Saddam Hussein sees himself as the spider waiting for the fly. Sooner or later, he believes, U.S.-led ground troops will push into Kuwait to drive out the Iraqi army. There they will be massacred by the thousands as they encounter one of the most formidable defenses ever built. It will not be a victory militarily, but the mere fact of having prolonged the war and inflicted high casualties will make Saddam the winner psychologically.
That, at least, is the theory. And to that end Saddam and his military commanders have applied the experience they gained in their eight years of defensive battles against massed Iranian troops. Their highly skilled combat engineers have turned the Kuwaiti and Iraqi borders with Saudi Arabia into a Maginot Line in the sand. In an area about the size of West Virginia the Iraqis have poured 540,000 of their million-man army and 4,000 of their 6,000 tanks, along with thousands of other armored vehicles and artillery pieces.
These forces are deeply dug in behind layers of defensive barriers 40 miles wide. Bulldozers have piled sand walls up to 40 ft. high. Behind them is a network of ditches, some rigged with pipes to deliver oil that will be set on fire, and concrete tank traps. Behind those are miles of razor wire and at least 500,000 mines.
Iraqi units are entrenched in their now traditional triangular forts, formed of packed sand, with an infantry company equipped with heavy machine guns holding each corner. Soldiers are protected by portable concrete shelters or dugouts of sheet metal and sand. Tanks are hull deep in the ground and bolstered with sandbags. Artillery pieces are deployed at the apex of each ! triangle, pre-aimed at "killing zones" created by flaming trenches and minefields. Defensive deployments like these are immobile; the officers learned in their war with Iran to hunker down, absorb attacks and fire back with artillery, often loaded with chemical shells.
Backing these static deployments are nearby infantry reserves and armored units as well as artillery. Two divisions line the gulf coast north and south of Kuwait City to ward off amphibious landings by U.S. Marines. Farther back, along the Kuwait-Iraq border, are Saddam's best troops: the armored and mechanized divisions of Iraq's Republican Guards, which are now being relentlessly bombed by U.S. B-52s and other allied aircraft.
How formidable are these Iraqi troops? One Pentagon analyst concedes that until the Iraq-Iran war erupted in 1980, "we knew zero about the Iraqis." In that conflict Saddam's troops often bogged down in offensive operations but excelled in defense, particularly when resisting Iranian thrusts into their homeland. Though individual units sometimes broke under fire, the main ground forces proved to be courageous, tenacious -- and maliciously inventive. One bizarre operation rigged lowland marshes with electrodes to kill Iranians as they waded through the water toward Iraqi lines.