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A Russian view of the war
By Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst

WASHINGTON, March 31 (UPI) -- Testimony to the tactical excellence of the U.S. armed forces in Iraq -- and a shrewd assessment of the unexpectedly formidable enemy they are striving to overcome -- is emerging from a remarkable source: Russian military intelligence, or GRU.

Daily assessments of developments in the war from Russian journalists and military analysts are being posted on the Internet daily at the IRAQWAR.RU Web site, or analytical center. The reports are described as being based on "Russian military intelligence reports" and contain alleged Russian intelligence intercepts of radio communications between U.S. and other coalition forces in Iraq.

While the factual reports based on these claimed intercepts cannot be independently verified, and may possibly contain deliberate disinformation, the analytical assessments the performance of U.S. forces and the opposition facing them is based on much material also clearly reported by U.S. and other sources and verified by the Pentagon. And it is shrewd and of a high -- and thought-provoking -- order.

First, as different columns of coalition troops are again reported closing in on Baghdad, the reports give high marks to the tactical performances of the U.S. forces and their remarkable ability, already displayed to adapt to radically different tactical problems from those they had been briefed and trained to expect.

"In general, the U.S. soldiers showed sufficiently high combat resilience," a March 28 report posted on the Web site concluded. "Even in the extremely difficult weather conditions the troops maintained control structure and adequately interpreted the situation."

And despite the entirely unanticipated sustained high levels of fierce resistance in cities throughout Iraq, "Combat spirit remained high. The majority of troops remained confident in their abilities, while maintaining belief in the superiority of their weapons and maintaining reasonable confidence in the way the war was being fought."

Ad the same analysis also acknowledged, "despite the sand storms, the terrain favors the coalition actions by allowing it to employ their entire arsenal of weapons at the greatest possible range, which makes it difficult for the Iraqis to conduct combat operations outside of populated areas."

Also, "The main strong side of the coalition forces was the wide availability of modern reconnaissance and communications systems that allowed to detect the enemy at long ranges and to quickly suppress the enemy with well-coordinated actions of different types with different forces."

The Russian analysts also had some shrewd assessments about both the strength and weakness of the Iraqi forces putting up such an unexpectedly stiff fight against the coalition forces. In particular, they list a number of tactical and organizational strengths that we in UPI Analysis have been alone in predicting in the American media.

"Among the strong sides of their of the Iraqi troops are their excellent knowledge of the terrain, high quality of defensive engineering work, their ability to conceal their main attack forces and their resilience and determination in defense. The Iraqis have shown good organization in their command and communications structures as well as decisive and well-planned strategy."

What is striking about this Russian assessment is that it confirms the assessments of the handful of Western journalists who covered the highly successful Iraqi defensive operations against vastly numerically superior Iranian forces during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War. In other words, the Iraqis were not suddenly showing some supernatural capabilities they had never been capable of before. The tactical skills that have been taking U.S. war planners and troops by surprise over the past two weeks have been a documented characteristic of the ordinary Iraqi army -- and not just its elite Republican Guard units -- for the past 20 years.

But the Russian report also documents the Iraqis' newly found skills at conducting guerrilla operations behind coalition lines. And this is an entirely new -- and from the coalition point of view, extremely unwelcome development that had no precedent in either the Iran-Iraq War or the 1991 Gulf War.

"Commanders of the -- Iraqi -- special operations forces are making good use of the available troops and weapons to conduct operations behind the front lines of the enemy. They use concealment, cunning and imagination," the report said.

But some things have not changed for the better, especially from the Soviet training and military doctrine that has shaped the Iraqi army for the past 4 1/2 decades.

The Russian analysts also observed: "Among the drawbacks of the Iraqi forces is the bureaucratic inflexibility of their command, when all decisions are made only at the highest levels. Their top commanders also tend to stick to standard 'template' maneuvers and there is insufficient coordination among the different type of forces."

Impressive strengths and unexpected -- or all too familiar -- weaknesses of both U.S. forces and their foes alike. It should not come as a surprise to readers of these analyses. For most wars are filled with such complexities, ironies and reversals of fortune. As we have noted before, the "walk in the park," minor, "gunboat-type" conflicts that the United States conducted so often and so easily over the past 20 years give a misleading impression of the real nature of war.

It is messy and unpredictable even for the best-run campaigns and the most highly trained, brave and best-equipped armies -- just as the Russian analysts have observed.

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