Iraq: January 10, 2003

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The second war with Iraq is a lot different than the 1991 one. Back then, it was clearly demonstrated that the Iraqi army is no match for Western troops. This should have not been a surprise, given the speed with which outnumbered British troops trashed the Iraqi army in 1941 and the dismal performance of the Iraqi military since then. Thus there is little doubt about what would happen if American and Iraqi troops fought each other again. But the U.S. doesn't want to fight the 2003 Gulf War the same way the 1991 was fought. For one thing, it's too expensive to get half a million troops to the Persian Gulf. With the American economy in recession and the budget deficit back, spending $80 billion for a replay of 1991 is not in the cards. OK, you could do it with half as many, because the Iraqi army has seriously deteriorated since 1991. Moreover, a repeat of the 1991 air/ground campaign would probably still get a lot of people, mostly Iraqis, killed. This time, most of the American deaths might be from friendly fire, because U.S. troops would be doing most of the shooting. So it was decided to take advantage of an opportunity to try and win a bloodless victory.

Winning without fighting is nothing new. For thousands of years, this has been admired as the most skillful accomplishment in war. Iraq is liable to this sort of thing because the war between the Coalition and Iraq has actually continued since 1991, but in slow motion. The sanctions have led to the decline in Iraqi military capabilities. The shortage of spare parts and new equipment has prevented Iraqi troops from training as much as they used to. American and British bombers have regularly hit Iraqi military targets. Moreover, the veterans of the 1991 war continue to tell of their demoralizing experiences while getting stomped by the Americans in the desert. Also, Saddam had to reorganize his military and security forces in order to deal with Shia and Kurdish rebels. Shia Moslem's cannot become officers and many units are mainly Shia conscripts. The Republican Guard and Sunni Moslem units had to be used against the restless Shia majority in the south. Many of the units that are mostly Shias are stationed out in the middle of nowhere in case dangerous ideas develop in the ranks. 

Never very popular to begin with, Saddam became very unpopular throughout the 1990s as the sanctions crippled the Iraqi economy. Saddam made this worse by diverting "Oil for Food" money, and smuggling profits, to buying goodies for his loyal followers in the government administration, secret police and Republican Guard. But Saddam was also running an Information War campaign and having some success. He managed to convince many people outside Iraq that he was still the popular leader of embattled Iraq and that the sanctions were killing Iraqis and had to be lifted. Most Iraqis knew better. It was no secret that the Kurds in the north, free of Saddam's control but still getting their share of the "Oil for Food" money, were doing much better economically. The "free Kurds" didn't have to deal with Saddam's secret police or larcenous ways and that made for a much more pleasant lifestyle. 

Saddam's successful manipulation of his image and the situation in Iraq, however, did not change the fact that twelve years of "slow war" had set him up for a rapid defeat. Shortly after September 11, 2001, the U.S. decided to take advantage of this and began letting Saddam's generals and henchmen know that they would soon have make a decision about their loyalty to Saddam. The American campaign was based on some very stark facts. First, if the American army wants to march on Baghdad, there's not much the Iraqis can do to stop them. Second, once the Americans get to Baghdad, the Sunni Arab minority that has run Iraq for centuries will be at the mercy of the majority Shia Arabs and non-Arab Kurds. The Sunnis will be facing massive revenge attacks. Big time payback. So the American psychological warfare campaign basically tells Saddam's Sunni followers that if they cooperate in removing Saddam's government, the Americans will protect them. If they remain loyal to Saddam, they will die, either from American bombs or at the hands of vengeful Shias and Kurds. 

Those who listen to the Iraqi community in Jordan, Kuwait, Iran and Saudi Arabia (lots of traders, smugglers and the like move back and forth) have heard of the change in attitude inside Iraq over the last year. Saddam's key followers have mellowed as the American message has sunk in. Especially in southern Iraq, where some Shia rebels are still on the loose. The American psychological warfare campaign has convinced most Iraqis that "the Yankees really are coming to Baghdad this time," and that only U.S. troops can prevent an orgy of bloody retribution against Saddams' followers once the Americans are in Baghdad and Basra. Sometime in the next month or so, American bombers and tanks will enter Iraq, and the message will go out to Saddam's inner circle; "it is time to decide."

 

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