In the aftermath of the US-led War in Iraq, the citizens of this destroyed country continue to fight the occupation that has supposedly "freed" them. As the US soldiers' morale steadily decreases, we are forced to ask the question: Can the US actually win?
Bush and Blair now concede that their ill-fated invasion of Iraq has created a disaster, but could the US have ever won this war? And if so, then where did they go wrong? It was not poor post-war planning that lost the US the so-called “hearts and minds” of the Iraqis, but rather, their grotesque disregard for civilian life, Islam, and the wanton destruction of Iraqi civilian property.
After nearly four years of pro-US propaganda by a complicit world media and silence from member states of the United Nations dependent upon US aid and patronage, or perhaps fearful of vengeful US retribution, some of the hard truths about this ill-conceived invasion are beginning to surface. We are no longer touted 30,000 deaths as the official Iraqi civilian death toll. 600,000 is now the most accurately assessed figure, a number the US is unable to deny, and some even put the real figure at far higher. Put that into context with the Iraqi population of 26 million, and what we have is one in 43 Iraqis killed.
Those who tuned into the first television news reports of the victorious US army rolling in to Baghdad on 20 March, 2003 were greeted with the first installment of this slaughter: images of gung-ho GI’s, intoxicated with patriotism, granted a license to kill by their government, unloading their M16s and heavy machine guns on civilian vehicles and taxis fleeing the bombardment. This indiscriminate slaughter of civilians and disregard for Iraqi civilian life has become symbolic of the US Administration's consideration for Iraqis and, even more disturbingly, has become symptomatic of the occupation.
The hundreds of thousands who have since died have become nameless and faceless victims, not even deserving of the odious epithet “collateral damage” or the ignoble virtue of becoming a statistic. Those who have died at roadblocks after being mistaken by nervous US troops as suicide bombers, those who have died after bungled terror raids on their homes, those who have died as a result of indiscriminate bombardments or the use of white phosphorous, or those caught in the anarchic web of violence ignited by the invasion, until now, did not deserve to be counted.
Is it really any surprise, therefore, that the Iraqis’ hearts have not warmed to the US presence on their soil? After witnessing relatives killed, friends abducted and murdered, mutilations, torture, death squads patrolling their streets, the meltdown of their social infrastructure and the paralysis of government, is it really any wonder that their nation has descended into anarchy? Many of my Iraqi associates are beginning to look back at the despotic reign of Saddam as the golden years of stability, with some even preferring the tyrannical rule of the recently executed dictator to the chaos of US occupation. So, who should the Iraqi people blame for the terror and destruction of their homeland: Saddam or the United States government?
The middle-classes who remained under Saddam have now fled the country and this has deprived the government of the administrative, management, and professional skills necessary to glue the country back together again. Iraq once produced the highest number of trained doctors, engineers and teachers, etc. in the Middle-East; the exodus of these professional classes has contributed to the collapse of the country's social infrastructure.
Many of these skills could have been imported, but all was lost for the Iraqi government and US forces when disgruntled Iraqis resorted to guerrilla and unconventional warfare as a means to expel the invaders and their hand-picked cronies from their country. The US Administration has neither the stomach nor the stamina to fight such a ground insurgency and after America's defeat in Vietnam, it became practice not to deploy ground troops, but to destroy enemies from the air. We have all become familiar with the terms and references of modern US warfare: laser guided precision technology, smart bombs, cluster bombs. But fighting a ground battle is different. The US military is dependent upon an overwhelming superiority of firepower and technology to secure victory, but that is not all that is necessary to win a war.
The most decisive elements of warfare are strategic planning and the unrelenting will to fight. The determination to fight in most instances can be more important than superiority of firepower. This has been witnessed in Vietnam, Cuba, Chechnya and more recently in Lebanon, where small numbers of poorly equipped guerrillas defeated large conventional armies. The belief in what one is fighting for is paramount to morale and it is on this point that the Iraqi insurgent has the upper hand. Each day of destruction, chaos and murder in Iraq helps to recruit more orphans and young men ready to sacrifice their lives in honour of their dead, in defense of their interpretation of Islam, in defense of their homeland, or to simply expel the infidels. The Iraqi insurgent who risks his life in this anarchic war is neither a paid soldier nor a mercenary; he has a strategy, a goal, and believes in what he is fighting for. What is the strategy and goal of the US government, and does the US soldier believe in what he is fighting for? Does he even know?
The Western soldier in Iraq is now missing his sweetheart, his Playstation, the drive-in movie theatre, Starbucks, his 4x4, and other icons of Western privilege. He is fast running out of stamina and really, he is neither trained nor committed to fighting this new brand of anarchic warfare. The license to kill no longer carries any thrills, the roadside bombings and suicide attacks have taken the shine off their gung-ho bravado, and the wrap-around sunshades no longer seem as cool. The media have begun to distance themselves from the US Administration. The public are beginning to ask questions. The soldiers' mission has become hazy; they are hated by the very people they believe they are aiding and are being ambushed by the very soldiers and police forces they have trained. Once soldiers no longer believe in what they are fighting for, then the battle is lost, regardless of superior numbers, weapons or logistical support. Once the will to fight has gone, all is lost, and it’s not just the soldiers; the Western public have also lost their appetite, especially when they see their sons and daughters returning home crippled, traumatised, or in body-bags.
Bush and Blair have conceded that the situation is a disaster, but what they must now concede is defeat. “We can’t just cut and run,” they say, “Iraq will descend into an infernal hellfire.” Well, what is it now? The same doomsday prophesy was suggested about Vietnam as the US read the country it’s last rites and cut and ran. Yet the country recovered intact, having survived the external efforts to divide and destabilise the country. Of course, the real fear is that Iraq may become the Somalia of the Middle East; but it is, by any estimation, already past that.
1st January 2007