21 March 2007
Four years after the invasion of Iraq I would hardly think anyone is celebrating ‘the liberation of Iraq’! I go back and read what I have written about Iraq in my diary from late 2002 onwards, and I find nothing I’d like to change. Quite the contrary, I’d say: I’m surprised how accurate my predictions have been from the beginning… and I find it rather depressing!
“Bangkok, March 22, 2003:
The carnage that was expected as the overture to the attack on Iraq was unleashed yesterday morning. They call the strategy of massive destruction ‘shock & awe’. It sounds much like R&R, but it’s certainly not going to be that laid back, whatever the Pentagon planned and expected.
Quote of the Day:
‘After the first death, the many must go unmourned.’ –Basil T. Paquet
Bangkok, March 24, 2003:
‘Halfway to Baghdad’ is the headline on today’s Bangkok Post. And some military commander is bragging that moving the armour that far would have taken six months during the Second World War. Maybe so, but this is not a military accomplishment; its simply much improved tanks and APCs – and a terrain that raises few obstacles. ‘Halfway to Baghdad’ from a military perspective is not a great success. Driving the army mainly through uninhabited desert is not much of a victory. But I read the wretched soldiers have been forced to stay inside the armoured vehicles for up to 5 hours at a time while moving at top speed. I know how you feel after spending some time inside a moving tank, and in the heat of the desert dressed in all their protective gear, they must be utterly exhausted, and unfit to fight. Halfway to Baghdad – but not halfway to victory. The US-British forces have not met much resistance. It makes sense, since they so far have remained within the no-fly zone where the US and British air forces have been pounding military installations for months, exceeding the mandate from the UN to patrol the area. It’s also Shī‛ite land, and no serious resistance was anticipated. But there are no welcoming crowds either; and no uprisings against the Saddam regime. The protests against the war on Iraq go on an on, all over the world. About one million were out in the streets in Spain again yesterday.
Bangkok, March 30, 2003:
Quote of the Day:
‘ This is not an invasion.
It is an incursion.’
Richard Nixon commenting on the 1970 Cambodia invasion.
Ten days into the war, the drive towards Baghdad appears to have come to a halt. The supply lines from Kuwait are stretched out, and the need for rest and re-supply is obvious. The fast move from Kuwait to Euphrates was not that much of an achievement after all, and by now it’s obvious that the reports of the US-British forces taking the towns along the Euphrates were premature. They have – contrary to what’s been reported – actually not even gained control of Basra. My question at this point is: should this be called a war, when only one side is fighting? Never mind the ‘pockets of resistance’ and occasionally at some points ‘fierce resistance’ – there has been no coordinated resistance, and not even one sighting of the Iraqi air force.
This is an invasion – not a war!
The press conference in Doha is broadcast on almost every TV station, and General Tommy Franks is doing fine, but does anyone really believe him when he says that the original plans stand, and that the 120,000-man reinforcements he’s expecting by the end of next month were a part of the original plan. After All the Bush administration said that the ousting of Saddam would take ‘weeks, not months’. And the forces have been told they wouldn’t really have to fight, because the invasion would cause an uprising against the Saddam regime. Keeping the losses down has become the single most important issue. Politically it’s not possible to do something like the invasion of Normandie anymore. And to demand – like Churchill did during the Second World War – that the forces defend a position to the last man, when they in reality already have given it up as lost – would cause an outrage today. I am thinking about Singapore, of course, and at this time it might be appropriate to consider the case of Singapore once more: Churchill was initially of the opinion that Japan would be unable to attack Singapore. In December 1939, he wrote in a Cabinet Paper: ‘Singapore is a fortress armed with five 15-inch guns and garrisoned by nearly 20,000 men, it could only be taken after a siege of at least 50,000 men… Singapore is as far from Japan as Southampton is from New York…’
Later – in 1942 when reality had caught up with him – he insisted in a cable to General Wavell in Singapore, that here must be ‘no thought of saving the troops or sparing the population. The battle must be fought to the bitter end.’ He went on to say that Commanders and senior officers should die with their troops. The honour of the British Army were at stake. Singapore had a peacetime population of about 750,000 at the time, and there were no air-raid shelters. The civilians were left to face the Japanese onslaught as they could. Churchill demanded that the troops and the civilian population pay with their lives for his lack of judgement. The world has changed! Churchill is an interesting case for more than one reason. Today his lack of consideration for human lives would have landed him in front of a judge on war crime charges more than once, had he not belonged to the winning side in the wars in which he took part in one capacity or another. His own writings would be sufficient evidence to convict him for war crimes under present legislation.
His account of the war in Sudan when he was a young officer in the British army contains quite damning evidence.
Footnote: The Churchill quotations are from…The Escape form Singapore by Richard Gough.
The Allied forces lost between 10,000 and 12,000 troops during the first 24 hours of the invasion of Normandie. Even worse – since it was unsuccessful! – was the poorly planned attempt to take the bridge near Arnhem in Holland – Operation Market Garden – where 17,000 Allied forces perished in vain. In his memoirs Field Marshal Montgomery was unrepentant – that’s the word he chose! – and lines up a long line of ‘ifs’ that eventually could have turned this the Allies’ worst fiasco into a success. Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands on the other hand, commented ironically on Monty’s unrepentant attitude: ‘My country can never again afford the luxury of another Montgomery success.’
