The Italians fired five or six Milanmissiles to neutralize four enemy po-sitions, but a deluge of fire stoppedtheir advance. One Centauro had tworipped wheels, and eight Mahdi RPGs(luckily loaded with antipersonnel in-stead of antitank explosives) hit twoVCCs armored carriers. After afierce, 6-hour firefight, the Italian ar-mored column retreated. Had it beenproperly equipped with tanks andarmed helicopters, it could have ac-complished its mission.In the meantime, the Mahdi Armyintensified pressure on Libeccio base,which was defended by a platoonfrom the Lagunari Regiment that hadreplaced a Romanian unit. A 60-mmmortar bomb killed an Italian soldierand wounded two others. Under con-stant fire by 100 militiamen, Carabin-ieri parachutists and Portuguese gendarmes arrivedat Libeccio base in a column of 16 military vehiclesand 2 Centauros to facilitate evacuation.As night fell, the Italian units began a series of “aimed operations” to eliminate the mortar threatonce and for all. An American AC-130 gunship bom-barded a mortar position, two car vans transportingmortars, and a bus full of insurgents, while Italianparachutists conducted mopping-up operations ingreat style.In the late evening, General Gian Marco Chiarini,head of the Italian joint task force in Iraq, reachedan agreement with the Sadrists for a cease-fire, buta dissident Shiite armed faction violated it and be-came the target of the night’s final action.
On themorning of 17 May, the Italian Army restored calmin Nasiriyah. Italian casualties had been low (1 deadand 15 wounded); the final toll for the Mahdists wasunknown.Allowing Sadr’s militia to safely retreat fromNasiriyah did not exactly reduce the threat to Ital-ian troops. In counterguerrilla operations, the maindifficultly is to identify with certainty who the en-emy is, and mistakes in the field increase supportfor the rebels. But, when the guerrillas tried to oc-cupy territory, the Italian Army had to rise to the oc-casion and neutralize them definitively. To do so, theItalian contingent had to possess sufficient militaryresources to isolate the battlefield; prevent the en-emy from refueling, limit his ability to exfiltrate andmaneuver; and force him to spend his resources,contrasting isolation and attack actions.While Italian units faced many difficulties in thebattles of Nasiriyah, one should not forget that theAmericans, who are sometimes much too ready tocriticize their allies, also encountered great difficul-ties during counterinsurgency operations in built-upareas and had to agree to debatable unofficial cease-fires in Najaf, Kufa, and Falluja.
The Sadrists haveoften used such pauses to resupply and disengagethemselves, recruit new volunteers, and attack else-where. So, it is no surprise to read that “U.S. unitsaccustomed to the disorganized, hit-and-run strikesof insurgents in Baghdad and elsewhere were im-pressed to see the black-clad fighters of the MahdiArmy moving in coordinated units [and firing riflesas] cover for the launch of rocket-propelled gre-nades, the weapon that has been most damaging toU.S. forces in Iraq.”
Lessons LearnedLessons LearnedLessons LearnedLessons LearnedLessons Learned
Several lessons learned emerge from a first analy-sis of the violent events at Nasiriyah.
Italy mustspend more resources to adequately prepare andequip Italian soldiers to fight in urbanized areas andbuy tactical UAVs and more observation devices tohelp identify the enemy. Italian forces also needmore heavy weapons (tanks, combat helicopters, andself-propelled artillery) at the inception of militaryoperations.
Reducing firepower does not help the peaceprocess: the problem is
force is used, not itspossession. Bringing heavy weapons into a foreigncountry does not necessarily mean military escala-tion, although this is a widely accepted view in Italy.Italian forces could place heavy weapons in hangarsand depots and keep them well-oiled and readyto use.Western armies, including the U.S. Army, haveneglected the lessons Israel learned during the
An Italian Army soldier from the 151st Regiment, Sardinia, Italy, stationshimself on the roof of the CPA-Dhi Qar building during the meeting ofCoalition Provisional Authority Administrator, Ambassador L. Paul Bremerwith the then commander of the Italian joint task force in Iraq, BrigadierGeneral Bruno Stano, the Governor of Nasiriyah and other Iraqi, British,Portugese, and Romanian officials, 10 January 2004.
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