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David Miller: 'It will not be over by Christmas'

David Miller Online

Iraq – ‘It will not be over by Christmas

The expression ‘it will all be over by Christmas’ has ringed out numerous times throughout the history of war. The most famous example was at the onset of the First World War when the peoples of the warring European nations claimed that their armies would vanquish the enemy and return home in time for the festive season and in 1940, the Germans were expressing similar views as the Wehrmacht marched triumphant throughout Europe. In both cases, the hope that hostilities would end by Christmas was never realised and in each case, the conflict dragged on for several more years with mounting casualties for all concerned. The war in Iraq is following this trend. Although neither Mr. Bush nor Mr. Blair claimed otherwise, the hope that this would be a short war has proved unrealised. The fall of Saddam Hussein brought much euphoria and was supposed to mark the beginning of the reconstruction of Iraq. Yet Iraq remains in ruins and although the Iraqi army was smashed within weeks of the invasion, the question arises as to whether this war will be over by next Christmas?

Given the way the conflict in Iraq has developed, it is unlikely that there will be a resolution to the war whereby the United States, Britain and their allies can withdraw their forces. Since President Bush’s rather hasty declaration that major conflict had ended, the coalition has been embroiled in a low-level war in which they are engaged in daily battles with insurgents rather than a conventional army. Even this week, the Americans have bombed the city of Mosul after insurgents ambushed an army patrol trying to capture an arms dump and violence has broken out in Kirkuk. Despite the offensive in Fallujah, the insurgency has not displayed any signs that it has been defeated and this can mean one of two things. First, the groups fighting the coalition could be splintered and act independently of one another in the manner that has characterised the method of operation employed by al-Qaeda. This could explain why the coalition is under attack in various parts of the country even after the US forces cleared Fallujah. It could also explain why different groups have claimed responsibility for the murder of hostages. The consequence of this is that the coalition forces are constantly being caught off balance and instead of being able to direct their efforts at one particular group are dealing with attacks, organisational structures and operatives simultaneously.

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The second possibility is that the command and control structure for the insurgency is based outside of Iraq. There have been reports that the militants are recruiting throughout of Europe and that international fighters are becoming more prevalent amongst the rebels. This poses a new set of challenges for the coalition in that in order to combat the terrorists; it must expand the war to other countries and gather intelligence outside of Iraq. It needs to co-operation of other countries, many of whom opposed the invasion in the first place, and it must find a method in which it can strike back without dragging any other country into the war.

The invasion of Iraq may have displaced Saddam Hussein but it has not brought security to the world nor has it been a victorious step in the war on terrorism. Instead, those who wish to take up arms against the United States now have a new and expansive theatre of operation in which to do so and all the US and British have done is to place their forces firmly in the firing line and in greater numbers. Unfortunately, for the US, they have not been able to rely on the local police and National Guard to shoulder the burden of securing Iraq as they remain under trained and ill equipped and the increasing target of attack. If this was the so called ‘exit strategy’ for the Bush Administration, then it is one that is clearly not working and either needs to be revised or scrapped in favour of a more effective alternative.

The only alternative open to the coalition is to defeat the insurgency on the battleground, try to destroy its places of refuge, supply, command and isolate those who offer support. This is a daunting and perhaps unrealistic task. Not only would the coalition have to seal the Iraqi borders to prevent the inflow of arms and men to the rebels but it must also win back the support of the local population, if it ever existed and work outside of Iraq to cut off financing and recruitment throughout Europe and the Middle East. There is simply not the manpower available for this to happen and there are always going to be countries that provide assistance to the rebels. In the meantime, the coalition forces will have to remain in place and try to contain the violence with what means they have at their disposal. This war will not be over by Christmas.


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