- As the weeks and months have dragged on after Bush declared,
"mission accomplished" in May, and while even his neo-con mentor,
Richard Perle, now concedes that the Iraq war was illegal, the administration
faces an ever more deadly Iraq security landscape. Bush himself is unlikely
to concede that the war was illegal, but several experts say the US is
now bogged down in a quagmire, and that situation may well demand more
careful and intensive management of the extraction than a totally legal
engagement might entail.
- Attacks have grown in number, seriousness and location.
Most security incidents appear to occur in the so-called Sunni triangle
that is north and west of Baghdad, or in Baghdad itself, but incidents
are occurring with growing frequency in essentially Kurdish areas of northern
Iraq and in essentially Shiia areas of the south. Bombings in and around
Baghdad as well as the shoot-down in the last two weeks of three, with
the Mosul incident Saturday, maybe five American helicopters bespeaks a
seriously escalating pattern. Meanwhile, American casualties in November
alone have risen well above forty. But who are the enemies?
- Published estimates of who the culprits are in each region
have not fingered a singular enemy, although the most popular ones officially
are Saddam loyalists, followed by imported alleged al Qaida adherents or
other imported terrorists. There is substantial agreement among observers
that the attacks have become more sophisticated, and they have certainly
become more numerous. Some reporters are talking insurgency, while one
writer, Robert Fisk, makes a convincing case for a "resistance"
movement, harking back to the French underground in World War II. There
is still, however, no concerted statement either of who the enemies are
in Iraq or what are their motives. The situation suggests a growing diversity
of people who object or support objectors to the American and Coalition
occupation. Either an insurgency or a resistance movement will work to
- The lack of clarity in defining enemies is not because
of some pig-headed word preference. Rather, what politicians agree to
call the enemy makes an enormous difference. In simple terms an insurgency
is an organized warlike resistance, sometimes internationally recognized
national group that opposes an occupying force or a constituted government.
An insurgency with a popular base, e.g., such as the Sandinistas whose
insurgency faced the Reagan administration with an unfriendly regime in
Nicaragua, may have some international standing, but may also have some
prospect of succeeding, even without help from the outside. However, As
UNITA demonstrated in Angola, an insurgency can go on for years without
deciding anything politically for a country while delaying indefinitely
any national progress.
- The problem for the United States, however, is that insurgencies
often acquire strong international followings and sources of support.
That process, for better or worse, appears underway in Iraq. If all or
a significant number of the violent clusters in Iraq actually coalesce
into a functioning insurgency, the United States faces several potentially
painful developments. One is the likelihood that in the present Iraqi situation
the insurgents will acquire a substantial popular following. Street reactions
to the shooting down of a military personnel laden US helicopter suggest
that such a popular following could be easily stimulated. Second is that
if the nascent insurgency survives and pulls off a few more spectaculars,
less committed dissidents and plain Iraqi nationalists will adhere to it.
Third is that if the insurgency shows itself to represent a significant
popular following, international, government level recognition and sympathy
will flow to it, initially within Islamic countries, but eventually from
others including in the western world as well.
- Such developments will mean, among other things, that
external funding will flow to the group and political acceptance, if not
official recognition, of the group will grow among United Nations members
as well as among other international organizations, both public and private.
The net effect of such developments will be a smart curtailment of the
already limited global tolerance for the US and coalition presence in Iraq,
along with increased pressure for an early departure from Iraq. Paralleling
that will be a growing reluctance even of friendly powers to commit forces
to Iraq. Continuing attacks on a daily or weekly basis are likely to move
the situation in that direction, especially if attacks stay at something
like their present frequency and intensity.
- The key to this situation is not merely to fight back.
Serious fighting back may only worsen the situation, moving it more rapidly
toward the painful developments cited above, polarizing Iraqis against
Americans and the Coalition. Some effective way has to be found to reach
the Iraqi enemies, and that means they must be effectively identified and,
if possible, dealt with in some fashion other than shooting and bombing.
- Current efforts are being made to classify the enemies
on the ground by immediate affiliations or points of origin. That effort,
even if it succeeds, will be insufficient, because who specifically the
people are is not so crucial as what they want and what they are prepared
to do to get it. Nor is it fruitful to tout the reported al Qaida and imported
freelance terrorists because few published analyses consider them critical
components of this situation. The outsiders are not nearly so important
to potential outcomes as what the Iraqis think is happening among their
own people and what they feel driven or inspired to do about it.
