Sunday, July 03, 2005

Seeds of Insurgency Part IV: Early Mistakes

Posted by AmishThrasher at 12:07 pm
Uncle Sam
Uncle Sam:
Made a few mistakes in Iraq
This is part 4 of an ongoing series I'm running here looking at the factors behind the insurgency in Iraq.

One of the most insightful sources of information about the ongoing US - Iraq Crisis has been Steve Gilliard. Gilliard - while wrong about some issues (for example his prediction that Howard Dean would become US President) - has made a number of accurate predictions and has done some excellent analysis into the ongoing war in Iraq. This has been no accident; Gilliard has an extensive knowledge of military history, and has applied this knowledge to the ongoing war. He also has extensive experience as a journalist, having written for numerous publications and websites. Unsurprisingly, Gilliard has been constantly critical about the war, often in the face of popular opinion. His thoughts on Iraq are available through his News Blog - available online at

An example of this analysis is the following piece. While much of the mainstream media, back in August 2003, were busy proclaiming that Iraq was a clear victory and that all that was necessary was 'mopping up' a few of Saddam's 'dead-enders', Gilliard was busy analysing why America was losing the war in Iraq. While some of these early mistakes have been corrected, either the ongoing damage persists, or worse, the key problems identified by Gilliard still remain uncorrected.

In this series, I have already raised a number of reasons why there is an insurgency in Iraq today, with support perhaps even amongst people who thoroughly hated the reigime of Saddam Hussein. Decade-long sanctions which hurt the civilian population (which - directly or indirectly - killed many innocent children), Britain's history in Iraq, and civilian casualties were key factors in forming the guerilla movement now attacking the American and coallition troops in Iraq. Yet, on top of these factors, there were other fundamental mistakes that were - and still are being - made by the US. (as outlined below):

Monday, August 18, 2003
With exploding pipelines and flooded streets, it's time to ask why we're losing this war.

First, the entire war was based on a series of false assumptions, which centered on the political fiction that exiles would be warmly accepted by the Iraqi people as viable representatives of a post-Saddam Iraq. Why that assumption was made is beyond me, but since ideology trumped basic common sense, there was no way that the kind of people who are eventually going to run Iraq would have been acceptable. The idea that we would fight a war to make Ayatollah Hakim President of Iraq would have gotten zero support.

In reality, the exiles, many of whom had dealings with Saddam or were completely unknown, were resented as tools of the US. One cleric allied with the US was chopped into tiny bits by Shias in Najaf. The great neocon hope, Ahmed Chalabi, is now the most hated non-Baathist in Iraq. Far too little was understood about how dissident politics would play out, even though, it is clear that only home grown heroes would ever make the cut. Only an exile leader with demonstrable suffering, like a Hakim, can have any credibility. Exiles who have grown up with fairy tales about life in Iraq, or who left as children, have little chance to be accepted by average Iraqis.

Second, at every opportunity, we have been giving the wrong signals. Relying on exiles, attacking Islamicist parties, living in Saddam's palaces. Iraqis figured the score as their libraries and museums were looted while the oil ministry was protected. Jerry Bremer, completely untrained in any civil skill useful to rebuilding a country, acts like a viceroy. Instead his expertise is in "terrorism". It's like Red Dawn where the Russians bring in a guy who's expert on hunting partisans. You don't have to be a scholar in American studies to see what the Americans are really thinking. He lives in Saddam's palace, drinks his booze and drives around in an armored SUV. To the average Iraqi, the only difference is that he doesn't have people tortured by his sons.

The conduct of the troops belies a deep contempt and racism for Iraqis. But unlilke uneducated Somalis, many of these folks not only speak and read English, they understand the world. Iraq is not some backwards swamp, but a complex, cultured country with plenty of educated people. Baghdad is not Kabul. They know how Americans live and how they live and they think it's not funny they're suffering and the Americans are not. We have completely underestimated the attitudes and resolve of the Iraqi people, who see no reason for their continue joblessness and wretched misery.

Third, there is no information gap. Iraq is not Somalia or Afghanistan, where the locals barely read and are lucky to have radios. Kids in Iraqi streets worship David Beckham, watch Premiership soccer, listen to the BBC and go online. When ABCNews runs a story on Halliburton and Bush, they can read it or watch the video. The BBC tells them about Tony Blair's lies the same time they tell us. Iraq is a wired country with lots of information available to the public. Within minutes of lights going down on the east coast of the US, Iraqis were laughing about it in their tea houses. We are dealing with a sophisticated, educated, armed populace. We act as if we are dealing with ignorant children. They are not.

The racist assumptions about Iraqi awareness means that we discount real threats like Sadr and his tacit working arrangement with Hakim and Sistani and seek to blame our problems on Saddam and his friends and Al Qaeda. At no point has the US been able even to manage the anarchy. The police are ineffective because we don't fully trust them. We expect Iraqis to work with the US, yet provide them no protection or safety. We use them and they get killed, at points, by their own families.

