by Jan Oberg
April 3, 2003
There are basically three wars or struggles in the Iraq conflict. There is the war the media is waging for the hearts and minds of people. Second, there is the military war and the promised removal of the Iraqi regime. And, third, there is the war to control and run post-war Iraq and live up to the official motives of bringing freedom, democracy, welfare and prosperity to its 24 million citizens.
The public relations war is aimed at the hearts and minds of people around the globe. It attempts to demonise the Baghdad regime while contrasting it with the noble, altruistic goals to be achieved by the war. Heads of state and governments that were in favour of war have promoted these aims through propaganda, public relations campaigns, psychological warfare, etc, in an effort to sell the war to audiences in the West, in the Arab world - including Iraq's citizens - and to other parties around the world, including the UN.
It goes without saying that this war for people's hearts and minds that, by the way, cost hundreds of million dollars ended in defeat. Millions upon millions of citizens around the globe mobilised in defiance and created the largest ever pre-war, anti-war sentiment. Mainstream media sensed it and raised more critical questions than, say, during the wars in Bosnia, Serbia/Kosovo, Somalia and Afghanistan. So, selling the war turned out to be anything but a "cake-walk."
So, too, with the second war, the military war, that rages at the moment. It is neither re-assuring nor convincing when Pentagon officials, as well as General Tommy Franks and Vincent Brooks at the US Central Command in Dohar, repeat the mantra that everything is going according to plan. If this is so, even a civilian like myself suspects that it must have been a pretty lousy plan.
Here are a few of the failures that have become rather obvious after 14 days of fighting:
- The mother of all Bush/Blair miscalculations maintained that the Iraqis would welcome the invaders ("coalition") as liberators.
One might almost believe that this was a conspiracy of a) parts of the Iraqi opposition abroad, b) CIA and MI5, c) Israel-friendly experts, and d) hawkish think tanks who were against the two leaders. Convinced about their own excellence, no one in their administrations seems to have asked: what if America is not that loved by the Iraqis - and what if they struggle for Iraq, for their country, for their pride and not (only) for Saddam Hussein? What if they want to get rid of Saddam but don't trust the US and UK because they gave Saddam the weapons in the first place and humiliated the country?
What if the people, educated and informed as they are, knew perfectly well that the US and the UK have been the staunchest advocates of the cruel sanctions? These sanctions have been one long economic war on the people during the last 12 years, the main reason for Iraq's misery and have crippled the economy, education and health of the people. What if they felt just a little annoyed by repeated statements that they would be bombed as no one had ever been before in history?
The intellectual level of the US and UK leadership did not permit the hypothesis that not liking Saddam didn't automatically imply loving Bush. And, surprise, surprise, not even the Shia Muslims in the south rose in any great number to help topple the regime leaders in Baghdad.
Intoxicated with the power of their high-tech military muscle, the US and UK thought they could afford to abandon working on the brain and the heart.
This war has become a terrible reality check for the architects of what may turn out to be the largest US foreign policy misjudgment in decades.
- The military problems
In contrast to the promised "shock and awe", the war started out with the unplanned "target of opportunity" to kill Saddam Hussein and the other leaders in one go. It wasn't successful. Then there was the idea that troops could push rapidly toward Baghdad going around towns and cities. It didn't work as the Iraqi military resisted far more than had been predicted in Umm Qasr, Basra, Najaf, Kabala, Nasiriyah, etc; these were euphemistically described in the first days as "pockets" of resistance. After two weeks, Umm Qasr is the only important town under (almost) full "coalition" control. Then there were the problems with the number of troops and with the long and very vulnerable supply lines. And then there was the Turkey that did not obey. And there was the problem of conducting both regular warfare and guerrilla warfare on land and in townscapes which the defenders, of course, knew much better than the invaders.
And then there are the stray missiles that are landing in Iran and Turkey. As if this was not enough there is also:
- Friendly fire
There were "coalition" helicopters colliding in the air. A Patriot missile shot down a British Royal Air Force Tornado GR4 fighter near the Kuwaiti border, killing both crew members. A frustrated officer threw hand grenades around, killing and wounding a dozen of his own. There was an F-16 that attacked a US Patriot missile battery. Patriot missiles went astray over Saudi-Arabia. And what about the missile in the heart of Kuwait City? Would it have disappeared that quickly from the media if it had really been fired by Saddam? A British soldier died and four were wounded in a friendly fire ("blue on blue") incident near Basra.
