19 November 2006

What now in Iraq?

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair agreed that Iraq was a disaster in an interview with Sir David Frost on the new Al Jazeera English language network. While 10 Downing Street has since backtracked, claiming that Blair, in effect, still thinks the emperor’s new clothes are smashing, it brings us a step closer to a public recognition that the invasion of Iraq has flopped.
Such a public admission of failure is probably necessary before we can start looking at how to extricate ourselves from the Iraqi quagmire. How to do that is not going to be easy.
Clearly law and order have broken down to an extreme degree. In the last two weeks alone as many as 150 people were kidnapped from a government building, the Iraqi deputy health minister was kidnapped from his home, 1,000 members of the Iraqi security forces began a campaign in northern Iraq to clear villages of insurgents, a Shi’ite bakery was attacked in Baghdad, killing nine, and the list goes on.
It is time to be honest with ourselves, both in the US and the UK. The effort to topple Saddam and set up a friendly and stable government has failed.
We have three options now.
One, declare victory and leave. This will lead to a bloodbath in the power vacuum left by departing forces. The Sunnis, Shi’ites and Kurds will pitch open war. The Saudis, Syrians, and Iranians will all try to exert influence and probably provide arms and “advisors”. The Turks will likely invade the Iraqi Kurdistan to prevent the creation of a Kurdish state. And lots of people will die.
Two, try to fix Iraq. This will require doubling, tripling or even quadrupling the US force in Iraq and restart the rebuilding effort, which has stopped. Even with this type of commitment, which would have almost certainly worked several years ago, it may be too late. The insurgents are now organised. Stopping them now might require a level of force that is not politically acceptable. Let me explain that. If we took on the tactics of the Mongols during their conquests we would win. But the Mongols were willing to kill every single person in any town or city that rebelled. Despite the Bush administration reviving torture, American soldiers, Congressmen and Senators are not going to go along with mass slaughter.
Three, waffle. This is the current strategy. Rebuilding has stopped. The streets are dangerous. Not even Baghdad is secure. Healthcare, water and electricity is less secure now than under Saddam. And US and UK forces are being killed without achieving anything noticeable on a strategic level. The benefit of this strategy, which I call wallowing in the quagmire, is that Bush and Blair don’t have to admit that they really stepped on their dicks on this one. The disadvantage is it just puts off option one or two for a bit while more people die and more people decide that killing innocent people in the US and UK is a good idea.
On a related topic, it’s not going too well in Afghanistan either. The Taliban have stuck to their strategy, hide for a while and come back. Well, they are back. The UN’s top official in Afghanistan, Tom Koenigs, was quoted in The Guardian as saying that Nato cannot win in Afghanistan and will have to train Afghan forces.
Perhaps the most telling tale of what is going on in Afghanistan are the numbers. Nato killed an estimated 1,000 Taliban fighters in Operation Medusa in September. To put that into perspective, the Germans lost 4,000-9,000 on D-Day and subsequent fighting. The numbers of attacking forces, however, were vastly larger than in Afghanistan. The allies landed 156,000 on D-Day and 326,500 within five days. Nato has about 1/20 of that in Afghanistan.
Another telling number is that the US has made 2,000 air strikes in Afghanistan since June, compared to 88 in Iraq.
And while all that fighting is going on, food stocks in Afghanistan aren’t going to last the winter and people will starve to death without large amounts of food aid. Just my humble guess, but if we feed people who would otherwise die and help them rebuild, I think we will make a lot of friends.

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