Iraq: April 22, 2004


The Myths of Iraq

The country is in flames! Actually, most of the country is at peace and continues to rebuild. The fighting is restricted to a few areas, but this is where the reporters and cameras go. Construction and commerce do not make for dramatic news stories and so are rarely covered. The Iraqis who are causing all the commotion are the same ones who have been using their guns to threaten other Iraqis as well. Coalition attempts to deal with this are being condemned as oppressive to all Iraqis. But unless the warlords (Saddam followers wanting to regain power, or Islamic radical Shias who want the country run by clergy) can be defeated and disarmed, Iraq will never know peace. The coalition hoped this day of reckoning could be put off until the Iraqis held elections, and could do it themselves. The warlords were not willing to wait for that.

Americans are hated in Iraq! Not according to the polls that have been conducted, nor according to the experience of most Americans working in Iraq. But a lot of Iraqis, especially those who used to work for Saddam, or who want to set up an Islamic theocracy, don't like the Americans and their "alien" ideas about democracy and rule of law. If someone hates you, it's a good idea to find out why. But most Americans get their news from the mass media, which is more interested in wow than why.

U.S. troops are fed up with the war and leaving in droves! New recruits, and people wanting to stay in are at record levels in the armed forces. This applies to reservists as well as active duty troops. The Department of Defense regularly releases data on recruiting and re-enlistments, and they have been up since before September 11, 2001. But since the war on terror began, the numbers have increased still more. The air force and navy are even conducting layoffs. 

The Iraqi Governing Council is despised by most Iraqis! Any 25 Iraqi leaders would be despised by most of the population. The 25 members of the Iraqi Governing Council were selected by the coalition to help run things until elections could be held. Members were selected from all of the ethnic and religious groups in the country. Each member has a large constituency. But Iraq has lots of constituencies, including over a hundred tribes and dozens of religious leaders with large followings. The country has not allowed any party politics for over four decades. You need more than 25 members of a government to even begin to cover the demands of all the constituencies for representation. Even after the elections, Iraq will have more than 25 organized factions competing with each other.

The U.S. Army doesn't have enough troops to handle current combat operations! Although combat commanders feel that "too much ain't enough" when it comes to troops, they learn how to go with what they got. The last two weeks of violence in Iraq were suppressed with available combat troops, and more were called for in case the violence returned on a grander scale (an unlikely event, as more became known about who was behind the current attacks on Iraqis, foreign aid workers and coalition troops). For example, three battalions of marines dealing with Fallujah, and available troops were able to suppress the al Sadr militias within two weeks. Sending more troops wont help with the basic problem; gathering intelligence. That requires people who speak Arabic and have police experience. More American troops wont solve that problem, more trained Iraqi police will. 

The effort in Iraq detracts from the war on terror! Arab countries are where al Qaeda comes from, they were just using Afghanistan as a base. Invading Iraq forced al Qaeda to come and defend its Arabian heartland. The Iraq operations inflamed al Qaeda members in Saudi Arabia to start attacking Saudis and other Arabs. This cost al Qaeda a lot of support among Arabs, and would not have happened if Iraq were not invaded. The war on terror is mainly a police and intelligence function. The troops that are needed most for counter-terrorism are special operations (Special Forces and commandoes.) Special operations forces were pulled out of Afghanistan for the Iraq campaign, but most of the action in Afghanistan is best handled by regular coalition troops, Afghans and the Pakistanis. After 2001, the war in Afghanistan was mainly political, not military. Special Forces troops specialize in a particular part of the world, and they are all over the planet chasing down terrorists. The war in Iraq gave the Special Forces an opportunity to work intensively, and without restraint, in an Arab country. 

U.S. Army should be expanded! It takes several years to recruit new troops, train them and organize them into new units. By then, the army leadership feels they wont be needed. But the army will still have to pay for them. This will mean less money for training and new weapons and equipment. To the army leadership, that strategy will get more soldiers killed in combat in the long run. The basic problem is that you cannot expand the army quickly and still have the same highly effective professional troops.

Iraqi army should not have been disbanded after Saddam fell! The Iraqi army has been, for over half a century, the chief source of tyranny and oppression in the country. Army commanders overthrew the government time after time, and used their soldiers to brutalize the population. By keeping all, or part, of the army intact, and armed, coalition risked a quick return of the warlord attitude that gave the Iraqi people dictators like Saddam (and several others who preceded him.) Saddams innovation was to establish the Republican Guard as a force to keep the army from overthrowing him. Saddam also freely fired, or executed, army officers who appeared likely to try and stage a coup. And there were several coup attempts by army officers, even in the face of Saddams secret police and Republican Guard. Keeping the old Iraqi army in business was just asking for more trouble. 

Iraqi security and army troops, and police cannot be relied on! About half the police and security troops have worked well with coalition troops when put under pressure (attacked by al Sadr militia or Sunni gangs). Another 40 percent simply fled and about ten percent went over to the rebels. This was because the screening and training process for Iraqi police and security troops is still a work in progress. The sad truth is that Iraq never had a real police force. What was called police took care of traffic control and low level crime. There was little training for the police. The population was controlled via secret police terror and a huge system of informers. All this was backed up by the Republican Guard. The army and police were never trusted and were terrorized as well. So it was realized, even before the invasion, that the police force and army would have to rebuilt from scratch. And thats been going on for a year. It will take years to create a professional police force and army. The old Iraqi police and army were accustomed to corrupt practices (bribes and personal influence) rather than evenhanded application of the law. Eliminating the bad habits takes time. Meanwhile, the only way law and order will return to Iraq is via a professional police and security force. Foreign troops cannot do this.

Keeping all Baath Party members out of the new government was a mistake! All Baath Party members were barred from government jobs after Saddam was toppled for the simple reason that the vast majority of the Iraqi people hated the Baath Party. The Baath Party, like the Communist and Nazi party earlier in the century, was a political movement that controlled the nation by demanding that all key positions (management, government, academic, judicial) be held by members of the party. You had to prove to local party members that you would be a loyal Baathist before you were admitted to the party. After that, you could pursue your career. But the party had the right to call on you to do whatever the party needed done. That could include being an informer, or murderer of an enemy of the party. Many people who joined the Baath Party just for career reasons, later fled the country when the party asked them to do something vile (from being an informer to participating in some bit of terrorism to control the population.) But most stayed, cultivated their career and just hoped the party never called on them to be a bastard. When the Baath party was thrown out, Iraqis knew which Baathists were bastards and which were just opportunists. The former were often war criminals, but the latter were also hated for their opportunism and lack of scruples. Many Iraqis refused to join the Baath party, and accepted career damage in doing so. As a result, all Baath Party members were seen as tainted. Unfortunately, many of them are skilled administrators and professionals. From the beginning, some key professionals were allowed back on the job even though they had been in the Baath Party. This was always done at some cost, for there were always other Iraqis who were quite bitter about any Baath Party member being back in a position of authority. This situation will continue for a generation.


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