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I remember reading somewhere -- I think it was in a CIA or NSA briefing paper -- that during Desert Storm, the Iraqis refused to communicate by radio because they were too scared of the U.S. codebreakers. Instead, they used landlines, which they thought were more secure.

Is this in any way true and, if so, is there a source for it?

(I have no security clearance with anything top secret, so if this is true it's out in the open.)

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    A cursory search on Google for "Iraq communications desert storm landline" resulted in several entries that comment on taking out the Iraqi landlines. Doesn't seem plausible to me. (google.com/…) – Phil N DeBlanc Nov 9 '17 at 18:53
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    I don't know about only using land lines, but avoiding radio is plausible. The Iraqi army was mostly static, land lines could be buried to their positions. Encryption aside, radio gives away your position to enemy radio direction finding. Any radiation (in the sense of light, radio, radar, etc...) does. The "flash" of radio or radar is visible for further away than its own range, like shining a flashlight around. Emissions can be analyzed to get info about what equipment is emitting it and thus unit composition and identification. – Schwern Nov 9 '17 at 19:08
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It doesn't seem so.

The Final Report to Congress on the conduct of the [1991] Persian Gulf War states that:

In Iraq, the civil telecommunications system was designed to serve the regime - it was an integral part of military communications. For example, approximately 60 percent of military landline communications passed through the civil telephone system. Degrading this system appears to have had an immediate effect on the ability to command military forces and secret police.

Furthermore, the report states that:

More than half of Iraq's military landline communications passed through major switching facilities in Baghdad. Civil TV and radio facilities could be used easily for C3 backup for military purposes. The Saddam Hussein regime also controlled TV and radio and used them as the principal media for Iraqi propaganda. Thus, these installations also were struck.

Simply put, by the time that Desert Sword began, the Iraqi regime just didn't have the landline infrastructure remaining to be able to use it for effective communication.


Notwithstanding the above, keeping radio communication to a minimum is normal military practice. Even if they weren't concerned about allied code-breaking capabilities (bearing in mind that many of the intercepts came from UK installations on Cyprus), they would certainly have been aware that using radio would reveal the position of their forces to allied monitoring and radio direction finding (RDF).

Similarly, allied ground forces routinely used radio remote units to defeat Iraqi RDF capabilities.

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No

The Iraqi's didn't just use land lines.

As explained in "Conduct of the Persian Gulf War, Final Report to Congress{pp. 74-96}" and summarized in a monograph1 by LTC Robert C. Hood, USAF:

One of the key theater military objectives was attack of the Iraqi political military leadership and C2. The attacks began on the first night of the air campaign. Within the air campaign, the Joint Forces Air Component Commander (JFACC) objectives included "isolate and incapacitate the Iraqi regime." The target sets attacked to accomplish this objective were
-Leadership command facilities
-Crucial aspects of electricity production facilities that power military and military-related industrial systems.
-Telecommunications and Command Control and Communication (C3) system.'

The intent of the attacks was to "fragment and disrupt Iraqi political and military leadership . . . "
The attacks should cause the leaders to hide or relocate, making it difficult for them to control or even keep pace with events. The attacks on the Iraqi telecommunications and C3 systems interfered with the Iraqi political leaders' ability to issue orders and receive reports by forcing them to use backup systems vulnerable to eavesdropping{emphasis mine}. These attacks did not accomplish their ambitious goals of isolation and decapitation but did impose some, if not considerable, disruption and dislocation of the Iraqi leadership. Many elements of the Iraqi government relocated, some several times, and shifted to backup communications. Normal telephone communications were disrupted.

A note on military jargon: C2 means "Command and Control" and C3 means "Command, Control, and Communication" in Desert Storm era military usage. C3 includes both land line and electromagnetic spectrum communications systems. (How do I know that? When I was an officer, I also got involved in writing military Op Plans for other Joint Operations (even wars) though I was not on that team for Desert Storm {thanks my lucky stars}).

And as our esteemed colleague @sempaiscuba pointed out

More than half of Iraq's military landline communications passed through major switching facilities in Baghdad. Civil TV and radio facilities could be used easily for C3 backup for military purposes. The Saddam Hussein regime also controlled TV and radio and used them as the principal media for Iraqi propaganda. Thus, these installations also were struck.


1 Campaign Planning: Considerations for Attacking National Command and Control; School of Advanced Military Studies, Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth KS, 1994.

The above monograph was marked as acceptable for public distribution

  • In 1991 I was at Dhahran and points north. Happily not involved with el-Int though. Just a simple Sapper. :) – sempaiscuba Nov 9 '17 at 22:54
  • @sempaiscuba I learned some years ago that when someone in the Army began a sentence with "I'm just a simple infantryman" you were in for a earful of "guidance" semi-politely presented. 8^D – KorvinStarmast Nov 10 '17 at 1:19
  • Just as well I wasn't an infantryman then ;-D – sempaiscuba Nov 10 '17 at 11:17
  • @sempaiscuba IIRC, Sappers are combat engineers, not sure if that jargon still holds. – KorvinStarmast Nov 10 '17 at 12:58
  • Pretty much. As a general rule, we were the guys you called when you were stuck and didn't know who else to call. ;) – sempaiscuba Nov 10 '17 at 13:09

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