The Army Monograph that Predicted Just About Everything that's Happened in Iraq
During the latter half of the 20th century, U.S. military leaders and planners focused heavily on winning wars, and not so much on the peacekeeping or nation-building that comes afterwards. But national objectives can often be accomplished only after the fighting has ceased. With the winds of war swirling around Iraq, it is time to begin planning for the post-conflict reconstruction of that state. This monograph presents some historical insights from past occupations and peace operations, provides some additional analysis of the unique requirements involved in remaking Iraq, and, most importantly, develops a detailed list of potential tasks to help contemporary military commanders plan for post-conflict operations there.
Most analysts and commentators focus on World War II for insights about occupying states and replacing regimes. Clearly, the American experience with occupations after major wars provides valuable insights about the importance of long and detailed planning for such missions, and about just how difficult demilitarization and democratization can be, even under the best of conditions. The world has changed a great deal since 1945, however. The experiences of the 1990s are generally more relevant to shape post-conflict operations in Iraq. They reveal past inadequacies in Army planning and preparation, and the difficulties in finding competent and resourced civilian agencies to assume responsibilities from the military. Recent experiences also show that even when the Army plans and performs well in a post-crisis environment, as it did in Haiti, strategic success is not guaranteed. That state quickly reverted back to chaos when military forces left.
Iraq presents far from ideal conditions for achieving strategic goals. Saddam Hussein is the culmination of a violent political culture that is rooted in a tortured history. Ethnic, tribal, and religious schisms could produce civil war or fracture the state after Saddam is deposed. The Iraqi Army may be useful as a symbol of national unity, but it will take extensive reeducation and reorganization to operate in a more democratic state. Years of sanctions have debilitated the economy and created a society dependent on the UN Oil for Food Program. Rebuilding Iraq will require a considerable commitment of American resources, but the longer U.S. presence is maintained, the more likely violent resistance will develop.
The monograph concludes by developing and describing a phased array of tasks that must be accomplished to create and sustain a viable state. The 135 tasks are organized into 21 categories, and rated as “essential,” “critical,” or “important” for the commander of coalition military forces. They are then projected across four phases of transition— Security, Stabilize, Build Institutions, and Handover/ Redeploy—to reflect which governmental, nongovernmental, and international organizations will be involved in execution during each phase. To reduce the amount of resentment about the occupation in Iraq and the surrounding region, it is essential that military forces handover responsibilities to civilian agencies as soon as practicable. They, in turn, should relinquish control fairly quickly to the Iraqis, though not until well-defined coalition measures of effectiveness have been achieved for each task. The U.S. Army has been organized and trained primarily to fight and win the nation’s major wars. Nonetheless, the Service must prepare for victory in peace as well.
To be successful, an occupation such as that contemplated after any hostilities in Iraq requires much detailed interagency planning, many forces, multi-year military commitment, and a national commitment to nation-building.
Recent American experiences with post-conflict operations have generally featured poor planning, problems with relevant military force structure, and difficulties with a handover from military to civilian responsibility.
To conduct their share of the essential tasks that must be accomplished to reconstruct an Iraqi state, military forces will be severely taxed in military police, civil affairs, engineer, and transportation units, in addition to possible severe security difficulties.
The administration of an Iraqi occupation will be complicated by deep religious, ethnic, and tribal differences which dominate Iraqi society.
U.S. forces may have to manage and adjudicate conflicts among Iraqis that they can barely comprehend.
An exit strategy will require the establishment of political stability, which will be difficult to achieve given Iraq’s fragmented population, weak political institutions, and propensity for rule by violence.
Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces and Army Group headquarters invested considerable resources in developing what became Operation ECLIPSE. The plan correctly predicted most of the tasks required of the units occupying the defeated country. Within 3 months, those formations had disarmed and demobilized German armed forces, cared for and repatriated four million POWs and refugees, restored basic services to many devastated cities, discovered and quashed a potential revolt, created working local governments, and reestablished police and the courts.
In contrast, LTG John Yeosock, commander of Third Army in Operation DESERT STORM, could get no useful staff support to assess and plan for post-conflict issues like hospital beds, prisoners, and refugees, complaining later that he was handed a “dripping bag of manure” that no one else wanted to deal with.
Neither the Army nor the Department of Defense (DoD) had an adequate plan for postwar operations to rebuild Kuwait, and civilian agencies were even more unprepared. The situation was only salvaged by the adept improvisations of Army engineers and civil affairs personnel, and the dedicated efforts of Kuwaiti volunteers and the Saudi Arabian government.
Some of the deficiencies in postwar planning for DESERT STORM can be attributed to the fact that Third Army was the first American field army in combat since the Korean War. Post- conflict planning historically has been a function of headquarters at echelons above corps, and continuing problems with more recent operations are at least partly attributable to the generally small scale of American interventions. Difficulties also result from the fact that for at least the latter half of the 20th century, U.S. Army leaders and planners focused predominantly on winning wars, not on the peacekeeping or nation-building that comes afterwards. But national objectives can often be accomplished only after the fighting has ceased; a war tactically and operationally “won” can still lead to strategic “loss” if post-conflict operations are poorly planned or executed.
With the winds of war swirling around Iraq, it is already past time to begin planning for the post-conflict reconstruction of that state. Many historical insights can be gained from past occupations and peace operations. With some additional analysis of the unique requirements involved in remaking Iraq, a list of potential tasks can be developed to help contemporary military commanders envision what they need to do in order to achieve the effectiveness of Operation ECLIPSE if a lengthy occupation of Iraq is required.
PART I: HISTORICAL OVERVIEW OF AMERICAN OCCUPATIONS
Recent history provides a number of useful examples to illustrate the missions and challenges involved in post-conflict operations. Though recent cases have more often involved restoring regimes than changing them, many valuable insights still can be gained from careful analysis.
Operations in Panama leading to the overthrow of the Noriega regime have been touted as a model use of quick and decisive American military force, but post-conflict activities did not go as smoothly. The crisis period was exceptionally long, beginning with public revelations about General Manuel Noriega’s nefarious activities in June 1987 and culminating with the execution of Operation JUST CAUSE in December 1989. Planning for military intervention began as early as February 1988.
When Noriega annulled the election of May 1989, sent his paramilitary thugs to assault opposition candidates, and increased his harassment of Americans, the United States executed Operation NIMROD DANCER. This show of force, executed by U.S. Southern Command, was designed to show further American resolve, in the hope that it would pressure Noriega to modify his behavior. When there was no obvious modification, the President directed the execution of Operation JUST CAUSE. A textbook example of the quality of the new armed forces and doctrine developed in the United States, it encompassed the simultaneous assault of 27 targets at night.
Due to a focus on conducting a decisive operation and not the complete campaign, the aftermath of this smaller scale contingency (SSC) did not go as smoothly, however. Planning for the post-conflict phase, Operation PROMOTE LIBERTY, was far from complete when the short period of hostilities began. Missions and responsibilities were vague, and planners failed to appreciate adequately the effects of combat operations and overthrowing the regime.
