2003 April 03 Thursday
Guessing On American Baghdad Casualties

The US Marines have captured the Iraqi city of Nasiriyah which has a population of about 560,000 (and as recently as 1987 had a population of only 265,937 - Iraq has a rapidly growing population). That population number is interesting because Baghdad has a population of approximately 10 times that size. Let's take a look at the casualty figures for the U.S. Marines who took Nasiriyah. While the exact number dead is not yet known exactly let's guess its approximately 20.

The American marines of Task Force Tarawa whose task it has been to secure Nasiriya and its bridges across the Euphrates that sustain the main supply route to the armies to the north said today that they had suffered 12 confirmed dead and more than 50 wounded in the battles for the town. Six or seven other marines are believed to be missing there.

If casualty figures for urban fighting in Baghdad scale up proportionately we can guess that the US military will suffer about 200 dead and possibly as many as 500 wounded to take Baghdad. That is a lower figure than some estimates that Dartmouth academic Daryl Press has made. The Iraqis will probably have a higher ratio of fighters to population in Baghdad than they had in Nasiriyah. Also, it seems likely they will concentrate their most devout loyalists there. Therefore Press's estimates that run from 400 to 2000 American dead seem more plausible. Still, the Nasiriyah experience at least is heartening from the perspective that if it had been worse we would expect even higher casualty rates for Baghdad than estimates that Press has made.

I haven't been able to find any numbers of how many soldiers and what kinds of forces defended Nasiriyah. Therefore it is hard to compare the battle for Nasiriyah to the coming battle for Baghdad. However, here are some numbers of the defenders of Baghdad.

Saddam Hussein's personal security is the responsibility of another group, the Special Republican Guard, often described as a "Praetorian Guard." Many of its estimated 12,000 troops are natives of Tikrit, Hussein's home town, and nearby communities.

Those 12,000 are in addition to the 50,000 regular Republican Guard. How many of those regular Republican Guard are either dying or being captured outside of Baghdad? How many will manage to retreat back into Baghdad to continue fighting in an urban environment that will afford them much better protection? There are also paramilitary forces including the Saddam Fedayeen defending Baghdad.

The four remaining Republican Guard units, as well as the Special Republican Guard, have also suffered losses, officials said, but not as extensive. Baghdad is also defended by a paramilitary force estimated at 6,000 and 8,000.

It is beginning to look unlikely that the US Army and Marines will have to fight regular Republican Guard forces within Baghdad because Saddam may not trust the loyalty of the Republican Guard soldiers enough to allow them in that close.

"The mystery is why the Iraqis left the RG in defensive positions so far south of Baghdad," a British staff officer in Kuwait told UPI. "They must have known from Desert Storm what our air power could do. I can only assume that Saddam Hussein was worried about the loyalty of the RG if he pulled them back into the city. His priority has always been the survival of his own regime rather than the survival of his troops."

If anyone can find information on the size and nature of the defending force in Nasiriyah I'd really like to see it.

There are other wild cards in the attack on Baghdad. Saddam could use chemical or biological weapons. The defenders could fight either more desperately or some, seeing that the end is near, could opt to surrender in greater numbers.

So far the British forces have stayed out of Basrah which is less than half the population of Baghdad (I can't tell you what the population of Basrah is since news media reports run from 1 million to 2.3 milion). Currently the British believe there are only 1000 militia fighters left in Basrah.

Further south, British forces battling for control of Basra were still facing resistance from about 1000 militia.

Israeli military historian Yagil Henkin comments on lessons learned about the best urban fighting techniques.

Israeli experience, as well as Marine Corps studies since 1996 of war games based on urban combat, also shows that most casualties in urban fighting occur when soldiers move along the city streets, exposed to enemy fire. Therefore when Israel took the casbah in Nablus, soldiers moved through holes they cut or blasted in the walls between attached houses. Israeli snipers positioned themselves in the tallest buildings and worked closely with troops at the street level to identify targets and confound their enemies' expectations.

Update: I'm beginning to suspect that a lot of news services use old atlases and other reference works to get Iraqi city population estimates for their news articles. The numbers quoted are all over the map. Above I quoted a Reuters article that said Nasiriyah has a population of 560,000. The Christian Science Monitor says Nasiriyah has 250,000 people. whereas Voice of America says 500,000 whereas USA Today puts it at 300,000. These numbers all come from news articles that are at most a few days old and they are all over the map. Keep that in mind the next time you read a news article that states a number for the population of some city or country. If they are reporting on a place where the population is growing rapidly the odds are great that the number they are providing is lower than correct number by a substantial amount.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 April 03 12:27 PM  Military War, Rumours Of War

ashton royce said at April 10, 2003 9:49 AM:

snooty. and if jam gets snooty, mainstream media goes shopping.

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