The urban guerrilla war in Iraq

Stalingrad (1942) and the Iraqis cities (2007). Are they two «parallel battles»?

In the description that follows, our intelligent reader will be able to see the similarities and the differences of these urban battles. And to extract his conclusions and possibilities. They are separated in the time by 65 years, but they are sensitively equal in the fighting forms. In they the defensive starts with a qualitative advantage. Only they are really separated by the different commands´ intentions and the capacities of both defenses.


In the summer of 1942, 6 º German army, advancing in the direction Volga, initiated the assault of the city of Stalingrad. The sweeping German advance through the wide Soviet steppes (of Russia, Byelorussia and Ukraine) during the good time, was stopping to take Stalingrad. Placed in the right bank of the low section of the Volga, near the river mouth but without controlling it, Stalingrad was lacking the strategic importance of the Caucasus, as crude oil production zone, or Moscow, as the most important railroad communications hub in the USSR, at the west of the Urales.

Promptly Hitler is going to concentrate obsessively on its occupation. Probably as result of his decisive leading role in the direction of the war, from his armchair general’s place, many hundreds of km from the running drama. From the Wehrmatch’s headquarters or from the wolf’s shelter or the Alpine fortress, the supreme command was not perceiving the differences of equipment, motivation and combative availability between the armies of the Axis deployed in the European USSR. In the maps of general situation, the units and big units of the different national armed forces, were only distinguished by the color of the representative figures or flags, that were indicating their geographical deployment. In certain occasion, the Spanish ambassador Agustín de Foxá, count of Foxá, was present at an invitation in Rome. During it, the count Ciano, son-in-law of the Duce and Italian Secretary of State, with the distorted intention of treading on ourselves and to laugh, asked him: «Certainly, Foxá, when does Spain think to finally join the international struggle against the Bolshevism, which we are supporting?» Don Agustín answered him: «Count Ciano, do you believe that the Reich can permit to have another military ally?» The following day Foxá was indicated that he should leave Italy.

As consequence of all this, 6 º German army, the major «great unit» of its class of the whole Wehrmatch or German armed forces, is going to waste its operational advantages of movement with flexibility and agility. Which were allowing it to keep the freedom of action and the initiative in its offensive actions, as strategic decisive principles. And it in exchange for using only tactically its fire and of combat in the close distances capacities, to reduce an enemy arranged already fiercely not to yielding any more land, to resisting up to the death in the defense of the city. An enemy whose chiefs and high commands were encouraged only by the hope that their Stavka or high central staff get time to assemble and deploy the enough reserves, to crush the insufficiently protected flanks of the German strategic deployment, around 6 º army, defended by the 3 º and 4 º Romanian armies. A hard and tough enemy, to support the tremendous efforts and hardships, by the fatalism, the sobriety and the conformity of his Slavic idiosyncrasy, represented in the motto chosen by his commands, «there is no land for us beyond the Volga».

At the end of August, 1942 the German forward guards began to operate against Stalingrad. Two months later the Soviet positions in the city were diminishing to a few isolated zones, full of debris and rubbles, of not more than 275 m. in depth, hugged to the right bank of the Volga. These resistance islands, purified in the oven of the privations and the resistance to numerous German assaults, turned in uncompromising. Two were their structural secrets: the Germans never managed to isolate the city from the left bank of the river and in the mentioned zones the rigid defense was anchored in buildings of metal framework, covered with metallic plates. The grains elevator close to the trains station (too narrow and isolated to resist indefinitely), and several factories Red October (of light infantry weapons), Barricade (of artillery tubes of great calibre) and Dzerzhinski (of tractors, reconverted to make the T-34 model 41), from south to north, are the examples. The 6 º army became exhausted. The campaign ended on February 2, 1943, with the surrender by Fieldmarshall von Paulus of the remains of his army, turned into an enormous mass of armed men without operational capacity.

The confronted rivals in the cities of Iraq.

