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Interview with Martin Navias

Aired April 6, 2003 - 00:35   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: The Republican Guard was touted as the muscle of Iraq's military, but after U.S. forces burst into Baghdad, there were doubts about their ability and their strength, and frankly, their whereabouts.
Joining us to talk about the reality of the Republican Guard is Martin Navias, defense analyst for the Center of Strategic Studies at Kings College in London.

Martin, thanks very much for being with us.

Their had been so much talk ahead of time about this wall of steel. If anything, it turned out to be a wall of steel wool, relatively easy to move through for coalition forces. What happened.

MARTIN NAVIAS, KING'S COLLEGE: Well, the Republican Guard appears to have fought. Unfortunately for them, their ability to fight against American and British forces is not that great. We do know from the last war, from the 1991 war, that the Republican Guard will not just give up.

North of Basra in 1991, they stood and fought, and they appeared to have stood and fought again when they have encountered the Marines and the 3rd Infantry Division. Unfortunately, despite their best efforts, they appear to have been outclassed, and a large amount of them have been destroyed either by bombing or ground combat, and some have fled back into the city.

Nevertheless, I don't think we should write them off, because while they may not be able to fight at divisional level or even at a lower brigade level, even if they are dispersed amongst the cities, amongst the civilian population, and if they are able to act together with a Special Republican Guard -- that's another elite force that sits in Baghdad, they may be able to put up resistance, not at the brigade or divisional level, but at the individual level.

COOPER: There has been talk, mainly from Iraq's information minister, about that this is all part of some sort of strategy of sucking the coalition forces into the city. Do you buy any of that?

NAVIAS: I think there is some truth to that. The Iraqis said before the war that they will fight this battle in the city. The question is, how coordinated they are, how effective they are going to be.

Now yesterday, we saw a pro (ph) buy American tanks into the city. There was a response. The Iraqis did resist. There were American casualties, but basically, the Americans moved forward from the southeast, and moved to the West, generally unimpeded. And Americans have indicated that they will do this again.

I believe that there are enough people in Baghdad among the Republican Guard, the Special Republican Guard, the Special Security Organization, and the various militia groups to put up a bit of a fight.

In an urban environment, it is possible even for troops that aren't coordinated, aren't functioning effectively as a military unit, to stand their ground and to cause casualties. The Republican Guard have demonstrated that they will stand their ground, and in certain circumstances will fight. They are desperate people. Many of them are linked to the regime. Many of them know that if the regime goes down, they will go down with it. And many of them, though it may be surprising to us, believe that they can force the United States and its British allies to withdraw from Iraq, and that is because they do seem to hold the view that if they can cause casualties the allied forces, the allied forces will withdraw.

So when you put all those factors together, you reach a conclusion that there is still some fighting ahead with the Republican Guard.

COOPER: Do you think that still holds true if Saddam Hussein, if Uday Hussein, if Kusay Hussein are eliminated from the picture?

NAVIAS: Yes, I still think it does. Obviously, if we can remove Saddam Hussein and his main supporters, and that fact becomes known to these Iraqi supporters throughout the country, then many of them will give up, many of them will melt away.

But don't forget, we are talking about tens of thousands of people. Many of them, who are not only fighting for the regime, but fighting for their own more narrower fiefdoms. They have their own problems. They have their own deals domestically within various cities and various suburbs of Baghdad and Tikrit, and many of them will continue to fight.

But obviously, if we can deal with Saddam directly and if we can make it clear that we have dealt with him, that he's been utilized, killed or otherwise been forced to flee, then again another level of the Republican Guard and Special Republican Guard will melt away.

But then again, I still believe that some will remain and some will fight, and they will have to be cleared out in the context of an urban campaign.

COOPER: And that we shall see. Martin Navias, appreciate you joining us. It was interesting. Thanks very much.


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