Fourth, US tactics range from the abysmal to the common sense. It is increasingly clear that there is a leadership problem in the 4th Infantry Division. Their battalion commanders seem to lack basic common sense in dealing with Iraqis. While the 3rd ID is burnt out, the 4th ID seems to revel in bad tactics and bad leadership. You have commanders using questionable tactics and the command staff living in luxury while the manuever units live in hell. Special Ops is uneven at best. The vaunted and secretive Task Force 20 seems to have little regard for Iraqis or their safety. Meanwhile, the 101st, while losing men, has a much better commander and command structure. The difference in their operations seems to be night and day. But it goes deeper than leadership.

The US military is tactically at sea in Iraq. Each battalion, in each brigade, in each division seems to be doing its own thing. Not in terms of tactics, but in terms of everything. Some units are well supplied, some are not. Some sweep through towns and make enemies, some don't. It seems to be that every unit is working off of a different playbook, yet none of the plays work. It seems clear that the leadership at the top of CENTCOM is so busy trying to run two wars, they haven't noticed the 4ID is a disaster in the making. The current use of partisan sweeps is a failure. The locals are not going to help the US find their relatives. Every time they announce that they've taken 20 AK's, remember Iraq has over 5 million of them. Or about 55 for every GI in country. We are fighting a colonial war against the best armed population in history. Iraq was a vast storehouse of weapons and those who wanted them, took them. We are sending in units against Iraqis who have the same basic weapons we do, automatic rifles, machineguns, mines, grenades. No colonial population has ever had the chance to resist their occupiers on nearly as even terms. Most Iraqi men have military training, hundreds of thousands have combat experience. Their tactics negate our equipment. They are able to use signal flares to manuever, which is a basic infantry manuever, but almost impossible for the untrained to master correctly. These are no fat former secret policemen doing this.

US troops are so trigger happy and so poorly trained, they shoot civilians without pause. A cameraman shooting US troops was gunned down. Whole families have been blown away by US troops. Abuse of Iraqis is common. You have to wonder what isn't making the papers. Our MOUT (urban warfare) training is so unrealistic, that basic car stops often end in tragedy, while guerrillas brag about shipping guns past them. Most American soldiers patrol with their weapons pointed at the locals, off safe. We often shoot recklessly among civilians as well. The desire to go home is obvious, but when troopers kill a child because they freak when Iraqis fire guns in celebration, that's a failure of training. The brutal fact is that the US Army was unprepared to occupy Iraq and its current methods make the occupation worse.

This is from today's Guardian:
But colleagues who were with the award-winning cameraman when he was killed told a different story.

Nael al-Shyoukhi, a Reuters soundman, said the soldiers "saw us and they knew about our identities and our mission.

"After we filmed we went into the car and prepared to go when a convoy led by a tank arrived and Mazen stepped out of the car to film.

"I followed him and Mazen walked three to four metres. We were noted and seen clearly.

"A soldier on the tank shot at us. I lay on the ground. I heard Mazen and I saw him scream and touching his chest. I cried at the soldier, telling him 'you killed a journalist'. They shouted at me and asked me to step back and I said 'I will step back but please help, please help'."

He said they tried to help but Dana was bleeding heavily. "Mazen took a last breath and died before my eyes."

Stephan Breitner, of France 2 television, added: "We were all there for at least half an hour. They knew we were journalists. After they shot Mazen, they aimed their guns at us. I don't think it was an accident. They are very tense. They are crazy."

Fifth, the occupation has no political supporters. You have some exiles, some grifters and some parasites, but even most of Saddam's stooges won't suck up to the US. You would think that a country riven with informers would be either in civil war or vying to get close to Uncle Sugar. Instead, they're not supporting the US and turning their back when the guerrillas strike. No one serious in Iraq wants anything to do with this occupation. Those that do are angling for power at best. The US is unable to deliver basic services and is, thus, losing the middle and working classes they desperately need to support them.

The US, unable to provide basic security, is discredited by this more than anything else. Without power, light and gas,the US are just occupiers who need to leave.

Finally, the cost of rebuilding Iraq is begining to dawn on the administration. The lack of consensus from our European allies means they will refuse to help. Without UN help, the cost of running Iraq is too much to bear. We can't afford it, not the $2b for the electrical grid, forget the billions to rebuild the oil industry, forget the actual war-related damage. The guerrillas don't have to do much, just blow thing up the US cannot afford to fix. Of course, there is no relation to the fact that Bush's cronies have gotten all the big contracts, despite rank imcompetence. Why should France sink billions into Iraq so Dick Cheney can make more money?

The Iraqis know this. They know the jury-rigged CPA is an obstacle, not an aid, to real rebuilding. Why should they support an occupation which, at its core, seeks to remake their country for the safety of Halliburton? A free, independent, Iraq sounds great. But since the US is allowing the exploitation of the oil fields in the name of crony capitalism, they know that's a pipedream. When they go online and read the NY Times, they take the hint.

Everyone talks about 4th generation warfare. Well, we live in a 4th generation information age. If we write it and say it, they see it. Forgetting that fact, gets Americans killed.


On top of these fundamental mistakes, there is perhaps one other - even more fundamental - error made by the US, as I will show tomorrow.