In Baghdad, Samarra, Faluya and other Iraqi populations confront two very unequal and different enemies. The American troops are prepared to fight against a military regular enemy, endowed with a masses army or even more modern, with means technologically more elaborated and men better trained, to support the loneliness and tensions of the current battle fields. Definitively, its «environment», its performance space, is the direct and opened clash in presence of a great profusion of probable enemy targets. Its instrument is the attrition, the destruction of the targets that the enemy shows and that could be detected and acquired in all the depth of his march, assemble, defense or attack deployments. The last two enemy echelons, nowadays increasingly remote or deep, are reached by the long range tactical support aviation or with the ballistic or of free flight rocketry of medium range.

But, what does happen with a weaker in means and equipment rival, always evasive by need and method and with another cultural and social idiosyncrasy? That is not worry if he needs to move back or to hide in front of a superior enemy. Without for it feeling unworthy, loser or defeated. in these frustrated and incomplete combats. But he avoids the fighting that is unfavorable for him, waiting for a better opportunity to use his sparing and effective means with 40 years of design. Knowing that his enemy tomorrow will continue presenting numerous targets, more or less easy to scourge, irritating and hurting. Since the vehicles and the military patrols swarm everywhere, looking for a kind of «zone saturation», but generally measuring the used times, in labors of vigilance, escort, billeting and successive marches, almost routine, evident and too massive all. A rival who does not seek to win so much battles, but erode and spoil, to be a nuisance and to enervate finally. And that knows that the time is working in his favor in his own land. And that only has to resist and wait, keeping a critical volume of military annoying activity, which could confirm before all, native and foreign, inside and out of Iraq, his presence in force and his determination in the fighting struggle. Acting as a harmful, odorless and colorless gas, subtle and light by its physical nature, that everything it reaches, penetrates and damages.

The Iraqi society.

In Iraq, the Islam is a principal factor of social cohesion and national integrity, independently of the sunn’i or chií Islamic branch that people belong to. The Islam is, in its simpler and popular meaning, a simple faith provided with external and social definite well rites, that integrate the individuals in it, easy to follow and observe. An Islamic democracy, always based on the Umma or social religious community, the Koran or direct revelation from Allah, the sunna or the Prophet tradition and the Sharia or its derivative civil and penal laws, is not equal to the western democracies. Where scarcely resists and survive today in day some moral or social value, facing the all-powerful asymmetric avalanche of the individualized freedoms, dedicated as source of Law, without any juridical consideration of the duties.

The obedience is a personal and social quality very established in the Islamic societies. The sheik or chief of the families of the clan is obeyed in the attaining things to the social order. The familiar chief or father is obeyed within the family. And the God’s will is obeyed and respected as a vital rite in the Islam. This social obedience is wealth-producing and protective, not solvent or sickly by itself. In the madrasas, the Koran is learned by memory, with constant recitation throughout the years of education. Since it is the God’s Word got down from Allah, where it existed from always, there is neither slanted interpretation nor malicious acceptable critique, out of its literal. It is possible that the Muslim modern societies are envious of the economic western development. But also they despise sincerely the loss of real human values that the Christian and lay societies have unnecessarily suffered, in their way towards it.

Finally, we must not forget the structure of tribes, regional and local clans and families, which supports the Iraqi society. That one gives the real value and practical sense to the loyalties and the interests, always relative and still opportunists, of the Iraqis. Graphical, synthetic, paradoxical (for going abreast against the real Islam education) and always excessively, we might express it this way: «My tribe and I, against the world; my clan and I against the tribe; my family and I, against the clan; my brother and I, against the family; I, against my brother».

The different armed Iraqi insurgents types.

Depending on their religious ideology and their active membership in one or another armed rebel faction, the insurgents act of very different forms.

Across Syria they are infiltrating (since they avoid the controls or they disguise themselves) more than half of the suicidal muhaydines. These are very angry sunnis, persuaded for their short role, very little militarily trained and devious religiously fanatical. Soon they leave the struggle and do not look for the armed clash, but the individual and redeeming action. That assures them a passport to the «Houri’s garden», far already of this » tears’ valley», with the visa of «causing the major possible number of dead and mutilated enemies».

