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David Miller Online: America’s Failing War


David Miller Online: America’s Failing War

The United States and Britain may have won the war in Iraq but they are in danger of losing the peace. Since President Bush declared major hostilities over two months ago, the casualty rate for the Coalition forces has been steadily rising.

The Coalition was always going to face ongoing resistance in some form after the fall of Baghdad as it was never a realistic possibility that every sector of the Iraqi population was going to welcome the fall of Saddam Hussein and the arrival of the US and British armies. But the attacks have increased in number and it would appear that they are being co-ordinated. The Coalition may have won a war in three weeks but faced with these ongoing attacks it must now be prepared for a longer and much more deadly war.

The speed with which the British and American forces toppled the Saddam regime may be a factor in why the Coalition is facing such resistance and growing hostility from the Iraqi people.

The Bush Administration began planning for a post-Saddam regime before hostilities ended however I suspect that the speed with which the US Army reached Baghdad did not allow sufficient time to finalise how a reconstruction of the country would be implemented. The air offensive severely damaged the country’s infrastructure and even now much of Iraq is without power and water.

The aid services and reconstruction teams were not allowed adequate time to prepare or to begin work. The result is that many Iraqis are angry with the US and Britain for not providing employment and the basic amenities that they enjoyed under Saddam. This had increased the feeling that the US and Britain are merely in the country to occupy it and siphon off valuable oil supplies.

Therefore the war in Iraq is still underway so it cannot be called a peace. The difference now is that it is a non-conventional form of warfare rather than the clash of two armies in open combat. This is a type of warfare that is potentially more deadly as there is no time frame on it.

There are no clearly defined objectives such as the destruction of an opposing military formation or the capture of a city. In this type of war, the enemy simply hides among the local population who as they become more disgruntled are more willing to offer sanctuary and support and they have all the time available to them to carry out their attacks. These fighters are no longer easily recognisable to the Coalition forces that are now always going to be on the defensive.

The Coalition can undertake search and destroy operations but this will not help relations with the local population and without good intelligence have little chance of producing tangible results.

This campaign is known as the battle for the ‘hearts and minds’ of the local people. It is the most important battle of all because if it is not undertaken efficiently and without clear results it will allow the guerillas to operate much more easily.

This has been a feature of guerilla warfare for centuries and it is surprising that this has been allowed to happen, especially with Britain’s experience at fighting non-conventional opponents and their failure in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland was perhaps the starkest demonstration of all of what can happen when the mind-set of a population change and their perception of an outside force turn from liberator and protector to occupier.

The only way out of this potential quagmire for the Coalition is speed. The US and British governments need to rebuild the Iraqi economy and infrastructure as quickly as possible as well as begin the reconstitution of an Iraqi Government. The Coalition has to show the local population that their presence will bring benefits to them. If this does not happen then people will simply question whether they were better off under Saddam’s regime. They may not have had democracy but they at least had power and water as well as employment.

The idealists among us may argue that it is a small price to pay for political freedom but a population without the basic amenities will not see things that way. The Coalition cannot afford to be dragged into a long and costly guerilla war. Public opinion in the US and Britain may have supported the war to oust Saddam but they will not support an ongoing commitment that only brings the deaths of their troops. This war is not over and it is one that the Coalition could easily lose.

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