Battle of the Karbala Gap (2003)

Battle of the Karbala Gap (2003)

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of the Karbala Gap
partof=2003 Invasion of Iraq
date=April 2 2003 - April 4 2003
place=Outside Karbala and Al Musayib, Iraq
result=Decisive U.S. victory
combatant1 =
combatant2 = flagicon|United States United States
commander1 = Lt. General Raad Al-Hamdani [ [ PBS Frontline Operation Iraqi Freedom timeline -- April 2]
commander2 = Major General Buford Blount II
strength1=Iraqi Republican Guard Medina and Nebuchadnezzar Divisions [ [ Battle through, around Karbala Gap likely to be `hell of a fight' | Stars and Stripes April 1, 2003]
strength2=US 3rd Infantry Division
casualties1=680-940 KIA; unknown numbers captured or wounded, hundreds of armored vehicles destroyed [ [ Karbala, Karbala gap, and north to Baghdad Wages of War -- Appendix 1. Survey of reported Iraqi combatant fatalities in the 2003 war | Commonwealth Institute of Cambridge] ]
casualties2=none killed; unknown number wounded, 1 tank damaged [ [ PBS Frontline Operation Iraqi Freedom timeline -- April 2]

The Battle of the Karbala Gap occurred during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The Karbala Gap is a 20-25-mile wide strip of land with the Euphrates River to the east and Lake Razazah to the west. This strip of land was recognized by Iraqi commanders as a key approach to Baghdad, and was defended by some of the best units of the Iraqi Republican Guard. American forces attacked Iraqi forces in the area with massive air attacks followed by concentrated armored thrusts which resulted in the Iraqi units being surrounded and annihilated.

Initial Moves

The Iraqi high command had originally positioned two Republican Guard divisions blocking the Karbala Gap. [ [ Battle through, around Karbala Gap likely to be `hell of a fight' | Stars and Stripes April 1, 2003] Here these forces suffered heavy Coalition air attacks. However, the Coalition had since the beginning of March been conducting a strategic deception operation to convince the Iraqis that the US 4th Infantry Division would be mounting a major assault into northern Iraq from Turkey. [ [ The Euphrates | Michael Kelly] This deception plan worked, and on April 2nd Saddam's son Qusay Hussein declared that the American invasion from the south was a feint and ordered troops to be re-deployed from the Karbala front to the north of Baghdad. Lt. Gen. Raad al-Hamdani, who was in command of the Karbala region, protested this and argued that unless reinforcements were rushed to the Karbala gap immediately to prevent a breach, American troops would reach Baghdad within 48 hours. His suggestions fell on deaf ears. [ [ Interview with Lt. Gen. Raad al-Hamdani | PBS Frontline]

Meanwhile, American troops were pushing through the gap and reached the Euphrates River at the town of Musayib. An expected Iraqi chemical attack did not materialize. [ [ PBS Frontline Operation Iraqi Freedom timeline -- April 2] At Musayib, American troops crossed the Euphrates in boats and seized the vital al-Kaed bridge across the Euphrates after Iraqi demolitions teams had failed to destroy it in time. [ [ Across The Euphrates | Michael Kelly] [ [ with Lt. Gen. Raad al-Hamdani | PBS Frontline] In response, Lt. Gen. Hamdani was ordered to launch an immediate counterattack. Hamdani later said that his units were not in condition to launch an immediate counterattack and that he counseled to establish a defensive line along the Usfiyah River in order to contain the American breakthrough. Nevertheless, Hamdani's forces launched a counterattack on the night of April 2-3.

Iraqi Counterattacks April 2-3

The 10th Armored Brigade from the Medina Division and the 22nd Armored Brigade from the Nebuchadnezzar Division, supported by artillery, launched night attacks against the American bridgehead at Musayib. The attack was savagely repulsed using tank fire and massed artillery rockets, destroying or disabling every Iraqi tank in the assault. The next morning, Coalition aircraft and helicopters rained death on the Republican Guard units, destroying many more vehicles as well as communications infrastructure. The Republican Guard units broke under the massed firepower and lost any sense of command and cohesion. By the end of the day, the tanks of the 3rd ID had overrun Lt. Gen. Hamdani's headquarters and Hamdani and his staff fled. [ [ Interview with Lt. Gen. Raad al-Hamdani | PBS Frontline] American forces lost no men killed in this action while Iraqi losses are estimated at 230 to 300 killed. [ [ Karbala, Karbala gap, and north to Baghdad Wages of War -- Appendix 1. Survey of reported Iraqi combatant fatalities in the 2003 war | Commonwealth Institute of Cambridge] ]

Destruction of the Medina Division

While the fight around Musayib was raging on April 3, other elements of the US 3rd ID had captured Baghdad International Airport. Before pushing deeper into Baghdad, US commanders decided to mop up the remnants of the Republican Guard Medina Division which were still present south of Baghdad. The intention was to catch the Medina Division from behind, while they were engaging other units to their front. The 2nd Brigade of the 3rd ID under Col. David Perkins was dispatched to the southwest towards Objective Saints, the codename for the intersection between highways 1 and 8. The interchange was defended by dismounted infantry, and during the fight for Objective Saints one US soldier was wounded and an M1 Abrams tank was disabled by an RPG round (it was later repaired).

After capturing Objective Saints on the 3rd, the 2nd Brigade pushed south and made contact with the remnants of the 10th and 2nd Brigades of the Medina Division. Despite reports that 80% of the division's vehicles had been destroyed, the Iraqis had moved their vehicles away from their prepared defenses and hidden them near buildings and in palm groves, sparing many of them from air attack. Hundreds of Iraqi tanks, IFVs and artillery were still present.

The American tanks tore into the Iraqi vehicles, destroying many of them at point blank range. Despite the survival of many of their vehicles, the Iraqi defense was un-coordinated and many troops put on civilian clothes and deserted during the fight, leaving their uniforms on the battlefield. The Medina Division ceased to exist as an effective fighting force. [ [ Interview with Col. David Perkins | PBS Frontline]


The Battle of the Karbala Gap had been a one-sided slaughter in which elements of the 3rd Infantry Division annihilated the best units in the Republican Guard while suffering minimal losses. The destruction of these units left the door to Baghdad wide open for the 3rd ID, and the next day Col. Perkins lead the first "Thunder Run", an armored strike through southern Baghdad. Baghdad would fall within days.



*cite book|id=ISBN 978-0802141798|title=Thunder Run: The Armored Strike to Capture Baghdad |last=Zucchino |first=David|publisher= Grove Press|year = 2004

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