The smallest and worse organized bands, that are the great majority, though they are belonging to the big rebel groups, cannot aspire to face openly the soldiers. Their offensive actions consist of scourging, kidnapping, torturing and mutilating, putting bombs and detonate them from distance, to do sabotages, to damage the small enemy units and to hurt or to kill isolated authorities, military men and policemen. Deciding the timing moment to act on the weakness, the carelessness and the negligence of their enemy and having always a high probabilities of fleeing and vanishing. They protect themselves mixing with the civil submissive population, favorable or compelled. They defend themselves from the military unexpected or deliberate assaults, trying to elude them and slipping from the threatened zone, which, till now, is never occupied permanently by the troops. To shelter temporarily or to be established in the surroundings: another neighborhood, another small population in the region or province.

In Iraq the rebel bases are always in the cities and populations most favorable to the activity of the different rebel armed groups. And surrounded or mixed by the military local and foreign forces and allies. In January, 2004, the North American intelligence intercepted a memorandum of 17 pages written by Abu Musad al-Zarqawi (the previous regional chief of Al-Qaida) and directed to Osama bin Laden, in which he was expressing to Osama his worry for his survival: «In Iraq there are not mountains where we could shelter, nor forests in which thickness we could hide. There are spies eyes everywhere. Our backs are exposed and our movements are realized in view of all». For it, not all the populations are defensible of the powerful military means, not even the rebels have the intention of doing it. Here do not exist Numantine or die-hard ways of military fighting without hope.

The urban active defense of the insurgents positions in Iraq.

It is not easy to use and defend the urban zones of repulse. Its employment demands high requirements to the rebel combatants:

A sufficient motivation, which encourages them to follow the arms way and risking their lives for its cause, and appeases and rationalizes them the inevitable fear of the fighting in the nearby distances with a superior enemy, until the seniority offers to them new impulses.

A good training in the infantry fights, which gives them trade and confidence. A successful cooperation between the small units that garrison the zones, that guarantees them a cohesion without fissures in their tenuous and lean deployment and that allows and facilitates the command conduction and the accomplishment of his plans. To get iron nerves tempered by everything previous, that accustom them to fight in solitary or in small groups, refusing to flee in face of the implacable threat of the heavy military fire. For all this, among the few tens of thousands of armed rebels existing, not more than 15 % of them can in these moments use this kind of defensive fight.

These urban irregular enemies are protected extending their defensive positions beyond the necessary in a conventional defense, covering this way a major occupied surface. In the defense zone they establish delaying points, more or less reinforced. These protect the most critical positions of the zone, incorporate in the defense the buildings with steel structure , specially resistant, and form fire bags for the enemy that gets through. The resistance nests have here more importance, provided that the occupation of the zone of defense is more tenuous, they cannot strengthen the positions too much, the sights are more short and exist numerous approximation routes. They depend on the delaying points and to them they fall back if are invaded or destroyed. Numerous alternative or extras positions exist, more of the habitual in this kind of fight. This allows to deceive the military enemy about the forward limit of the defense position, its real extension, the limits of the sectors that form it, the intentions of the rebel command of the zone about its defense and to disperse the heavy fire of the attacker. In the edges of the urban zones they never establish these fixed positions. Those are occupied by combat advanced parties which mission is to receive the possible explorers or civil observers, to avoid surprises and to deceive about the tracing of the defensive zone. The occupants of combat advanced positions, distributed in pairs of sentries and some very small mobile patrol, fall back in their moment towards the more interiors delaying points.

