, the British forces would besiege Basra, destroy Fedayeen and Baathist forces and liberate the city.

The shamal storm which blew into Iraq on the 24th seemed to the Iraqis to be an opportunity to attack U.S. V Corp and the 1st MEF (Marine Expeditionary Force). The Iraqi experience in the Gulf War was that the storm would nullify the coalition's air capabilities. This proved not to be the case, as the U.S. and Britain had developed technologies that would allow coalition air assets, to target Iraqi ground forces in spite of the fierce weather. Whenever the Iraqis massed for attack, they were detected and destroyed.

The weather had proven beneficial for the coalition. The shamal had allowed the ground forces to resupply and rest, while coalition air power wreaked havoc on Iraqi forces drawn into the open by the mistaken belief that the weather would protect them.

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