Bangkok, April 4, 2003:
Quote of the Day:
‘A great part of the information obtained in war is contradictory, a still greater part is false, and by far the greatest part is of doubtful character.’
– Karl von Clausewitz, 1832
The news from Iraq continue to be contradictory: Some US forces are apparently within kilometres from Baghdad, but Iraqi ministers move around and give press conferences in the city, seemingly unconcerned. The heavy pounding of some targets in the city has no visible effect at all beside the destruction of the chosen buildings. The targeted buildings have of course been long evacuated, and Iraqi TV remains on the air. The dilemma for the Pentagon strategists is that they can continue this massive but militarily largely ineffective bombings and hope the psychological effect will be strong enough to break the will to resist, or they can go ahead with a military offensive that inevitably will drag the US troops into residential areas and cost many lives on both sides.
If the United States lost the Việt Nam War in the living rooms back in America, it was because the Vietnamese were willing to subject themselves to more suffering than the US general public was prepared to see inflicted on them.
In US media this new war is clean and ‘surgical’, it’s just like an on-line computer game. The endless, repetitive TV coverage shows armoured vehicles pushing through the desert, or firing into the sky, after which fires and black smoke appears on the horizon. Nobody gets hurt. Al-Jazeera shows the images the US public is believed to be unable to stomach. It is true that the losses in this war have been very few, but so have the military victories. The US-British forces are allowed to roam the desert, and they are attacked only occasionally, but so far they do not control populated areas.
The US media in general allows itself to become a tool for the Bush administration’s war effort. TV is the only source of information for most US citizens – they don’t read newspapers like people in other countries – and the coverage is simply an insult to the viewers’ intellect.
“Chemical Ali”, an Iraqi top commander and cousin of Saddam Hussein is reported killed a second time in this 18-day old war. He was reported killed in Baghdad in the very first air raid on a military command centre south of the capital on March 20; and now again this morning in the city of Basra in the south. Where will they kill him next time? I wonder. He was nicknamed Chemical Ali by Western media after the gassing of thousands of Kurds back in 1988.
Bangkok, April 9, 2003:
The invasion of Iraq is three weeks old. Yesterday the US forces killed three and wounded a number of foreign correspondents, from al-Jazeera, and Reuters, in two separate incidents. Even on the BBC they discuss the possibility that it was a deliberate attack on the media: They shot a tank grenade into the 15th floor of the Palestine Hotel where the correspondents stay, saying they had taken fire from the lobby. Many of the correspondents staying there were on the rooftop when the incident occurred, and they say the heard or saw nothing like that. And if the claims were true – why fire at the 15th floor? Shooting up the al-Jazeera office is widely believed to be deliberate. The US government and its armed forces just don’t like that particular TV station. Yesterday they bombed a restaurant too. The number of casualties is unknown. CIA had got a report that Saddam and his sons had a meeting there, and a B1 bomber reduced the place to rubble within 45 minutes. But today they say that Saddam probably left the place just minutes before the attack The destruction of the city is senseless. Destroying the huge Ministry of Planning building live on TV makes no military sense. It’s a show of force with psychological objectives only. Or business! I have to correct myself: destroying the city on the expense of US taxpayers and having private enterprises belonging to cronies profit from the reconstruction is of course extremely good business and makes perfect sense! Then the minister of information gave an improvised interview on the sidewalk outside the Palestine Hotel… not far from US downtown positions, but across the Tigris. He was babbling on as usual, saying that the US forces are unable to leave their tanks, and that they’ll have to surrender or get killed… But seeing this well-known face walk around the streets of Baghdad in the middle of the fighting – that certainly was psychological warfare too! Today is a different story. The ‘babysitters’ shadowing the foreign correspondents in Baghdad didn’t come to the Palestine Hotel this morning, and in the north-eastern suburb of Saddam City with a predominantly Shī‛a population, people are celebrating the fall of the Saddam regime – by looting and dancing in the streets. It’s obvious that the regime no longer has control of Baghdad. We have reached new stage, and there’s no way anyone could predict if it’s the beginning of a Lebanese type development with foreign powers supporting various factions. Cheering crowds doesn’t mean the dawn of democracy – at least not in the Western sense. ‘Democracy’ in a technical sense is not synonymous to a free and open society. We have seen Muslim people vote away freedom and democracy at first opportunity before! The very idea of personal freedom is very much in conflict with Islamic culture, where resignation to God’s will as preached by Muhammad is all-embracing. And how exactly should a democratic system in Iraq be structured? A one man – one vote system would give the Shī‛a a clean 2/3 majority, while some kind of federation of autonomous regions on the other hand might spark a civil war over oil resources. So, what’s cooking? Tribal fighting (like Afghanistan), religiously based civil war – Shī‛a against Sunnī – or another secular dictatorship with the US pulling the strings behind the scene? The latter would of course cause the rise of a domestic Islamic terrorism.