Though guidance from SOUTHCOM on post-hostility missions was fairly clear, tactically oriented planners at the 18th Airborne Corps (in charge of the joint task force carrying out the operation) gave post-conflict tasks short shrift. For instance, the plan assigned the lone MP battalion the responsibility for running a detention facility, conducting security for all of the numerous convoys, and providing security for many key facilities, as well as for being prepared to restore law and order.
Though the battalion was mainly concerned with a relatively small geographic portion of the country, it was quickly overwhelmed by its responsibilities. With the elimination of the Panamanian Defense Force, the task of restoring law and order became particularly demanding, as looting and vandalism spread throughout the country. Chaos reigned as American forces scrambled to restore some semblance of order.
Military policemen trained in law and order missions did not perform well in unfamiliar combat operations, and were inadequate in numbers to deal with the problems they faced in the aftermath.
They also could not handle all displaced personnel and the enemy prisoners of war for which they were now responsible. Similarly, there were not enough civil affairs personnel or engineers for the rebuilding effort. Personnel deficiencies were exacerbated by slow and disorganized Reserve call-ups relying on volunteers. Political-military interagency cooperation was also poor, as many agencies were excluded from DoD planning and the embassy was severely understaffed.
Senior commanders admitted afterwards that they had done poorly in planning for post-conflict operations and hoped the Army would remedy that situation in the future.
Despite these deficiencies, the U.S. Military Support Group, activated in January 1990 to support the growth of independent Panamanian institutions, was able to be deactivated just 1 year later in a much more stable country; though whether it or Panamanian leaders deserved most credit for this success was unclear to observers.
Like Panama, this was another SSC in response to a long-festering crisis. It began with the military overthrow of President Jean-Bertrande Aristide by Lieutenant General Raoul Cedras in September 1991. On April 1, 1993, the JCS sent the first alert order to CINCUSACOM to begin planning for contingency operations in Haiti. Planning for active intervention intensified in October of that year after armed protesters in Port Au Prince turned away a ship loaded with UN peacekeepers. During the next year, international pressure on the military leaders of Haiti increased, and was intensified even further by obvious American preparations for an invasion. The decision of the Haitian government in September 1994 to return President Aristide to power was to a large extent taken because they knew Army helicopters and 10th Mountain Division soldiers aboard the USS Eisenhower, along with elements of the 82nd Airborne Division deployed from Fort Bragg, were heading for Haiti.
In fact, General Cedras did not begin to negotiate seriously with the American diplomatic delegation until he had confirmed that the 82d Airborne contingent was in the air. The overwhelming force deployed in the initial occupation and the soldiers’ professional and disciplined conduct and appearance in continuing operations did much to deter and control the actions of potential troublemakers.
The long lead-time between the beginning of the crisis and actual military intervention, combined with lessons learned from operations like those in Panama and Somalia, greatly facilitated planning for Operation UPHOLD DEMOCRACY.
USACOM prepared operational plans for both forced and unopposed entry, while the DoD conducted extensive interagency coordination.
Its Haiti Planning Group, with the assistance of other government agencies, prepared a detailed “Interagency Checklist for Restoration of Essential Services.” The lead agency for all major functional areas was the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), with DoD support (mostly from Army units) in reestablishing public administration, conducting elections, restoring information services, assisting the Department of Justice with setting up and training a police force, planning disaster preparedness and response, running airports, and caring for refugees. Military units did have primary responsibility for security measures, such as explosive ordnance disposal (EOD), protecting foreign residents, and demobilizing paramilitary groups. These were mostly Army functions, and the service provided 96 percent of deployed military forces.
These plans and their execution were affected by the desire of military leaders to avoid getting involved with “nation-building” missions such as those that had led to so much grief in Somalia. Army lawyers wrestled with interpreting humanitarian requests for reconstruction to classify them as related to the mission or as nation-building. Those requests that fell into the former category were approved, while those interpreted as nation-building were denied.
Medical units were told to focus on supporting the Joint Task Force (JTF) and not humanitarian assistance, as leaders were concerned about not replacing the medical facilities of the host nation.
This reluctance to embrace peacekeeping or nation-building had its most regrettable result on September 20, 1994, when restrictive rules of engagement prohibited American forces from intervening as Haitian police killed two demonstrators. The next day, American officials expanded the rules of engagement to allow more military involvement in restoring and maintaining law and order.
Similar expansion of Army roles and missions happened in most other areas of the restoration efforts.
The attorneys eventually rationalized that any action that made Americans look good lessened security risks and could therefore be approved as mission-related. Other governmental agencies were slow to arrive or build up resources, so the military picked up the slack. Generally, the other departments had not done the detailed planning that DoD had, and often wanted more support than DoD had expected to provide.
A typical example was when the Ambassador to Haiti asked for military advisers to help new government ministries get established until efforts from USAID and the State Department could begin to bear fruit. The result was the hasty deployment of a ministerial advisor team from the 358th Civil Affairs (CA) Brigade, “the first large scale implementation of a civil administration effort since World War II.”
The scope and pace of CA missions increased so rapidly that they threatened to get out of control, and raised fears that such actions would only heighten Haitian expectations that U.S. forces could fix all the nation’s problems, and thus set the people up for great disappointment later.
These expanded missions caused many other problems, to some extent because CA units are relatively small organically, and require considerable support from other organizations. Engineer planning, equipment, and personnel were inadequate for their required civil affairs and reconstruction projects. Soldiers had to develop new policies and procedures to help set up internal security forces and expend funds. This often required “working around” Title 10, U.S. Code, restrictions. They assumed expanded roles in maintaining law and order, including manning and operating detention facilities and developing new crowd control techniques. Items like latrines and police uniforms were in short supply. Doctrine and personnel were not available to establish proper liaison with the myriad civilian organizations working in the country. Intelligence assets were severely taxed, and the force in Haiti had to rely heavily on theater and national intelligence assets to make up for deficiencies.
However, the military in general, and the Army in particular, has received much praise for its performance in Haiti. Nonetheless, since the last American troops left the island in April 1996, the situation there has deteriorated to conditions approaching those early in the 1990s. Without long-term military involvement, most U.S. policy goals have been frustrated. The civilian agencies that replaced military forces have not had the same resources available, and persistent flaws in the Haitian economy, judicial system, and political leadership have obstructed reform. American officials have decried the results of recent elections, and admitted the failure of their policies. Even the Secretary General of the UN recommended against renewing the mission there.
Between 1992 and 1995, the United States spent over 1.6 billion dollars for operations in Haiti. Over $950 million of that was expended through DoD, and mostly for Army operations, to include the administration of large refugee camps.
One key lesson from that frustrating experience is that the redeployment of military forces should be predicated on the achievement of designated measures of effectiveness, and not based on time limits. Another is that follow-on civilian agencies must be capable of maintaining those standards as well as achieving new ones.
Insights from Major Wars
The world has changed a great deal since the massive occupation efforts that followed World War II, and the experiences of the 1990s are generally more relevant in shaping possible post-conflict operations in Iraq. However, a number of important guidelines can be obtained from analyzing major American wars of the 20th century.
