Procurement: The Saddam Speed-Up Syndrome

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November 7, 2006: American troops are getting new stuff a lot faster these days, and we can thank Saddam Hussein for that. The war in Iraq is pitting U.S. troops against well educated, experienced and desperate Iraqi Sunni Arabs. It's this lot that developed all those clever roadside bomb designs, and many other innovative combat tactics. The Iraqi Sunni Arabs also have a lot of practical experience at combat innovation from their experience in the 1980-88 war with Iran. There, the more motivated and numerous Iranians nearly defeated the Iraqis. It was only the innovations of the Sunni Arab minority (which ran the Baath party dictatorship led by Saddam Hussein) that kept the Iranians out, and forced a peace in 1988. It was a war that no one won. But the Iraqi Sunni Arabs believed it to be a victory, and gave themselves the credit for coming up with ways to manufacture mustard and nerve gas, and modified Russian SCUD ballistic missiles that could hit the Iranian capital of Tehran.

The Iraqi Sunni Arabs had long lived by their wits, as they have been a minority in the area for centuries. Better educated, and more successful in business than the more numerous Shia Arabs to the south, and Kurds to the north, even the Turks depended on the Sunni Arabs to run what is now central and southern Iraq for them. For nearly three centuries, that area was part of the Turkish Ottoman empire. Northern Iraq, where the Kurds are, was considered part of the Turkish heartland, and still is, in Turkey.

When the Ottoman empire was destroyed during World War I, the British (who took control of what is now Iraq), left the Sunni Arabs in control. The Sunni Arabs were not too keen on democracy, which the British imposed (as part of a constitutional monarchy, bringing in a prince from what is now Saudi Arabia, to be the king). The Sunni Arabs finally got rid of the monarchy (by the simple expedient of massacring the king and his family) in 1957. Running a dictatorship, especially when you are a minority, brings out the best, and worst, in people. Saddam, who started out to be a lawyer, but left the university to be a revolutionary (against the Iraq monarchy), and later a security expert, and head of the Baath Party, got some very bright and clever people to work for him. He motivated them by offering wealth and power, if they succeeded, and a bullet in the head if they failed. Saddam's Iraq was called, by many Iraqis, the "Republic of Fear."

The Iraqi Sunni Arabs are still living in fear. This time, it's fear of retaliation from the Shia Arabs and Kurds they terrorized for decades. While most Sunni Arabs want to live in peace with the majority (80 percent) Shia and Kurds, a minority of Sunni Arabs do not. These are the ones setting off the bombs and running death squads. These are the terrorists. Their motivation is survival, for they tend to be the ones with the most blood on their hands from the Saddam era. They must either terrorize the majority into granting amnesty (they have just about given up regaining power, for the moment anyway), flee the country (and be hunted the rest of their lives) or die. This had been wonderfully effective motivation. In addition to all the new terrorism ideas, the Sunni Arabs have managed, on average, to come up with some kind of a useful response to new U.S. technology in about a month. This does not mean they have been neutralize, say, U.S. cell phone jammers, but they have found ways to switch to other ways of detonating roadside bombs that beat the jammers.

The Sunni Arabs have been using some of the billions of dollars, of oil money they stole while they were in power, to fund their terror campaign. The Sunni Arab terrorists have established their own roadside bomb economy by employing dozens of teams of bomb makers, planters and detonators. Thus, while the U.S. was able to come up with many new technologies to neutralize the bombs, the Sunni Arabs compensated, in part, by spending more money to make and plant more bombs. Thus, over the last two years, the number of bombs planted per month has increased four-fold, but U.S. casualties from these bombs has remained the same.

American troops respect their adversary. Against a lesser opponent, the roadside bombs would no longer be a threat, and the Sunni Arabs would be defeated. The battle here has forced American troops to be more innovative. This need for innovation in weapons and equipment has shaken up the army and marine procurement bureaucracy, and made them much more responsive than at any other time in history. Part of this was due to the growing use of the Internet in the past decade. The troops were communicating with each other, the media, and the military procurement agencies. If the bureaucrats could not get something developed and to the troops quickly enough, the troops often cobbled together their own expedients. Things like using radio controlled hobby aircraft for UAVs, or radio controlled toy trucks to check out potential roadside bombs, and to drop explosives (using toy radio controlled dump trucks) next to the bombs. Troops even developed some crude jammers. The military procurement people took the hint, and moved things along faster than anyone thought possible. All because Saddam's desperate minions were using their heads.

 


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