Three years ago, I went on patrol in downtown Basra with the British Army. (That was back when the Brits still played a major role in security in southern Iraq.) We rode in small, lightly armored “Snatch” Land Rovers because, I was told, larger vehicles simply wouldn’t fit on Basra’s narrow, crowded roads.
Cities can be dangerous places for armored vehicles. That’s a lesson the Iraqi Army is learning the hard way as it tries to re-take Basra from fringe Mahdi Army militias. AFP and Reuters photos show at least one destroyed Iraqi Army tank, is turret nowhere to be seen. The most likely culprit: an RPG, fired from above.
Paul McLeary commented on the Iraqi Army’s Basra tactics in a post last week:
Press reports have it that the IA is using old T-72 tanks and M113A1 armored personnel vehicles, which weren’t designed to fight small, fast-moving bands of insurgents who exploit the narrow urban geography to their advantage. While this isn’t necessarily a defeat for the IA, it remains to be seen if they can overcome the limitations of their equipment to move through the city to confront the Mahdi Army.
Also, note that the Mahdi fighter in this photo at left is wearing body armor. In terms of infantry equipment, Baghdad and the Mahdi are roughly equal. Baghdad’s advantages are air support from U.S. and British forces … and its armor. If only it had tactics for using the armor in an urban environment.
One question: does anyone know what Iraqi unit is leading the charge in Basra? I assume it’s 10 Division, based in the south. But 10 is a light, truck-mobile unit. The Iraqi Army’s major tank unit is the 2nd Brigade of 9 Division. Last I heard, those guys were headed north to hit Al-Qaeda-in-Iraq in Mosul.