The Shift In Iraq: A Heavy Price And Dangerous Repercussions For All

by Mamdouh Nofal on 01/04/2003

The preparations for war against Iraq took several long months. American and British intelligence services collected a large amount of information about the Iraqi military capacities and the people’s mood. But when the war actually broke out, these war planners, as well as analysts and neutral observers, were shocked by the Iraqi troops’ resistance and their strong readiness to fight amidst very difficult and complicated military conditions. It seems that the Iraqi leadership was not expecting this either, for the Iraqi Minister of Interior stated in a press conference in the beginning of the war that “the capture of Basra, Fao and Umm Qasr will not put an end to the battle, and we will defeat them in Baghdad, etc.” If the weakness of the Iraqi military capacities, compared to the American and British war machine, led analysts to believe that “the war will be short-lived,” war planners faced an unexpected situation because they praised their military strength, exaggerated their capacity to influence the countries neighboring Iraq, mainly Turkey, and adopted exaggerated information of the Iraqi opposition and accepted analysis that simplified war and dismissed the Iraqi army’s role.

Before the war, the Pentagon operations staff and the British Defense Secretary believed that massive air strikes, combined with the fast progression of the land forces would be able to choke the head of the Iraqi regime and make him lose control. They imagined that many Iraqi units would quickly surrender, with some even joining the coalition in its campaign on Baghdad in order to topple Saddam’s regime. They thought that the vanquished Iraqi people, especially the Shiites in the South who have been suffering too much for too long, would revolt against Saddam’s dictatorship, as they did in 1991. U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney and American Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld openly expressed their belief that American troops would be welcomed by Iraqis as liberators.

One week after the beginning of the battles, everybody became sure, especially the war engineers, that they were wrong, and realized that the Iraqis were quick to assimilate the shock and were not at all terrified. They also saw that the military leadership did not lose control in the field. That no one rushed to welcome the liberators, and that officers didn’t surrender themselves once cut from their leadership, and that no rebellion rose among the army sections in the South, the North, the West; quite the opposite, they maintained their unity. The fighters broke the obsession of fear, captured and killed British and American soldiers, destroyed several tanks and armored vehicles. The war pillars admitted that their troops faced strong resistance, and Bush and Blair started talking about a long and difficult war. They admitted in their press conference that they did not know when it would end.

After bombing Baghdad and Iraqi cities with all kinds of weapons except mass destruction weapons, and after thousands of civilians were killed or wounded, observers found out that the war was not clean; that it was bloody and dirty, where thousands of innocent people would be killed. They found out that the human and military losses among the American and British troops would be huge, in addition to the huge moral and political losses that emerged in both countries.Regardless of Bush, Blair and their general staff saying that the war in Iraq is going as planned and that it is progressing in the field, the operations results point out the troops are facing great difficulties due to fundamental gaps in the plan. The war general staff had to modify it in a fundamental way.

The ground war begun without a fiery start, which would have exhausted the Iraqi troops, confrontations occurred in the South and the Iraqi troops remained unified, preserving all their fighting energy. They assimilated the impulse of the offensive in Umm Qasr, Fao, Basra, Nassiriya and Najaf. They stopped the troops heading for Baghdad and caused important damages. True, American and British troops bombed Western Iraq and dismantled the Iraqi capacity of launching missiles on Israel, but this is no major success for the American and British plan didn’t include to attack Iraq from the Jordanian territories, as the Iraqi plan focuses on dispersing the attacking troops and not launching missiles on Israel as in 1991s war.