A sprouting Iraqi democracy is, I regret to say, the most unlikely development.
Quote of the Day:
‘ You always write it’s bombing, bombing, bombing.
It’s not bombing, it’s air support.’
– US Air Force colonel during the Việt Nam War
I stay in and watch BBC. I see the demolition of the statue of Saddam at Paradise Square. They show – over and over again – how the giant statue of Saddam is pulled down – but they don’t show the typical, stupid mistake of the US troops: First they put the US flag over the head of the statue. (Could anyone but an American do something that stupid?) Then somebody told them that it was all wrong, and they took the flag away. They proceeded to put up an old pre-Saddam Iraqi flag, and then – after taking it away – toppled the statue. This footage with the flag is not a minor matter! I might be good for the TV stations back in the US, but I don’t know if they realize the enormous damage it must have caused around the Arab world. The Iraqis didn’t see it. The power is out in Baghdad as in many other Iraqi cities, and there were not that much people around at the time. So far the cheering masses have been sufficient for filling a TV screen, but it’s certainly been very far from the massive celebrations after the liberation of Paris in 1945, which the TV reporters and military commentators frequently compare it with. Most people are not dancing in the streets; they are barricading themselves in their homes. Was Rumsfeld right when he pressed ahead against the advice of the military commanders – or was he just lucky? He had access to a lot of intelligence before he made his decisions, of course, but it looks like he gambled – and won! The troops took Baghdad long before the scheduled arrival of the 120,000-man reinforcement by the end of this month, and they are obviously unable to assign troops to provide even basic law and order in the city. This part of the planning – or rather the lack of it – is nothing short of a disaster. Taking a city without having forces to control it is really bad politics!
One thing that I have to put on record here is that in my opinion the conduct of the US-British troops deserves the praise they have received back home. Not only are their own casualties few – the British troops have taken almost as many casualties from accidents and ‘friendly fire’ as in combat – but the casualties among Iraqi civilians are by all standards also very few. But then again, if the Iraqis had put up a military resistance, the casualties would have increased accordingly. It should also be said that the Iraqi forces have not carried out attacks with chemical or biological weapons – or used civilians as shields, as predicted by many ‘experts’ and commentators. And they have not attacked US bases in Kuwait or Qatar – something they even are allowed to do according to international law, since those bases were used to start an unprovoked war against them. The bases in the neighbouring sultanates would have been the most suitable place to attack US forces, since they are about the only places where they stay in large concentrations. It would have cost the Iraqis dearly; they would have lost their aircrafts, of course, but if they only managed to get them there, it would have been extremely damaging for the US forces. Attacking stretched-out columns of armour in the desert is on the other hand not very effective. The question arises: Did the Iraqis lack the capacity to attack the US bases in Qatar and Kuwait? If so, it’s most damaging to the already skimpy excuses for the invasion!
Bangkok, April 10, 2003:
In the news: The US senate will create a committee to investigate whether they were misled into endorsing the attack on Iraq by forged intelligence. The fact that some of the ‘evidence’ produced in the last attempt to swing the Security Council in favour of a military invasion was fabricated has long been established, but the US Senate and the public opinion couldn’t care less at the time, it seems. But now finally the Senate is taking on the task of investigation that was the duty of the media long before the invasion of Iraq was launched, and the members of the Congress all seem to have forgotten the Bay of Tonkin Resolution. And I’m certain they also have forgotten their decision to remove French fries from their cafeteria three months ago, when they all wanted to go to war! But why exactly did the Bush administration fabricate evidence to mislead the congress? By now another suspicion has emerged in my mind: if Iraq was incapable to defend its territory and possessed no WMD, and the Bush administration knew just how weak and defenceless they were – was that the real reason why the Bush administration was so keen to invade? Was it in fact because they knew that instead of being a threat, Saddam was defenceless? Or, as the mountaineers say, when asked why they climbed a mountain: – Because it was there!
“La verità è figlia del Tempo.”
Quote of the Day:
When they call the roll in the Senate,
the Senators do not know whether to answer
“Present” or “Not guilty”.
–Theodore Roosevelt ”
So far my diary comments four years ago.
Four years into the Iraqi mess, the question that will not go away is how to get out. Over the years I’ve seen governments in various countries, who don’t control much of the territory outside their capital, but this Iraqi government controls only a tiny, sealed off section of Baghdad’s city centre, and what they do in there is anybody’s guess! They are certainly not governing the country! Leaving the problems to the Iraqis to sort them out as they see fit, would certainly be very bloody. Staying on indefinitely on the other hand, is hardly a feasible alternative, and politically impossible. The bewilderment at this point of the politicians who created this mess is obvious, and they will just have to leave the hard decisions to their successors. When I read my notes from the days of the invasion four years ago, I see that the issues were there from the very beginning! What I cannot understand is how the politicians who voted for the invasion of Iraq could fail to see it!
Copyright © 2003, 2007 by Carl Jacobson