In the aftermath of the Spanish-American War, the United States began a long occupation of the Philippine Islands that officially ended with their independence in 1946. This lengthy transition to self-government is not typical of American experiences with occupation, and the most useful insights are to be gleaned from the early years, when American forces were trying to subdue resistance and establish control in the former Spanish colony.
One aspect of post-conflict operations that becomes very clear from the Philippines example is that they are misnamed. To be successful, they need to begin before the shooting stops. “Transition Operations” is probably a better term, and they will be conducted simultaneously with combat. Appropriate planning must be completed before the conflict begins, so military forces are prepared to begin immediately accomplishing transition tasks in newly-controlled areas. All soldiers will need to accept duties that are typically considered in the purview of CA detachments. There will not be enough CA troops to go around, and immediate needs will have to be met by whomever is on the scene. Even in the midst of combat, leaders and their soldiers must keep in mind the long-term goals of peace and stability, and conduct themselves accordingly.
In the Philippines, both military and civilian officials recognized that the best agent for local pacification was the military leader on the spot. Considerable decentralization was required for a situation where village attitudes and characteristics varied widely. Officers had great discretion and were not closely supervised, though they also had clear directives from higher headquarters providing guidelines. The requirement for local familiarity meant that soldiers could not be rotated quickly. In village societies personal relationships are important, and take considerable time and effort to establish. The Army had to accept some decline in the combat efficiency of its units in order to keep them in lengthy occupation duties. Troops had to be aware of the cultures they were in, and not try to force American values. Knowledge of the Koran and local customs were important for everyone. Even John J. Pershing could spend hours talking to local imams about religion. This does not lessen the requirement to achieve the right balance of force and restraint, but the long-term consequences must be considered for every action. General Leonard Wood’s predilection for punitive forays in response to even minor incidents like theft did cow many Moro chiefs, but he also undermined many alliances and relationships painstakingly established by local commanders. Instead of quieting small disturbances, Wood’s expeditions often created larger problems by driving pacified or neutral villages into joining more rebellious ones, and made it more difficult for his subordinates to gain local trust.
The United States has been involved in the occupation of Germany twice in the past century. At the conclusion of World War I, 200,000 American troops moved to positions around Coblenz, preparing for the possibility that the Germans would not sign the peace treaty. When they agreed to the Versailles Treaty in the summer of 1919, the occupation force rapidly diminished, numbering only 16,000 a year later. By the end of 1922 that figure was down to 1200, and all left the next year.
Though the bulk of responsibility for the details of the occupation and regime change fell on other Allied governments, occupying American troops did find themselves in charge of a million civilians. The U.S. Army and government had not really accepted the administration of civil government in occupied enemy territory as a legitimate military function after the Mexican War, Civil War, or Spanish-American War, and the officer in charge of civil affairs for the U.S. military government in the Rhineland after World War I lamented that the American army of occupation “lacked both training and organization” to perform its duties.
As World War II approached, Army War College committees went back to the World War I reports and developed formal doctrine for military government. In the spring of 1942, a School of Military Government was established at the University of Virginia, and thinking began there about postwar reconstructions of Germany, Japan, and Italy. This new emphasis produced Operation ECLIPSE and the impressive success described previously. Despite the many differences between Iraq and Germany, valuable insights can still be gained from that occupation experience, the most important of which is the value of a long detailed planning process far in advance of the start of occupation.
Before any Allied armies entered Germany, planners designated specific military governance units to follow combat forces closely. The first civil affairs detachment in the country set itself up in Roetgen on September 15, 1944, only 4 days after U.S. troops entered Germany. Once the Third Reich surrendered, small mobile detachments were sent out immediately to every town in the U.S. occupation zone. Typically, unit commanders confronted mayors with a number of demands: a list of local soldiers and party members; the turn-in of all military and civilian firearms; and housing for American troops. In addition, detachment leaders imposed curfews after dark and immobilized the population. They also had the authority to replace uncooperative mayors.
The regime in Germany was changed from the bottom up. Local elections and councils were allowed to function, and responsibility was shifted to local authorities as quickly as possible. State governments were next in priority, and only after they were working effectively were national elections considered. At the same time, political life was strictly controlled to prevent any resurgence of radicalism, although public opinion polls were conducted on an almost weekly basis to monitor what the German people thought about occupation policies. The German legal profession was totally corrupted by the Nazis, and each occupying ally took a slightly different approach in reestablishing courts. The British used a lot of old Nazi lawyers and judges, while the Americans tried to reform the whole system, a slow process. The best solution was probably the one the Soviets applied, where they found educated and politically loyal people and gave them 6 weeks of legal training. Their system built around these “lay judges” got criminal and civil court systems working very quickly.
One of the most vexing problems for occupation authorities was how to dismantle the Nazi Party and its security apparatus while retaining the skills of some members who performed important functions. This was accomplished by having every adult German fill out a detailed questionnaire about their associations. There were heavy penalties for lying or failing to answer questions. A board of anti-Nazi Germans reviewed the Fragebogen (German for “questionnaire”) and determined which people had held leadership positions and deserved to have their political and economic activities curtailed for the occupation. By the time they were allowed to regain their rights, democratic Germans were so solidly established that a Nazi revival was impossible. A similar approach might work to demobilize and reintegrate members of the Baath Party and security forces in Iraq.
The occupation force for Japan, a country slightly smaller than Iraq, included almost 23 divisions amounting to more than 500,000 soldiers in 1945. Most ground forces were American, though allies were used in some sensitive areas, such as British and Australian units in Hiroshima. While there had been ongoing interdepartmental deliberations in Washington about occupying Japan since the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, the actual planning in the Pacific for Operation BLACKLIST did not begin until May 1945. Within 2 years, most Japanese soldiers had been disarmed and repatriated (except from Soviet-controlled areas), a “purge” list of persons restricted from political activity had been completed, basic services were restored, police reform programs were implemented, the economy was restarted, land reform was begun, and the nation adopted a new democratic constitution that renounced war as an instrument of national policy.
In October 2002, reports emerged that the Bush administration was looking at the Japanese occupation as a model for achieving democratization and demilitarization in Iraq. Since then, the administration appears to have withdrawn from that position, and many experts have highlighted the important differences between the scenarios. The Japanese surrendered unconditionally after total defeat, and the whole world acknowledged the legality and necessity of Allied occupation. Millions were dead, cities were in ashes, and the populace was destitute and cowed. Their more homogeneous culture did not feature the ethnic, tribal, and religious divisions so evident in Iraq, and the Japanese were conditioned to obey the command of the emperor to accept defeat and submit to their conquerors. They also had some experience with limited democracy, though it may be argued that Iraq had some similar experiences during their earlier history this past century. An additional major difference is that Iraq is much richer in natural resources than Japan, providing another set of opportunities for occupying powers.