- That chemistry on the ground is what must be changed.
But other enemies now operate in Iraq against improving the chemistry of
the situation. Right now it appears that the United States and its coalition
partners have several major enemies.
- Two most serious enemies are ignorance and time. Much
can be made of our lack of recognition of the lessons of British experience,
but there is no sensible explanation for the fact that the Bush administration
ignored, even dismissed out of hand, the solid work of the State Department
and other national security agencies in planning and predicting (accurately
as events have shown} likely situations in Iraq following an invasion.
There simply may not be enough time to recover from those failures, because
the situation is now so soured that stringing matters out while trying
to fix things can only make matters worse. Meanwhile, Islamic and European
as well as Asian governments look as if they could be more tolerant and
helpful if the US timetable were better known and materially shorter than
- The third most serious enemy is asymmetry. Smallness,
lack of visibly structured organization, dispersion across Iraqi territory
and society all work to present enemies who are invisible until they strike.
It will be disastrous to allow the Iraqi resistance groups to grow, because
they can hide easily in Iraqi society. That indeed was one of the deadliest
enemies in Vietnam. Asymmetry beat us when brute force could not.
- A fourth enemy may well prove to be a misplaced and ideological
drive to plant democracy in unready soil. The Iraqis threw the British
out because they did not want a British externally imposed form of governance.
Many of them now appear to be reacting in a similar way to an American
attempt to impose democracy. The Iraqi people obviously want to evolve
their own forms of representative government. We do not know enough now
to predict what forms that might take, and under present conditions we
are unlikely to be given enough time to learn. Exiles such as Chalabi
may know some things about Iraqi society and thought that could help in
the transition, but they unfortunately are now too closely identified with
the United States.
- A fifth enemy, as many Iraqis would see it, is the Americanization
of Iraqi oil and the selling off of Iraqi economic activities. While there
is no official information on this, the grapevine has it that a scramble
is occurring by Israelis and others to buy Iraqi industries and potentially
profitable businesses that Saddam had largely nationalized. This kind
of raiding, basically rape of Iraqi economic sectors while the Iraqis have
neither law nor organization to stop it, is likely to turn even moderately
disposed Iraqis against the Coalition and the Americans who mainly are
permitting these activities to occur.
- A sixth enemy is the fact that American motives, no matter
how morally they may be painted by a President who is already running for
re-election, are badly tainted by big oil and private contractor exploitation
of the Iraqi situation. Aside from the greed on display, news reports
indicate that many Iraqis are angered by the domination by foreigners of
activities they feel entirely competent as well as legally entitled to
- Enemy number seven is clearly the illegality of the war.
As Bush now in Britain, Powell in Europe, and Rumsfeld in the Far East
all are finding, the fact that most nations do not believe this war was
necessary or legal stands in the way of their financial, moral or military
support. Contrary to having improved the world security situation as President
Bush claims, many think that global security is worse since the invasion,
and multiple explosions in Turkey in the past few days affirm that conviction.
Thus, the United States set out to go it alone as a matter of choice in
attacking Iraq, but it now finds itself uncomfortably isolated.
- The sum of these enemies is that the Coalition and particularly
the United States will be given little or no margin for error. The insurgency-like
animosity toward the United States is being driven in some degree by each
of these enemies, and they are all there to be exploited by Iraqi dissidents,
whatever the dissidents may be called. There may have been some high ground
back in May that could be occupied for deposing Saddam Hussein, but that
ground was not taken, and it probably no longer exists. Rather we have
forces on the ground whose reactions to opposition are knee jerk and harsh.
- The eighth enemy therefore is a mismatch: The United
States is fighting a war against people it allegedly set out to help. US
approaches alienate them at every turn. This is neither a time nor a place
therefore for high-blown political agendas. There simply is no short order
transformation of a society that is in chaos and agony. The people who
created this chaos are unlikely to be able to clean it up. Those people
must leave. Others, mainly the United Nations, untainted by invasion and
occupation must take over the process. The ultimate enemy may be the blindness
of the Bush team to this need. Only time will tell.
- The writer is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer
of the US Department of State. He will welcome comment at firstname.lastname@example.org