The war planners built their original plan on surrounding Baghdad in a few days, and 72 hours after the fight, they discovered that the Iraqi army withdrew from the desert to the cities and countries on the way between Basra and Baghdad, and transformed them with the help of ‘the popular militia’ into strong defensive points, which grew stronger in the North, toward Baghdad. American and British troops were forced to pull out the residents from their houses in some places they occupied, and examined every house because of the gun shots. The general staff faced the situation by modifying once again the old plan. They adopted the tactic of moving slowly and carefully toward Baghdad. They had to block some of their troops in the suburbs of the cities after they discovered that forcing these cities would be too expensive and time-consuming, and that going about these cities without cleaning them would expose the troops to strategic dangers such as isolation, encirclement and the cut of logistical supply routes. They decided to put pressure on the inhabitants, exhaust the Iraqi troops and drive them out of the cities.

It is clear that the latest American military approach has been exhausting the Iraqi soldiers and civilians inside the cities, wearing out their energy and increasing the rate of material and human losses; but it also blocked important parts of the attacking troops and exhausted them, especially if the war goes too long and so the troops in the desert in the suburbs of the cities. The war events made clear that the Iraqi troops didn’t remained in its defensive points. They went out of the cities and attacked effectively the enemies. I think that the American and British mobilization (300,000 soldier approximately) is not enough to encircle all the cities and ensure logistical supply and launch a decisive offensive over Baghdad in one time. The war planners might mobilize more troops before attacking Baghdad.

When Sharon was minister of defense, he adopted this tactic during the 1982 war; he besieged Beirut and expected the Palestinian and Lebanese resistance to collapse in a matter of days. He bombed it with weapons similar to those used in bombing Basra and Baghdad. If the Palestinian exhausted the Israeli troops and resisted the siege for around 12 weeks, we can expect the Iraqi troops to resist for at least half this period, bearing in mind that they are larger and much more experienced. In the first two weeks they showed an unexpected capacity to resist.

The war planners adopted the decision to head to Baghdad from two axes: the first from the South from the Kuwaiti frontiers, and the second from the North from the Turkish frontiers. They thought the Turkish stand would be as guaranteed as the Kuwaiti one, and the path to Baghdad would be two ways. They mobilized the necessary troops and forces on both sides, and assigned more than 60,000 soldiers to attack from the North. When the Turkish parliament refused to allow the American and British troops use Turkish territories as a starting point for the ground attack, the war planners had to modify their plan, restricting the attack on Baghdad from the South. They limited the mission of the North troops to destroy the Iraqi troops in the North of Iraq, to control the oil resources in Mosul and Kirkuk, to close the Turkish, Iranian and Iraqi borders and to wipe out the Islamic groups there. They began the fight with an air strike on these groups, hoping to secure the troops’ backs before moving to occupy the oil sources and ‘liberate’ Mosul, Kirkuk and Salmanieh. There is no doubt that Bush will not step back and won’t stop the fight before changing the regime in Iraq, no matter the volume of the American and British losses, he might even order to use more dangerous and destructive weapons towards achieving ‘victory.’ The above-mentioned military gaps won’t stop the progress of the American and British troops toward their key objectives: “to topple the regime and to disarm Iraq from the mass destruction weapons.” But it is also true that these troops won’t defeat the Iraqi people and won’t achieve their goals within the time fixed on the eve of the beginning of the war. Moreover, they will pay an exorbitant material and human price that go beyond the war planners’ expectations, especially if they are contemplating entering Baghdad and the main cities.

Furthermore, it is not fair for the Iraqi troops to cross its potential and defeat both the American and British armies. The realistic question to be asked here is not whether or not the U.S. will win the war, but if they are able to fix the Iraqi situation after they destroyed everything, and turn the military victory into a political one? Will Bush and Blair keep on deceiving their peoples and the world and praise a victory grounded in death and destruction?

Historical experience assures us that it is easy to make war but difficult to contain successive fires that spread out of a war. The war on Iraq is one of these wars. Right now, it is difficult to estimate the final fallouts on the Iraqi people and the rest of the region, for so far, the negative aspect has touched everyone in the Middle East, shook the Arab League structure, mined the stability of the UN, shook the EU and American-European relations, as well as American-Russian relations. The coming days of war are even more difficult and dangerous, so God help the Iraqi people in their double crisis.