Desert Fury: The Saudis Lose At R’as al-Khafij


By Chris Nuttall




The one major Iraqi offensive into Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War was a very limited attack against R’as al-Khafij, a town south of occupied Kuwait. The cowardliness of the Saudi forces holding the town allowed Saddam’s forces to occupy the town, which the Saudis took very personally. The political disaster of the situation was such that they insisted on handling it themselves. The entire battle would have been a disaster, were it not for American airpower and the Marines, who might have been forbidden from actually fighting, but gave help to the Saudis.

One of the most interesting aspects of the battle was that the Iraqis had planned to chew up the Saudi counterattack they were expecting, preparing a counterattack with two of their best armoured divisions. In OTL, American airpower crushed them both; what if they had failed? Saudi politics could quite easily have demanded that all of the fighting be done by the Saudis, relaying on the RSAF to hit the Iraqis. The RSAF was almost completely useless in the Gulf War; the odds would be very strong that the Iraqis wouldn’t even notice that they were under attack.

(Post-war studies suggested that the Saudi tactical bombing was almost ineffective.)

So…we have the Saudis launching the same attack they planed, but against heavier Iraqi opposition which happens to have a tactical plan. The odds favoured the Saudis in OTL – and they still came close to losing; in ATL the Saudis get cut to ribbons. It takes time for this to sink it, largely because the Saudis refuse to admit making mistakes, although the Americans know perfectly well that the Saudis got hurt.

This has grave political implications, particularly as the news starts to leak out into Saudi Arabia. The coalition has been very vocal on how it was a Saudi-only operation; attempts to blame it on the Americans are politically dangerous. Several high-ranking generals are quickly made scapegoats and removed from office; more practically, there are some attempts to fix problems.

The results spill over into American-Saudi relations. President Bush is furious at the sudden victory for Iraq in the battles, particularly when Iraq begins gloating about how the Princes sent thousands of men to their deaths. Worse, with a little luck the Saudis could be forced to withdraw from the war; there are new popular protests breaking out on the streets. The suppression of some of them, conducted with extreme violence, becomes very bad press in the West.

American airpower – very definitely NOT Saudi-aided – begins attacking the Iraqi positions in Saudi Arabia. This has bad results for the Iraqis, but actually worse for the Saudis; they are in no position to take advantage of the attacks. The US wants to send in the 2nd Marine Division, which is in position (and supported the OTL attacks), but the Saudis cannot allow that to happen without admitting that they are totally unable to defend themselves.

The Saudis begin under-the-table discussions with Baghdad. They become public; Saddam is holding out for recognition of his conquests, something that the Saudis ALSO cannot do. The US protests loudly, an act that starts to fracture the coalition; the Saudis have made a private agreement that they won’t allow their territory to be used as a base while the talks are going on.

President Bush orders plans to be drawn up to act without the Saudis if necessary, using a Marine landing. It would be much harder, even with the carrier fleet, but it can be done. He sends a final warning to Iraq; withdraw, or else.

Saddam has the Saudis over a barrel and knows it. Iraqi propaganda is rousing the mobs, talking of thousands dead. He makes the Saudis an offer; the Saudis will underwrite Iraq’s debts in exchange for Saddam withdrawing from Kuwait. The Saudis know that their time is running out; they agree to the deal. As soon as it is announced, Iraqi tanks begin leaving Kuwait.

America is furious, particularly when some Americans are killed during landing troops to secure Kuwait. The American-Saudi relationship has broken down completely; it will take time and effort to patch it up again, and there are many who think it’s not worth the effort. Bush doesn’t hesitate to blame the ending of the war on the Saudis – note that Iraq won’t be disarmed in this timeline – and announces a major US commitment to Kuwait, as well as a crash effort to escape the shackles of oil dependence.

The conflict has a series of shattering effects in Saudi; the unrest still continues. The Government has refused to release information on the dead, leading to horrifying rumours; the entire army is dead, some whisper. As the system begins to come apart, someone ambitious steps forward and…