These «fortresses» are diffuse, secret and imperceptible for the strangers. In a few hours the previous works are reinforced and occupied. It is necessary to enter the houses to detect perforated walls and to find alleys under a furniture or a carpet. Its communication routes need more working time to get done, but also are less evident. These positions are not complex. They need a few interlaced firing sectors, an immediate protection against the enemy irruption in mass or with commands, a few covers against the heavy normal fire and a sufficient concealment that conceals them from the sights of the enemy probable successive positions and his approximation avenues. The obstacles and the mines, even false in certain percentage and always distantly to not betray them, will serve to break the enemy assault and to offer to them more static targets, for example for the mortars, which will have registered its fires. The destruction that generates the wide heavy fire support without aiming a precise target, reinforces the rebel combat positions, surrounding them with debris that divide and impede the accesses of the military, except when they are reached by a ordnance direct impact. To operate this defensive structure the rebels have prepared numerous and narrow tunnels, dragging trenches and gaps in garden walls and interior walls of the buildings. In such a way that, away from the enemy sights, allow them to occupy the combat and observation positions at wish, to defend them more or less time or not, to move among them and to reinforce the most threatened or pressed.

Generally they try to shoot from the front, with isolated or couples snipers armed with the SVD sniper rifle, at individual and small groups of enemies. And to attack from the flank or the rear at the enemy units that penetrate in their defensive zone, which already are disintegrated in squads or platoons with one or two armored vehicles. Those prepared communications allow them to appear, always in small number, behind or at the flanks of the units, while these stop, regroup, ask or receive instructions, or decide where to advance, and to erode them, causing some casualties. For example, from a basement or a floor, through an irregular hollow in a yard or garden wall, under a parked or destroyed vehicle in the street, where it emerges a narrow tunnel with a covered and disguised mouth. From these positions the armed rebels throw some RPG-7V rockets or several short blasts, always aiming, of the RPK light machine gun or the obsolete RPD. The interior houses courts serve them to place the mortars, which constitute their the only «heavy fire» source, protected by an infantry position. They fired them with the maximum angles on the abundant, large and always excessive military concentrations. The usual mortar is the 82 mm. Russian modern M-1937 model. Here that the attacker presents three times more men (in means the proportion must be 20 to 1) neither favors nor facilitates their labor. But this offers the persecuted defender more targets to be able to use his exiguous fire power. Especially because, in a given moment, is small the attackers’ proportion that are putting in real distress the defenders.

Also they possess an effective and increasing anti-aircraft defense of short range. From other courts and roofs, always protected by a nearby infantry resistance nest, several teams of light anti-aircraft rocket shoulder launchers carriers are arranged. Their location in the deployment is done depending on the most probable and most dangerous aircraft approximation directions for the defense. If they are sufficient and shoot skilful, they could use two nearby, but not contiguous launchers, whom form a team, and that shoot successively and rapidly (the SAM-18 flies at 2 Mach) against an aircraft or towards an enemy air formation in immediate approximation to its target. A typical rocket would be the soul-air n º 7, called «grail» and «strela» (arrow) in not Cyrillic Russian. It had successive improvements and today is replaced in the military arsenals by the soul-air missile n º 18 former mentioned, that has a useful attack height of 3,5 km (the double), and guides, a fuel rocket, an explosive head and a bait detector improved. Its appearance among the Iraqi rebels would indicate, almost surely, that they were facilitated by Syria. The shoulder carrier limits himself to direct the launcher already loaded towards its target, wait until the missile confirms the target’s acquisition and then squeeze again the trigger. And going hide.

The crucial moment for the defense comes when the zone commander decides to evacuate it, after having stopped and delayed the enemy for some time. Trying to cause him losses as high as possible, but without been exposed excessively to a fighting in the close distances, or to be outflanked or to lose his freedom of action. This is inexorably tied to the transfer of space to the military enemies. For it the rebels avoid in opportune moment the direct assault of their enemy, not his extensive or vague bombardment. The rebels have sufficient exit tunnels directed to not very nearby buildings (often official and even respectable (mosques), offices, companies and some housings) or dry riverbeds (wadis) and not evident bushes in the open land. From there they could disperse through the outside in very small groups towards friends reception positions, in the first moments. The protection of the evacuation is therefore vital and both entrances or exits from these tunnels are always covered by resistance nests, which take to end their rigid defense.