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Commentary

Morning in Iraq?


     
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According to former U.S. proconsul Paul Bremer, the transfer of power to Iraqis will launch Iraq on the road to peace, prosperity and democracy. If Bremer is not cynically spouting the Bush administration’s party line, he is in a parallel universe.

The main problems with Bremer’s rosy vision are twofold. First, the insurgents know the United States can be beaten because it is already happening. They know that their increasingly sophisticated and coordinated attacks over time have caused the American public to sour on both President Bush and the Iraq War. According to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, the president’s approval rating has fallen to 42 percent, the lowest of his term. Also, 60 percent of Americans now disapprove of the president’s Iraq policy and don’t believe that the invasion was worth the cost.

Although the U.S. military believes that the “center of gravity” in the continuing Iraq War is the “hearts and minds” of the Iraqi people, the Iraqi insurgents believe, as did the North Vietnamese almost 40 years ago, that the center of gravity lies with the hearts and minds of the American people. The Iraqi insurgents must be pleased that in the age of 24-hour news, the Iraq War became unpopular in the United States much faster than the years needed to drain away American public support for the Vietnam conflict. Why would the Iraqi insurgents stop fighting when they are winning? Military experts say that the United States is winning tactically (specific battles), but losing operationally, strategically and on the level of grand strategy. This abysmal state of affairs replicates the U.S. experience in Vietnam, in which the United States won every battle and lost the war because the American public eventually became tired, disillusioned and exasperated with it.

The Iraqi insurgents have patterned their insurgency after the effective Palestinian uprising against the Israelis in the occupied territories. They have also learned lessons from U.S. involvement in Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The guerrillas will keep up their hit-and-run attacks until the stronger power becomes exhausted and leaves. In other words, if the guerrillas don’t lose decisively, they’ll eventually win.

Guerilla-style fighting is the most successful form of warfare in human history. And the Iraqi insurgency has all of the needed prerequisites for a successful guerrilla operation. To prevail, the insurgents need a sanctuary, a source of arms and supplies, and the support of a significant portion of the Iraqi people. Iraq’s borders with Syria and Iran are so porous that jihadists from outside Iraq can infiltrate easily from sanctuaries in those nations. Arms and supplies also are likely flowing in from those nations. Syria and Iran may be actively providing them or looking the other way as they flow in from jihadist and other financiers around the world. Furthermore, Iraq is awash with weapons, and there are many unguarded arms and ammunition depots.

Finally, and very distressingly, significant segments of the Iraqi people are likely to be assisting and supplying the insurgents. Although the Bush administration likes to blame the violence on rogue elements (foreign terrorists and former Saddam supporters), the Iraqi people don’t seem to be turning in these people to the occupation forces. Of course, the administration would say that the insurgents are intimidating ordinary Iraqis from doing so. But even that is not a good sign. At minimum, many Iraqis--seeing support for the president and the war waning in the United States and remembering that the United States abandoned the Kurds and Shia to slaughter by Saddam after encouraging them to rise up after the first Gulf War--are betting that the insurgents will be around a lot longer than the fickle Americans. Furthermore, the hapless Iraqi security forces are unable to provide anyone—including themselves and other “collaborators”—adequate security from guerrilla attack.

It’s bad enough that Bremer’s vision doesn’t acknowledge that many ordinary Iraqis are hedging their bets by remaining on the fence. A second and worse problem with Bremer’s Pollyanna scenario is that numerous Iraqis are jumping off on the other side. Ominously, during the last few months, Saddam loyalists seem to have been playing less of a role in the insurgency, at the same time that participation has spread to ordinary Iraqis. Even President Bush has admitted that the U.S. occupation is unpopular with the Iraqi people. That blooming nationalist sentiment has been further stimulated by the U.S. torture at Abu Ghraib prison and because the slow and violence-hampered U.S. reconstruction of the country hasn’t met Iraqi expectations.

So it is hardly morning in Iraq for the Iraqis or the U.S. occupation. In fact, it is twilight and the rays of hope for a successful outcome in Iraq are fading.


Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, and he spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. He is author of the books Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for Iraq, and Recarving Rushmore.


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