Here is an another example:
London - There is anger and bitterness among the British soldiers who survived a friendly-fire incident in Iraq in which one of their comrades was killed by a U.S. aircraft, exacerbating broader tensions between the two allies over strategy and the conduct of the war. Four British soldiers also were injured in the incident on Friday, when a U.S. A-10 Thunderbolt aircraft, also known as the Tankbuster, attacked two British Scimitar armoured reconnaissance vehicles, apparently mistaking them for Iraqi tanks.
Lance-Corporal Steven Gerrard, who suffered shrapnel wounds in the attack, accused the American pilot of having "absolutely no regard for human life. I believe he was a cowboy."
All this raises very legitimate doubts, of course, about the de facto versus presumed precision of modern weaponry - and thereby about the likelihood that civilian casualties can be minimised in the future.
- The grotesque amount of "collateral damage."
On April 2, The Iraq Body Count stood at between 565 and 724 innocent civilians killed, about 50 a day in average.
(http://www.iraqbodycount.net/background.htm) Just think of the girls' school in Basra. The Syrian bus hit. The missile in the market area of Baghdad. The killing of civilians in a bus at a checkpoint. The demolished apartment houses. The 56 civilians killed by bombing raids over Baghdad in the night between March 31 and April 1.
See the telling pictures and analysis by a world expert, Professor Marc W. Herold in Dissident Voice
And see this article about US precision weapons
And, while this was being written, news came in of American human shields in a bus moving towards the border being hit by US missiles. What a high-tech-low-moral defeat!
Perhaps it is too early to draw the conclusion that this second type of war is already lost due to technicalities that ripple into ethics and legitimacy. This war comes on top of a war policy that is deemed to counter international law; it comes without a United Nations mandate and with stiff public opinion resistance. If the leaderships in London and Washington were not in the grips of autism and group think, they should be very, very worried already.
It may well be argued that some assumptions always turn out to be wrong, that a war never goes exactly according to plan - weather is difficult to predict, too. Sure, there will always be some friendly fire, and civilian casualties can never be completely avoided in this type of war. There is no perfect war. As in peacetime, both humans and machines malfunction. I am no expert in these matters, but I can't help wondering whether all these arguments mean a damn thing to the innocent Iraqi children, men and woman who suffer from the "unavoidables" which stem from the self-assured motives of doing Good to the people.
I don't know whether to laugh or cry when on March 28, 2003, President Bush spoke to American war veterans and said, "We care about the human conditions of those in Iraq. In every way Allied forces are showing kindness and respect to the Iraqi people." Later he also stated that, "every Iraqi atrocity has confirmed the justice and the urgency of our cause."
A few hours before, however, two Allied 4,700-pound 'bunker busters' struck a communications tower in Baghdad. And a few ours later, Reuters put these two stories on its front page:
Fri March 28, 2003 03:55 PM ET
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqis said more than 50 people were killed on Friday in an air raid they said targeted a popular Baghdad market after the United States unleashed some of the heaviest air strikes of the war on the capital.
Fri March 28, 2003 01:52 PM ET - By Karen Iley
GENEVA (Reuters) - Half a million or more Iraqi children caught in fighting may be left so traumatized they will need psychological help, the United Nations children's agency said on Friday.
Whether there will be more or less of it in this war than in other wars remains to be seen. But judged on its own premises, the first two weeks of this war look more like a fiasco-in-the-making than as the predicted, successful 'cake-walk'. For invading forces that aim to win the hearts of the Iraqi people and be seen as legitimate and as liberators, nothing could be more devastating than a prolonged war in which the above things happen repeatedly.
Because, if they do, the third type of war will be lost too.
How the war may develop into disaster
Nobody knows the outcome of this "Operation Iraqi Freedom". I sense three possible scenarios:
- it will be a prolonged, lower-intensity, war with months of suburban and street-to-street fighting and thousands of civilian casualties on the Iraqi side and considerable human loss on the "coalition" side;
- the invading forces will try to make short work of the Iraqis, civilian as well as military, give up their concerns about causing civilian casualties, do a series of high-intensive shock and awe operations, flatten, bulldoze and destroy the cities physically and thereafter move into them to fight the military (and civilians who may have chosen to remain in the ruins); in short, the Jenin "solution" with unspeakable human losses;
- the coalition will get bogged down, warfare will spread to other parts of the Middle East and boomerang effects will hit the West itself; the coalition will be forced to leave Iraq.