BLACKLIST does provide useful insights about purging undesirable political elements, and on how to design the insertion of military forces into a situation where the possibility of armed resistance remains ambiguous. Similarities exist between the way Americans viewed the Japanese in 1945 and the way they perceive Iraq today, as a totally foreign and non-Western culture. These factors will be discussed in more detail in the rest of this monograph. While the success of Douglas MacArthur’s experience illustrates the benefits of having strong centralized leadership of the occupation force, he also had the advantage of years of relative quiet to carry out his programs. Policymakers and most of the rest of the world were more concerned with developments in Europe. That will not be the case with post-conflict Iraq in the midst of Middle East tumult. All American activities will be watched closely by the international community, and internal and external pressure to end any occupation will build quickly. John Dower, who has written the seminal work on the American occupation of Japan, argues strongly that it does not provide a useful model for Iraq, with the important caveat that it should give a clear warning to current policymakers, “Even under circumstances that turned out to be favorable, demilitarization and democratization were awesome challenges.”
Applying Historical Insights to Iraq.
While none of the historical cases described above provide an ideal model for reconstructing Iraq, some insights should be applied there. Detailed long-term interagency planning for occupation is important, and can considerably smooth transition. MacArthur’s staff managed to develop Operation BLACKLIST in just over 3 months, but analysis for such a course had been going on for years back in the United States, it required little interagency coordination, and the Far East Command staff made many adjustments on the fly during the early years of occupation. The ideal approach is exemplified by the interagency planning for Haiti, which produced a detailed list of post-crisis tasks and responsibilities well in advance of any possible combat. That operation eventually failed, however, because civilian agencies proved incapable of completing the mission once military forces left, due to inadequate resources or inflated expectations. In Iraq it will also be important to lessen military involvement as expeditiously as possible, so interagency planners must be sure that governmental, non-governmental, and international civilian organizations are ready to perform assigned tasks when required. ... The primary problem at the core of American deficiencies in post-conflict capabilities, resources, and commitment is a national aversion to nation-building, which was strengthened by failure in Vietnam. U.S. leaders need to accept this mission as an essential part of national security and better tailor and fund the military services and civilian governmental organizations to accomplish it.
There are other implications of past experience for a contemporary occupation of Iraq. The German and Japanese examples furnish some possible alternatives for purging the Baath Party and security forces of potentially disruptive elements while maintaining the services of some indigenous expertise. Since a new Iraqi regime is best constructed from the bottom up, similar evaluations will have to be conducted for local mayors and administrators. The more an occupation can rely on dependable Iraqis, the better. American occupation forces will have to nurture such essential relationships, which can take much time and effort to establish and maintain in a society like Iraq’s. Units and their leaders cannot be rotated out after short tours, which will strain force structure and possibly degrade combat readiness. The nation and the Army must be prepared to commit considerable time, manpower, and money to make an occupation of Iraq successful in the long term.
PART II: CHALLENGES OF A MILITARY OCCUPATION OF IRAQ
The attack against Iraq that U.S. leaders are considering seeks to eliminate the Saddam Hussein regime and replace it with a government with respect for human rights as well as an interest in democracy and economic reform. To implement this change and control postwar chaos, U.S. and allied forces will be required to occupy Iraq for an extended period of time following Saddam’s defeat. The exact circumstances and special challenges of an occupation cannot be predicted with certainty, although an assessment of the general types of problems inherent in such a situation is possible.
If the war is rapid with few civilian casualties, the occupation will probably be characterized by an initial honeymoon period during which the United States will reap the benefits of ridding the population of a brutal dictator. Nevertheless, most Iraqis and most other Arabs will probably assume that the United States intervened in Iraq for its own reasons and not to liberate the population. Long-term gratitude is unlikely and suspicion of U.S. motives will increase as the occupation continues. A force initially viewed as liberators can rapidly be relegated to the status of invaders should an unwelcome occupation continue for a prolonged time.
Occupation problems may be especially acute if the United States must implement the bulk of the occupation itself rather than turn these duties over to a postwar international force. Regionally, the occupation will be viewed with great skepticism, which may only be overcome by the population’s rapid progress toward a secure and prosperous way of life.
A U.S. military occupation of Iraq will involve a number of special challenges and problems that relate directly to Iraqi political culture and wider regional sensitivities about the military domination of an Arab Muslim country by a Western power. Despite a relatively short experience with French and British occupation, the Arab world today is extraordinarily sensitive to the question of Western domination and has painful memories of imperialism. Many Iraqis can also be expected to fear hidden U.S. agendas. The United States is deeply distrusted in the Arab World because of strong ties to Israel and fears that it seeks to dominate Arab countries to control the region’s oil. Iraqis, even before Saddam’s rise to power, have been especially distrustful of the West and uncompromisingly hostile to Israel.
Throughout any occupation, the United States should expect to face a series of demands from the Arab world to place pressure on Israel over Palestinian issues to calm passions created by an occupation of Iraq. Additionally, flare-ups in Israeli-Palestinian violence could have a direct influence on the willingness of Iraqi citizens to cooperate with U.S. occupation forces. Religious factors may also become important. Muslims have a formal religious duty not to submit to the authority of non-Muslim rulers such as found in the Judeo/Christian West. Such an injunction may not be taken to apply to a temporary occupation force in Iraq and has been ignored by large Muslim minority communities in countries such as India and Nigeria. Nevertheless, sensitivities on this issue will require watching in Iraq. The combination of religious and Arab nationalist motives for wishing a speedy departure to U.S. occupation troops could allow U.S. forces to wear out their welcome even more rapidly than would be expected in most cases of foreign soldiers reordering the political structure of a defeated country.
The special circumstances of Iraq, therefore, need to be examined with considerable care when deciding upon workable policies to conduct an occupation of Iraq and to win the support of the Iraqi population. Obstacles to such a goal are enormous, and a successful occupation will not occur unless the special circumstances of this unusual country are used to inform occupation policy.
Iraqi political values and institutions are rooted in a tortured history that must be understood before it is possible to consider the rehabilitation of Iraqi society. Additionally, Western understanding of Iraq has not been particularly deep, and that country is often seen as a remote part of the Arab world. Few Westerners have spent significant amounts of time in Iraq, and since 1990 even less contact has existed between Americans and Iraqis. Moreover, many Western visitors to Iraq who have traveled throughout the Arab World consider that country to be a culture apart, more hostile and less welcoming than other Arab countries.
Understanding Iraq is therefore a much greater challenge than considering the political culture of most other Arab nations. While Mesopotamia has been home for a variety of ancient and proud civilizations, Iraq itself is a relatively new nation state. It was formed by the British out of the former Ottoman Turkish vilayets of Baghdad, Basra, and Mosul following World War I. Previously, these provinces were directly ruled from Istanbul, often having little interaction with each other. Nor were each of the vilayets pleased to be included in the new state. The population of the Kurdish-dominated vilayet of Mosul considered its inclusion in the new state as a betrayal of great power promises of Kurdish independence in the Treaty of Sevres. Leaders of the Shi’ite province of Basra rightly suspected that their own interests would be subordinated to the less numerous but more politically powerful Sunni Muslims in Baghdad. Kuwaiti scholar Shafeeq Ghabra has noted that Iraq was so fractured after the Ottoman collapse that separate neighborhoods in the Shi’ite city of Najaf declared independence with their own constitutions. In the northern city of Mosul civil strife erupted between neighborhoods. Tensions among the Iraqi communities were therefore severe, but were also viewed as controllable by a strong central government supported by the British.
