Monday, August 07, 2006

Iraq: Why are we in this mess?

Well, Iraq looks like a mess to me. A bloody one in which the guilty don't die often enough, but the innocents die in droves.

Did it need to be like this? No.

There were two fundamental ways of avoiding this mess, the most obvious of which was not to invade. The other was to understand warfare a little better.

Warfare, politics and diplomacy all go hand in hand. When diplomacy fails war is always an option.

So what went wrong in Iraq? We won the war, and very easily?

Well, it was a failure to win the peace, or at least to win it so far. This failure is the result of many primary blunders, made by Donald Rumsfeld, who ignored any general who disagreed with him.

The Americans seemed to have sought advice from the Israelis, certainly over interrogations, but quite possibly over other things as well. The Israelis are very dismissive of Arabs as a fighting force, and looking at the various Arab Israeli wars you can see why. I wonder if this under estimation played any part in the complete lack of resource available to win the peace.

The mistakes of the war

  • The coalition forces failed to impose martial law when they captured areas, because they just did not have the men or the will.
  • They failed to plan to have a working police force.
  • They made 500,000 armed men unemployed.
  • They failed to guard the ammunition dumps.
  • They failed to guard the borders.
  • They failed to understand who the losers would be in the liberation of Iraq.
  • They made political blunders of epic proportions.
Lets just look at that in more detail.

The failure to impose martial law

The Americans wrang their hands at the lawlessness that ensued after Baghdad fell. They talked of people having been oppressed letting go, as if this was only for a while.

War brings chaos, and criminality. Both make some people lots of money. Once law and order is lost, it is very hard to get back. Scores are settled, whilst more are created. Looting is bad news also. The ministries that could have contained vital intelligence information were ransacked, as was vital infrastructure. Vital infrastructure is still under attack.

The failure to plan for a working police force

This is amazing to me. For obvious reasons, the police force that existed at the time of the invasion was not trusted by the people because of the nature of the Ba'athist regime it was a part of. It was disbanded. However there was no replacement, in particular not enough troops to enforce martial law in the mean time.

The scale of criminality that then occurred was stagering. Kidnappings, killings, thefts.

I seems odd to me that this was not thought out before hand. You did not need to know that much about Iraq to understand that the police force as was needed either very urgent reform, or disbanding given how nasty the regime was, and how central the police were to it. So why not plan for this, and indeed either eventuality?

Making 500,000 armed men unemployed

Here is the position. You have just defeated an army of 500,000 fairly easily, partly because the army did not feel like fighting for Saddam. You have a country whose economy is not in robust health because of years of mismanagement and sanctions, and is about to be ravaged by looters. So what do you do with half a million armed men who can't get work because there are not enough jobs?

You make them unemployed? How are they going to feed their families? There is no welfare state. There is however money in criminality and money in fighting. This decision seems so bizarre to me. It has often been said that civilisation is only 3 meals away from anarchy. So which idiot made that decision?

The failure the guard the ammunition dumps

frankly I just do not understand why we did not guard them or destroy the weapons and ammunition in them. Bearing in mind the lawlessness that war brings, and the value of guns in such circumstances it is strange indeed that the ammunition dumps were not dealt with. Iraq became a net exporter of small arms after the war.

The failure to guard the borders

The USA has trouble guarding its borders with Mexico against illegal immigrants. Its Canadian border is not really guarded at all. Yet with that reality it seems that the coalition relied on neighboring countries to police Iraqs border for them. These borders are vast, mostly either desert or mountain, and very difficult to police. Even if those countries wanted to police them, and were with us all the way, the fact is that they don't have the resources, and people can be bribed in any case.

However the reality is there are elements whether non state actors or not, in Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria who are less than benign. There are also lots of nutters about who want to attack us, for all sorts of reasons.

The inability to control the borders from day one to date has been a cataclysmic disaster.

The failure to understand who the losers would be

I just can't see that any account has been taken of who would be unhappy to see a stable democratic Iraq. So lets look at who the losers would be.

  • Sunni Arab dominance.
  • Syria
  • Iran
Sunni Arab dominance

There is no country in the Middle East, where the Shia hold sway. In most countries it is Sunni Muslims, in Syria it is the Alawites, and in Lebanon Maronite Christians hold power in a national pact. The fact is that Sunnis Arabs are a minority in Iraq. A democratic government in Iraq would give Shia Muslims a much larger say in politics than anywhere else in the Middle East, causing Sunni extremists to be upset. They could come over from Saudi Arabia, Jordan or Syria.


Syria is an interesting country. It produces enough oil to meet its own needs and has craftsmen that can handmake the most beautiful things. It is however run by a useless regime more concerned about staying in power than advancing its own people. A relatively small religious minority runs the country as well.

A well run prosperous liberal democracy made up of similar people is a definite threat as Syrians are bound to ask why they don't have the same there?

So the democratisation of Iraq is not in the Syrian regimes interests. We seem to have relied on shouting at Syria to get it to stop insurgents. This is dumb. Besides which even if they wanted to they can't watch the whole border.


I think most of us are used to thinking of Iran as the center of Shia Islam. This is because although there are lots of Shia about, Iran is the only country run by the Shia. The Holy City of Qom is also in Iran. The Ayatollahs in Iran were the effective leaders of the Shia world.

The problem the Iranians have is that Iran is not the center of Shia Islam, Iraq is, specifically centered in the Holy Cities of Najaf and Karbala, and its Ayatollahs are much more moderate than those in Iran, in particular Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, and the late Abdul Majid al-Khoei who believe in such radical ideas as no religion in politics. The fact that these people have more authority over Shia Islam and indeed present a better image of it AND want religion out of politics makes a successful Iraq a direct threat to the loony squad in Iran, AND yet we did not guard the borders? This is madness.

I won't even discuss the Kurdish question, and the problems that causes Turkey.

The political blunders

I wrote an article on The War on Terror a few days ago, one of the main themes of which was how both politics and propaganda play a larger part in fighting terror than military means. We have to understand that the enemy uses what we do against us. Abu Ghraib and the Guantanamo Bay detainment camp are used ruthlessly by our enemies to show how "this is a war against Islam" , and how evil we all are. It also incites otherwise reasonable people to hate us. We can't afford blunders like this. It costs the lives of our soldiers and their civilians.

So in sort, we needed at least twice the number of troops on the ground to do the job. The reason why we did not have them is the complete arrogance and ignorance of one man, Donald Rumsfeld.

So is it beyond repair? I hope not.

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