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Scorecard #4: New developments in Iraq

22 November 2003

The rate and intensity of insurgent operations continues at the highest rate since the invasion. Can they sustain this rate?  Perhaps more important is the Coalition’s response.

First, application of heavy firepower in urban areas. Perhaps to instill shock and awe in the Iraq people, hoping for better cooperation with Coalition officials? Destroying empty buildings, as a signal to the insurgents of our power and commitment? If so, it’s a mad echo of the Vietnam War, western technology in the service of failed methods of warfare. A losing strategy against an opponent making war, not playing war games.

Our second response: rapid recruitment of Iraq citizens as local auxiliaries. Unless Coalition intelligence has improved – to screen out insurgent infiltration – this seems certain to fail. The rapid recruitment also prevents adequate training.

Public sources have become increasing specific on who we’re fighting. The insurgents consist of groups with different agendas: Baathists, Islamic fundamentalists, and nationalists. Almost all are said to have some military training, only a minority with experience in guerrilla warfare. Can they forge a force capable of united and sustained effort? Can the Coalition exploit fault-lines in their goals and composition.

Per General Abizaid, the insurgents number about 5,000 fighters, hiring criminals and unemployed Iraqi men to do their “dirty work.” We can only hope that this intelligence proves more accurate than previous estimates.

The war, however defined, has expanded to a new theater:   Turkey.

New information about the war

The rapid collapse of Saddam Hussein’s government remains a mystery. Many expert observers noted this at the time:  “Saddam’s utter collapse shows this has not been a real war“, The Telegraph (4 August 2003).  Some rumors attribute the Coalition’s rapid victory to bribed Iraq leaders – as in Afghanistan – more than force of arms (see “The Baghdad deal“, Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, 25 April 2003).  If true – or if false but still widely believed in Iraq – this might diminish the legitimacy of any Coalition-backed government, much as myths of betrayal in WWI weakened the Weimer Government and aided Hitler’s rise to power.

Also interesting is “Iraqi Insurgents Take a Page From the Afghan Freedom Fighters“, Milt Bearden, New York Times (9 November 2003) — “Bearden, 30-year veteran of the CIA Directorate of Operations, provides some new information, an analysis using the precepts of Sun Tzu, and this conclusion:

There were two stark lessons in the history of the 20th century: no nation that launched a war against another sovereign nation ever won. And every nationalist-based insurgency against a foreign occupation ultimately succeeded. This is not to say anything about whether or not the United States should have gone into Iraq or whether the insurgency there is a lasting one. But it indicates how difficult the situation may become.

If anything Mr. Bearden understates the odds. Since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, few foreign invasions have succeeded against a nation-state. Even if Iraq previously lacked a true national identity, Operation Enduring Freedom might have sparked its creation.  As a side note, do you believe the reports of Soviet soldiers dropping booby-trapped toys in Afghanistan? I did. Bearden   tells us the origin of that story:

This is reminiscent of Afghan children being terrified that Soviet soldiers were seeding the countryside with booby-trapped toys, or that wells had been poisoned, or food aid adulterated. All those stories were false, many of them propagated by the C.I.A. But the important thing was that the locals believed them.

Speculation about a wider war

Will the war spread to new theaters, new participants? Will other nations see opportunities to act while the US has a stressed economy, its land forces fully engaged in Iraq, its relations strained with some key allies?

The following article describes only one of several possible flash points, followed by some observations:  “PRC warns U.S. over stance on Taiwan politics”, Agence France-Presse (23 November 2003) — Excerpt:

American leaders have said many times they oppose ‘Taiwan independence’,” ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao (劉建超) was quoted as saying on the website. “The United States should honor its words.”

… The United States has again emerged as a key player on the issue, and Liu’s statement was a direct response to remarks made by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage this week.

Armitage told reporters in Washington the United States is bound by law “to keep sufficient force in the Asia Pacific area to be able to keep the area calm.”  The same legislation, the Taiwan Relations Act, also obliges the United States to provide Taiwan with “sufficient defense articles for her self-defense,” Armitage noted.  What has triggered the new round of Chinese sabre-rattling is a Taiwanese plan to put a draft law permitting referendums before parliament by the end of the month.

It’s easy to dismiss fears of China-Taiwan war. War would be illogical; China’s military forces could not hope to successfully contest the Taiwan Straits against the US Navy.  That is, of course, the same reasoning used by Churchill’s advisors when dismissing the fears of Japanese attacks in the Pacific. They were right – war was an illogical act.

China does have some potentially powerful options.  The easy step – declare a maritime exclusion zone around China. Their air and submarine forces make this a credible threat. Shipping rates would rise, putting great stress on Taiwan’s economy.  Also they have other weapons. They are a major creditor of the US government. They have considerable influence on the always unpredictable government of North Korea.

What would China do in preparation for such a conflict? Perhaps reduce their holdings of US debt and stockpile commodities. They have done both in recent months.

For more information about the Iraq War

  1. My posts about the war
  2. Important articles about the Iraq War
  3. Our goals and benchmarks, and reports about progress towards them
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