The first Iraqi government was led by the Hashemite King Faisal who was installed by the British from the Hajaz based on his wartime alliance with them. As an Arab nationalist leader, Faisal had some popularity and his position as King was confirmed by an Iraqi referendum. Nevertheless, Faisal began his reign as a client of the United Kingdom, and British troops helped him consolidate power and establish authority. Such tasks were often difficult. Tribal uprisings and isolated acts of terrorism against British troops were a problem from early in the occupation. Moreover, Shi’ite clerics proclaimed a jihad against British forces from the Shi’ite holy city of Karbala in southern Iraq. The situation stabilized in February 1921 after the British had suffered around 2,000 casualties. Britain remained involved in Iraq despite the bloodshed because of that country’s oil wealth.
Iraq’s Hashemite dynasty remained in power until 1958 when it was ousted by military coup. Additionally, at this time, Iraqi politics began to emerge as considerably bloodier than usually seen in the rest of the Arab world. The 1958 coup that overthrew the monarchy led to a massacre in which the young king and a number of his associates were murdered, with hostile crowds desecrating the bodies of the dead. Not a single military unit rose to defend the monarchy, which in 37 years of existence made little progress consolidating power. The instability of this period can be seen in the appointment of the amazingly high figure of 58 cabinets during the years of monarchy. In the 10 years between the ouster of the monarchy and the second Baath regime, Iraq experienced instability and violence with various contenders for power killed in coups and coup attempts. Occasionally, the armed supporters of various factions clashed, and in one case the paramilitary National Guard fought against the Iraqi Army in the streets of Baghdad. Jet aircraft armed with rockets were also used in this encounter. In other instances, demonstrations by opposition groups such as the Iraqi Communist Party were put down with severe brutality. Moreover, massive purges of the Armed Forces became an ongoing feature of Iraqi politics as various strongmen attempted to consolidate power. Throughout the series of new governments following the monarchy, the Sunni Muslims remained dominant.
Saddam Hussein emerged as a product of Iraqi politics and not an aberration from that system. His first well-known act of notoriety was to participate with a Baath assassination team in an unsuccessful attempt to murder Iraqi dictator Brigadier General Abdul Karim Qassim (who was later killed by Baathists in a 1963 coup). Later, Saddam, as a rising Baath party leader, continued to focus on the importance of violence as a tool for achieving political goals, strongly advocating the assassination of Baath Secretary-General al-Saadi in 1963 due to al-Saadi’s wild and irresponsible leftism, which was undermining the basis of Baathist rule. Saddam’s advice was ignored in this instance, and the Baath party fell from power, not to reemerge until 1968. Saddam had by then totally internalized the idea of disciplined violence to control Iraq. Methodically building the machinery of repression, Saddam remained Iraq’s secondary leader until 1979 when he took full power as absolute dictator.
While Saddam is a product of the Iraqi system, he may also be its culmination. As one of the most repressive dictators in the world, Saddam has broken the previous Iraqi pattern of authoritarian governments that maintain control for a handful of years before being removed from power by coup and street violence. Saddam, by achieving a higher level of brutality, cruelty, and repression than his predecessors, has been able not only to seize power, but to maintain it under exceptionally difficult conditions. Independent centers of power have not been allowed to develop and threaten him as they did with earlier Iraqi leaders.
Saddam has also built one of the most impressive personality cults in the post-Stalin era, with a system that is currently rivaled only by that of North Korea. It is this system that will have to be dismantled and replaced in any post-Saddam era. While many Iraqis may currently only go through the motions of believing the propaganda associated with this cult of personality, nevertheless a number may be pro-Saddam true believers. Such individuals will have no role in the future of a reforming Iraq and vetting will be necessary to insure that they are not retained in positions of responsibility.
Issues of Pluralism, Stability, and Territorial Integrity
The establishment of democracy or even some sort of rough pluralism in Iraq, where it has never really existed previously, will be a staggering challenge for any occupation force seeking to govern in a post-Saddam era. Essentially, such a force must support changes in the fundamental character of the Iraqi political system, where anti-democratic traditions are deeply ingrained just as they are throughout the wider Arab World. It is also reasonable to expect considerable resistance to efforts at even pluralism in Iraq. Iraq’s Sunni Arabs, having enjoyed disproportionate power under a series of regimes, have every reason to assume that a democratic opening will occur at their expense by allowing traditionally disen franchised groups to claim larger shares of power. Various tribes will also fear the rise of rival tribes within a government. All may fear a situation where rival groups take a significant share of power and then refuse to yield it under whatever constitutional processes might be put in place.
Currently, Iraq has only one legal political party, the Baath, and this organization is expected to have no role in a post-Saddam government. Yet, the basis upon which new parties will be formed is currently unclear. The most likely development would be for parties to emerge based on ethnic, religious, tribal, and other such factors. Thus, even under free elections, differences within Iraqi society may be further exacerbated. Ethnically-based political parties generally increase divisions rather than mitigate them in highly fractious countries. Moreover, the current Kurdish political movements are also armed militias and thus set the wrong kind of example for others to follow by establishing political organizations which also maintain para-military forces.
Nor would it be easy for the United States to accept the breakup of Iraq while it is under occupation as an alternative to managing factional strife. The United States has committed itself to the territorial integrity of Iraq following Saddam’s ouster, and would face severe international problems if it allowed the dismemberment of the Iraqi state. Future relations with Turkey and the Arab world could be undermined severely due to strong concerns throughout the region about Iraqi stability and territorial integrity.
The Turks have made it clear that an independent Kurdish state in the north is an unacceptable provocation and have also warned Iraqi Kurds against seeking too much autonomy within any future Iraqi federation. Turkey fears that its population of between 12-20 million Kurds will agitate for any type of concessions that are granted to Iraqi Kurds. Ankara has correspondingly announced that it will intervene militarily in northern Iraq if the Kurds declare independence or if Kurdish military forces seize Kirkuk. Kurdish spokesmen have replied that any Turkish actions along these lines will make it easier for Iran to intervene in Iraq as well.
Many Arabs also view a dismemberment of Iraq as favoring Israel by destroying a large and important Arab state whose military potential traditionally has been of concern to a series of Israeli governments. Occasionally, some Israeli leaders and analysts have stated their preference for an Iraq broken into three separate states, all fighting each other. While such statements should be expected from a democratic state allowing divergent opinions, they are viewed with absolute suspicion in the Arab world. Additionally, previous Israeli efforts to arm and support the Kurdish guerrillas are taken at face value as an attempt to undermine the unity of Iraq. These efforts are now widely known and have been discussed in the memoirs of right-wing retired Israeli General Raful Eitan.