There could be other options and combinations. However, this war cannot but be very ugly, in total contrast to any understanding of words such as liberation, freedom, welfare, respect, tolerance, co-operation and reconciliation. With the war option being chosen against all odds and world opinion, with the war beginning the way it has, there are no good outcomes possible anymore. For that to be the case, the diplomatic, civilian, UN-based options should have been chosen.
Whatever the outcome, it will mean a moral defeat for the coalition; no means will be able to achieve the official goals.
War # 3: The post-war struggle to control and run Iraq
People may surrender, and they may do so increasingly as the overwhelming technological power of the coalition forces advances. But there will be few, if any, who welcome the coalition forces as the occupiers they will be. In the aftermath of one of the scenarios just mentioned, they will be hated. This does not preclude of course, that more people in Iraq will find Western occupation more acceptable if or when Saddam Hussein's regime is gone, after all what choice would they have?
But even those who may see it as a liberation will feel deeply hurt and humiliated for a very long time. It will not be possible to buy them with any amount of humanitarian aid and promises of economic aid. They know the potentials of their country without foreign occupiers.
During my one-month fact-finding mission, I never met a single Iraqi who said he or she would welcome a war of liberation or foreign occupation. Even regime-critical people told me that although they would be happy to see Saddam leave, they would prefer him to any foreigner running their affairs. Dozens of internationals who have worked there for years and know the sentiments of the people confirmed my impressions, although they made different assessments as to how this general attitude was expressed or what would happen to it should the war break out.
While you can hope to avoid killing many civilians when you only bomb from the air, there is no way you can attack, invade, occupy and take over a country without killing many civilians and increase the resilience, aversion, hatred - as well as the cohesiveness and determination - of the subjects. It is here the mother of all miscalculations lies: the West did not understand Iraqi society and people, the view they have of us, the strength of the "Arabness" and "Iraqiness" in them in spite of their internal differences (which are many). The West, including its media, has been operating on a series of foolish assumptions and myths, including the one that the Iraqis would embrace invading soldiers voluntarily. The complexities of that society have been lost completely on the strategists and the politicians.
Most of west had no embassies in place, no direct person-to-person contacts with that society and its sweet and proud people. It became easy to target them. Leaders also forgot what Sun-Tzu, writing 2300 years ago, said, that you must know yourself and the enemy well to win the battle. The Iraqis know the West much better than we know them and their culture. Military high-tech was to solve all problems it seems, in the poor imaginations of the self-righteous.
During the last 10 weeks I have given 80 public lectures and interviews in 8 countries. Everywhere I spoke, I said that if you ever see the Iraqis welcoming American and British soldiers with flowers, it's certain they have been paid a few dollars to do so. Because I cared enough to go to Iraq and listened with an open heart, tried to empathise with what they have been through not only because of Saddam Hussein's ruthless regime but also because of Western policies in the past and now, I began to understand what an enormous self-created trap Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair were about to fall into.
Like the Vietnamese, the Iraqis do not hate Americans. They cherish everything Western and many of their leaders are educated in the West. Iraq used to be an ally of the West. But they do loathe the Bush regime and the Blair government. They will loathe anyone who tries to rule them. They love visitors; a guest is treated with tremendous generosity, openness and respect, as any visitor can testify. An invader gets the opposite treatment.
Freedom doesn't go together well with occupation. Democracy doesn't go together well with total ignorance and contempt for the people. Respect for human rights doesn't go together well with killing and maiming tens of thousands of civilians and statements about bringing freedom, democracy and human rights. And Goliath's war on David doesn't go together well with peace and justice.
No, it has all gone wrong already. It went wrong before the war even started. This war is a hopeless case. Iraq will be turned into a surreal slaughterhouse, whether intended or not. The war will only bring catastrophe, fear and sorrow to the Iraqis, the Middle East, Europe, to the rest of the world and to the coalition countries themselves. Even if Saddam and his regime fall, the price will have been far too high.
It would be better for everyone if it stopped now and the United States could withdraw with a little bit of honour left. They will anyhow achieve neither their stated nor real goals there in the cradle of their own - now sadly derailed - civilisation. These are dark times, indeed, for all of us.
Jan Oberg is the Director of the Transnational Foundation For Peace and Future Research in Sweden (http://www.transnational.org). © Copyright Jan Oberg and TFF 2003