Should democracy or even pluralistic political stability be established in Iraq, this would be a tremendous achievement of which all could be proud. Nevertheless, U.S. policymakers sometimes assume that a democratic government will also be friendly to U.S. policies in the Middle East. This cannot be assumed in the case of Iraq. At the present time, the only Arab leader who has been elected in a fair election is Palestinian President Yassir Arafat, who is clearly not the favored U.S. choice. Likewise, in the Gulf, Islamists have done extremely well in recent legislative elections in Bahrain. The Kuwaiti parliament has a strong Islamist grouping, and free elections in other states could duplicate this situation. Free elections in the Arab world seldom produce pro-Western governments.
Addressing the Sunni/Shi’ite Divide
Shi’ite Muslims comprise the majority of the Iraqi population, and a vast majority of the Arab population of Iraq (since most Iraqi Kurds are Sunni Muslims). Despite Shi’ite numerical dominance, all Iraqi governments since the formation of the state have been Sunni-dominated. This domination has been a source of Shi’ite resentment, although Saddam’s regime has made strong attempts to appear open to Shi’ite participation. This effort to showcase Shi’ite leaders is impressive, although Saddam’s actual power base is centered on Sunnis from his hometown of Tikrit. A few key Sunni tribes also are part of Saddam’s base of power, although they are less central than the Tikritis.
Shi’ites are, nevertheless, present at all levels of the Iraqi government, including Saddam’s inner circle and throughout the Baath party. Some Shi’ite leaders, such as current Speaker of the Assembly and former Prime Minister Sadun Hammadi and senior Presidential Advisor General Amer Al-Saadi, are among the most public faces of the regime. While this upward mobility has helped the Shi’ite community in Iraq, it has by no means eliminated discrimination as a serious problem. The service of prominent Shi’ites has, however, helped Saddam appear as a leader of all Iraqis above the issues of faction and ethnicity that so dominate the Iraqi mindset.
When calling upon members of the Shi’ite community to serve in the regime, Saddam exhibits a predictable bias in favor of well-educated secular elites. Secular regime officials are held up as important models for emulation in Iraq since secularism helps to lessen tensions between Shi’ites and Sunnis. Consequently, secular Shi’ite leaders, in some contrast to the clergy, have a more clear-cut record of collaboration with the regime. This background of collaboration by individuals with Ph.D.s rather than Islamic education may be held against them by ordinary Shi’ites in a post-Saddam regime. Secular elites have been willing to participate in the structure of repression. This is less so with clerics.
Saddam traditionally has been especially distrustful of Shi’ite religious leaders and seems to view these people as the greatest potential subversives within the Shi’ite community. This distrust may be a partial result of the 8-year war with Iran and the recurring Iranian calls for an Islamic Republic in Iraq. There is also a natural tension between the Baath regime and religious leaders since the latter can, if not carefully managed, form an alternative source of authority. Saddam’s distrust of Shi’ite religious leaders has been translated into a particularly long string of assassinations of untrustworthy clerics by the Iraqi intelligence and security services.
The Tehran-based Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) is Iraq’s largest Shi’ite Muslim dissident organization. Its leader, Ayatollah Mohammad Baqer al-Hakim, and his family have a sterling record of opposition to the Saddam Hussein regime. Their record includes suffering torture, imprisonment, and murder at the hands of the security police. This background leaves them untainted by the stain of collaborationism and will be an asset in seeking a share of power in a postwar environment. Nevertheless, SCIRI will have real problems in generating a popular following in Iraq because it is so clearly and unequivocally a tool of Iranian foreign policy. Most Iraqi Shi’ites have proven themselves to be unwilling to cooperate with Tehran against their own country. They correspondingly resent SCIRI people attempting to play a prominent role in government. The public would probably favor cooperation with the Iranians only in cases of extreme need or clear political disenfranchisement by an emerging post-Saddam government in Baghdad.
Some of this logic may change if Iraq breaks apart and the fragments are fighting with each other. It might also be noted that a rump Shi’ite state in the southern area of Iraq would be a prime target for Iranian influence and subversion if it was placed under pressure by Sunni elites from the central portion of the country. Iran could then be viewed as a natural ally of the former Iraqi Shi’ites, and these Shi’ites would at least consider seeking Iranian support to help counterbalance the influence of the Sunni Arab regimes in the Gulf area. The establishment of a pro-Iranian Shi’ite government in Iraq would also be of concern to other Sunni-led states in the region with a significant number of Shi’ites within their borders. Kuwait and Saudi Arabia would be especially concerned.
Additionally, fragmentation also exists within Iraq’s Sunni community. Some Sunni tribes have been clear and enthusiastic supporters of the Saddam regime, whereas others remain more clearly outside of the circles of power. Once Saddam has been removed, the potential for tension between pro-Saddam Sunnis and other Sunnis who were more clearly victims of Saddam would be high.
Addressing the Kurdish and Turkoman Factors
Iraqi Kurds have long dreamed of independence. A weak central government in Baghdad following Saddam’s ouster would therefore serve as an invitation for a renewed political effort to seek broad autonomy that may serve as a stepping stone to independence. Kurdish independence is a special concern for Iraqi Arabs because of its financial and defense implications. Much of Iraq’s oil is located in the Kurdish regions of the country, and significant oil revenues would be lost to the central government following a Kurdish secession. Likewise, many of Iraq’s neighbors, including Iran and Syria, as well as Turkey, fear independent or even autonomous Iraqi Kurds who might then provide an unwelcome model to their own Kurdish minorities. These countries might also be inclined to fund and support factions sympathetic to their interests.
Kurds comprise around 20-25 percent of the Iraqi population. They are divided by tribe, religion (although most Iraqi Kurds are Sunni), and two distinct languages (Surani and Bahdinani). Iraqi Kurds also have a long history of internecine fighting among factions, tribes, and major political groupings. For example, in the mid-1990s, thousands of Kurds were killed in fighting between the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), with both parties seeking outside assistance against their rival. The PUK received Iranian assistance while the KDP turned to Saddam’s regime in Baghdad to assist them. This KDP decision led to massive casualties once Iraqi troops re-entered Kurdish areas. This phase of the conflict also underscored the level of Kurdish disunity, whereby working with Saddam or the Iranians was considered an acceptable part of inter-Kurdish conflict.
Currently, Kurdish leaders are stressing reconciliation and unity as a way of demonstrating that they can be reliable allies with the United States in helping to shape a post-Saddam Iraq. Nevertheless, even now, major Kurdish groups have repeatedly been unable to present more than cosmetic shows of unity. Kurdish inability to cooperate even with other Kurds suggests that it is extremely doubtful that they can work with Iraq’s other minorities to build a functioning government, without severe and unrelenting pressure from outside forces.
Another key Iraqi minority are the Turkomans. Turkomans comprise a significantly smaller percentage of the Iraqi population, although their exact numbers are subject to considerable disagreement. Most U.S. sources suggest they constitute between 3 and 5 percent of the Iraqi Turkish and Turkoman scholars dispute these figures and claim they are tainted by official Iraqi estimates, which downplay Turkoman numbers. Turkish scholarship suggests that around 2 million Iraqis are Turkomans out of a population of 22 million. Large numbers of Turkomans are located in some of the same areas as the Kurds and have overlapping and conflicting claims to various areas in northern Iraq including the key city of Kirkuk, which is located near some of Iraq’s most important oil fields. The Turkomans would resist any drive for Kurdish independence, and any large-scale mistreatment of them by Kurds could provoke Turkish intervention.
Addressing the Tribal Factor
The Sunni, Shi’ite, and Kurdish populations of Iraq are further subdivided by affiliation with hundreds of tribes scattered throughout the country. While previous Iraqi governments have viewed tribes as suspicious alternative sources of authority, Saddam has increasingly come to view them as forming important fault lines upon which to splinter and further factionalize potential sources of opposition within larger ethnic and religious communities. Additionally, Sunni tribes have been key recruiting grounds for the officer corps of the Iraqi military. Thus, Saddam is ignoring Baath ideology which proclaims tribes backward and an obstacle to modernization, in order to use the tribal system as a bulwark of his own power. Saddam has even called the Baath party “the tribe encompassing all tribes.” Saddam’s retribalization of Iraq began in the late 1980s and has progressed sufficiently enough to cause townsmen, several generations removed from the countryside, to “rediscover” their tribal identities and affiliations. Some of these same people have sought out a tribal sheikh to ask permission to affiliate with his tribe in cases where their own lineage has become unclear. This is done to seek the protection and support of the tribe and improve chances for individual advancement.
Tribalism also appears to have strengthened in the Kurdish areas during Saddam Hussein’s presidency as a result of central government policies dating back for decades. During the Iran-Iraq War, Kurdish conscripts were exceptionally prone to desertion at the earliest opportunity, leading Baghdad to switch to a tribal strategy to manage the Kurds and address the manpower drain. In a move away from the conscription of individual Kurds, the Iraqi government paid the leaders of Kurdish tribal militias to perform various security duties useful to the war effort. Tribalism was strengthened accordingly.
Any post-Saddam government will thus be faced with the requirement to operate within a highly tribalized society, even if the new government seeks to transform and modernize such a society over the long term. Moreover, in any post-Saddam government a new President might be quick to turn to his own family and tribal supporters to help remain in power. Once Saddam is ousted, the successor government will probably seek to reestablish ties to a myriad of tribal leaders, many of whom are now either actually or nominally loyal to Saddam. This could be an exceptionally difficult task.
Other Sources of Potential Iraqi Fragmentation
Beyond ethnic, tribal, and religious cleavages, other differences among Iraqis may also aggravate political fragmentation. One potentially problematic difference is between exiles and non-exiles. Iraqi citizens who have suffered under Saddam could well resent Iraqis coming from outside the country following a war and claiming a disproportionate amount of power. Some returning exiles may also be more readily viewed as the tools of foreign powers such as the United States, Iran, and perhaps Turkey. Some might even be seen as friends of Israel. It is doubtful that the Iraqi population would welcome the leadership of the various exile groups after Saddam’s defeat. Many Iraqis are reported as hostile to the external Iraqi opposition groups despite the fact that a post-Saddam power struggle has yet to take place. According to former CIA analyst Judith Yaphe, “[Iraqi exile leader Ahmad] Chalabi and the INC [Iraqi National Congress] are known quantities and extremely unpopular in Iraq.”
Another potential cleavage is between civilian and military opposition to Saddam Hussein. Some former Iraqi officers seem like attractive alternatives to Saddam, and various U.S. Government officials are reported in the press as favoring the possibility of an ex-Iraqi general replacing Saddam. The accession of a moderate general may increase the likelihood of a stable government remaining in power and also decrease the possibility of a civil war erupting from postwar chaos. Such a military accession to power will, nevertheless, be challenged by civilians seeking a government completely free of the influence of a politicized military. Moreover, any Iraqi officer leading a new government will be viewed with suspicion as a potential strongman seeking permanent power. It is highly probable that a strong military figure would at least initially seek a civilian front man.
A Force for Unity: Dealing with the Iraqi Military
While a struggle for power between civilian and military elites would contribute to Iraqi fragmentation, the military can also serve as a unifying force under certain conditions. In a highly diverse and fragmented society like Iraq, the military (primarily the ground forces) is one of the few national institutions that stresses national unity as an important principle. Conscripts are at least publicly encouraged to rise above parochial loyalties and may be stationed in parts of the country far from their ethnic kinsmen. To tear apart the Army in the war’s aftermath could lead to the destruction of one of the only forces for unity within the society. Breaking up large elements of the army also raises the possibility that demobilized soldiers could affiliate with ethnic or tribal militias.
The role of the current Iraqi military in a post-Saddam regime is unclear. Some of the elite units with special regime protection functions will clearly have to be disbanded, but it is less certain what to do with the more mainstream units. Officers in the regular army have often resented Saddam’s interference in military activities and been particularly angered by the actions of Baathist political officers in their units. Moreover, regular army units are of low priority for resupply with equipment, spare parts, and other military provisions. Under these circumstances, at least some underlying discontent is possible, and it is conceivable that the Iraqi Army would be willing to work with U.S. or coalition forces in a postwar environment under the proper conditions. U.S. occupation policy may therefore be well-served by attentiveness to the potential willingness and capabilities of key elements of the Iraqi military in rebuilding the country.
Sizing and Funding an Occupation Force
Initial projections of the number of troops that may be needed for an occupation of Iraq are somewhere around 100,000. This figure is based on studies of past U.S. military occupations, including Germany and Japan. Testimony before the U.S. Senate has suggested that the occupation would need at least 75,000 troops to carry out a complex series of postwar functions. Nevertheless, any projections of actual troop numbers remain highly speculative until the actual postwar situation becomes clear.
An occupation force would also have to be large enough initially to discourage neighboring powers, particularly Iran, from meddling in Iraqi affairs and carving out informal areas of interest within Iraq. Later, U.S. troops can be assisted in these efforts by reformed Iraqi forces. Coalition troops of some kind may have to be placed directly on the Iranian border to contain Iranian influence. If U.S. forces are stationed there, such deployments would be viewed with the utmost concern in Tehran and possibly have an influence on the ongoing Iranian power struggle. Conservatives in Iran would have a golden opportunity to point at tangible examples of the U.S. threat. Reformers may attempt to use the situation to force the government to seek better relations with the United States, although they would undoubtedly be accused of being tools of a foreign power for choosing to do so.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, maintaining a force of between 75,000 and 200,000 peacekeeping troops in Iraq would cost between $17 billion and $46 billion per year.
None of these occupation costs should be funded by Iraqi oil revenues, which are expected to be diverted entirely to reconstruction efforts. Any effort to divert these funds to occupation costs would be viewed as an effort to plunder Iraq’s economic resources. Conversely, the use of oil revenues for improving the lives of the Iraqi population will be one of the most important tools that the occupation force has to contain and defeat potential nationalistic, sectarian, and religious anger with the occupation.
In addressing the needs of postwar Iraq, there may also be considerable domestic pressure to limit the duration and extent of the U.S. occupation. Large Reserve and National Guard mobilizations and deployments may be necessary to help staff the occupation. Regular Army units would face the need to train their troops in a very different set of skills required for occupation duties as opposed to warfighting. In particular, young soldiers must be trained to interact with large numbers of foreign civilians as something similar to a constabulary force. They must also learn that, unlike in warfighting, force is often the last resort of the occupation soldier. Moreover, while troops are serving on occupation duty, many of their warfighting skills could deteriorate, requiring them to undergo a period of retraining when they return to more traditional duties.
The Potential for Terrorism against U.S. Occupation Forces
The longer a U.S. occupation of Iraq continues, the more danger exists that elements of the Iraqi population will become impatient and take violent measures to hasten the departure of U.S. forces. At the same time, a premature withdrawal from Iraq could lead to instability and perhaps even civil war. By ousting the Saddam Hussein regime, the United States will have placed itself in the position where it will be held responsible by the world should anarchy and civil war develop in a post-Saddam era. Having entered into Iraq, the United States will find itself unable to leave rapidly, despite the many pressures to do so.
If the campaign to eliminate Saddam is short and involves few civilian casualties, it is likely that U.S. troops will be greeted with enthusiasm by Iraqi citizens who have had the burden of Saddam’s tyranny lifted from their shoulders. Nevertheless, the United States should not expect that occupation forces will be protected by a bottomless well of gratitude. Most Iraqis will assume that the United States has intervened in their country for its own political purposes and not to liberate them from oppression, an argument that is not terribly difficult to make. Indeed some sources, such as the London-based Economist, suggest that the Iraqi population already appears to distrust U.S. motives for an invasion, assuming such an act would be initiated primarily to help Israel’s strategic situation and to dominate Iraqi oil.
Major postwar improvements in the quality of daily life of the population may soften such concerns, but they are unlikely to eliminate them. Although Iraq is one of the most repressive countries in the world, it is not a disarmed society. Unlike a variety of other dictatorships, many Iraqi citizens have access to firearms. One of Saddam’s most common ways of rewarding loyal tribal sheikhs is to allow them to arm their followers. Moreover, a variety of militias in Iraq have been equipped with weapons as part of a regime defense strategy. These weapons can become a problem following the war. It is likely that in a post-Saddam era both the United States and the new Iraqi government will seek a less militarized civil society. Disarming the population will nevertheless be a difficult task. Arab chieftains who have been permitted to arm their followers would view efforts to disarm them as the actions of an enemy. Additionally, in the aftermath of a war, many individuals may feel the need to maintain personal weapons for self-defense in case there is a breakdown in public order. Yet, to leave weapons in private hands invites the possibility of terrorism. A potential compromise is to allow some individual weapons to remain in public hands, while larger crew-served weapons are removed to government control.
In the past, Shi’ite Arabs in other countries have shown themselves to be particularly dangerous when they turned to terrorism, due to the special religious sanction given to the concept of martyrdom in Shi’ite Islam. Shi’ites in Lebanon developed and perfected the technique of suicide car bombing which they applied to Israeli occupation forces during the 1980s and 1990s with considerable effect. This tactic is now popular in the Palestinian territories, but was utilized only after careful attention to the Lebanese Shi’ite example.
Following Saddam’s defeat, the United States will further need to seek indigenous forces to aid in law and order functions and help prepare for a post-occupation Iraq. This approach is an inevitable part of rehabilitating Iraq to govern itself without U.S. military forces. Nevertheless, by developing local allies, the United States makes itself at least partially responsible for the behavior of those allies. Hence a pro-U.S. force that attacks any other Iraqi force for private reasons threatens to involve the United States in the complex web of sectarian, tribal, or clan warfare.
The Israeli example in Lebanon is also instructive here. While occupying Lebanon, Israeli forces supported and strengthened pro-Israel militias which they viewed as useful for reducing their own manpower requirements and casualties. Unfortunately for the Israelis, many of the militia members brought their own political and factional priorities to their tasks as militiamen. In one case, Druze members of the Southern Lebanese Army (SLA) militia randomly murdered thirteen Shi’ite villagers in response to an ambush of their troops. While both the SLA leadership and the Israelis denounced this crime, the tension between Israeli occupation forces and Shi’ite Lebanese was pushed to a new level.
Another danger of occupation is that terrorists might generate strategies to alienate Iraqis who are initially neutral toward a U.S. occupation. In Lebanon, for example, militants would occasionally hide weapons in mosques to tempt Israeli occupation troops into conducting searches of these sites. The sight of a mosque being ransacked by foreign, non-Muslim soldiers is offensive to many believers, no matter how good the reasons for such a response might be. As a result, the Israelis further alienated the population. Such actions are particularly problematic when no weapons are found. Moreover, damage created by a search remains to be viewed by devout believers after the troops depart. Also, any expansion of terrorism or guerrilla activity against U.S. troops in Iraq will undoubtedly require a forceful American response. Such U.S actions could involve a dramatic escalation in the numbers of arrests, interrogations, and detentions of local Iraqis. While such actions do improve security and force protection, they seldom win friends among the local citizenry. Individuals alienated from the U.S. occupation could well have their hostility deepened and increased by these acts. Thus, a small number of terrorists could reasonably choose to attack U.S. forces in the hope that they can incite an action- reaction cycle that will enhance their cause and increase their numbers.
Finally is the question of suicide bombers. As noted, suicide bombings were popularized as an anti-occupation tactic by Lebanese Shi’ites fighting to rid their country of an Israeli army in the mid-1980s. Since then, the tactic has been used by Arab radicals to help equalize the struggle between a heavily-armed Israeli force and a terrorist group operating within a civilian population. Currently, suicide bombings are front page news in the Middle East due to Palestinian suicide strikes against the Israelis. For example, on Sunday, November 17, 2002, Sheikh Hassam Nasrallah, the head of the Lebanese terrorist group Hizballah, stated that suicide bombing attacks were “the most powerful and most effective” tactic that the Palestinians could employ.
This ongoing media attention to suicide bombing suggests that any future Iraqi terrorist leaders could have this tactic at the forefront of their minds. Moreover, all Arabs who pay attention to the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation are now learning stunning lessons about the effectiveness of suicide bombers. Suicide bombings against Israel are currently showing frightening results. The most notable impact came from 39 recent suicide attacks that cumulatively killed 70 Israelis and wounded over 1,000. Additionally, while some of the bombings by both Lebanese and Palestinian terrorists have been quite spectacular, many bombers were willing to settle for killing only two or three soldiers or civilians. In Lebanon, such bombers would sometimes drive up to a checkpoint and then detonate their explosives at the roadblock, killing a few guards. Sometimes, but not often, women were used for such missions.
The impact of suicide bombing attacks in Israel goes beyond their numbers, and this fact will also capture the imagination of would-be Iraqi terrorists. Israel’s population has been demoralized and the economy has been crippled, as fewer people patronize businesses where they can be randomly attacked. Israel remains unable to cope with these tactics, and the Israeli government has now chosen to fund a security fence along the entire border between Israel and the West Bank. Obviously such a tactic cannot be duplicated by occupation forces in Iraq....
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