In spite of the huge propaganda machine that has been set up it is quite clear that the war on Iraq is not going according to plan. They are meeting stiffer resistance and are losing greater casualties than expected. A heavy backlash is being prepared.
In spite of the huge propaganda machine that has been set up it is quite clear that the war is not going according to plan. They are meeting stiffer resistance and are losing greater casualties than expected. A heavy backlash is being prepared.
We will also publish another article soon about other issues such as the involvement of Turkey, the possible ethnic conflicts that could emerge once the war is over, the growing mood of anger, especially among the Arab masses and the cynical calculations of US corporations who are eager to get their hands on Iraq's resources and to grab all the contracts for the so-called "rebuilding" of Iraq after the war.
The US is the most powerful imperialist nation ever seen in history and it is using its power with a vengeance in Iraq. We have never seen before in history such a powerful war machine in action. The level of technology is unprecedented. The destructive capacity of US weaponry is enormous. There is also a huge mobilisation in terms of actual numbers of soldiers. The US forces alone could destroy Iraq ten times over. There is no question about that. And yet in spite of all this it is becoming clear that taking Iraq isn't going to be as easy as the US imperialists had thought. They are going to pay a heavy price, both in the short term and the long term.
The purpose of this article is not to provide a detailed analysis of military operations. Even if we wanted to do this we would have to count on the information being provided by the media, which is hyped up to present a picture of a successful mission going "according to plans". For the whole truth on what is happening we will have to wait until this war has been long over. However, we can still look through the fog of mystification and see that things are not going as planned at all.
Before starting the war they were confident things would go quickly and smoothly. On March 18, we read this optimistic report in The Guardian: "The cities and towns of the south - Basra, Nassiriya and Samawa - are expected to fall quickly or be bypassed by US and British forces, as will those of the north, Mosul and Kirkuk. The population rose in the north and south in the aftermath of the Gulf war in 1991 and army units mutinied, and there is no reason why it should be any different this time."
The impression that most of the media were giving was that they would just cut through Iraqi forces like a knife through butter. They are continuing to peddle this myth because that is what Bush and Blair need to portray, an image that they are making big progress.
The question is: will this war be short and sharp? No one can say in advance how long it could last. The morale of Iraqi troops cannot be gauged so easily. Different factors have to be taken into account.
What we can say is that as the days go on it is becoming more and more apparent that the 'coalition forces' are not having it so easy. In some areas there has been stiff resistance from the Iraqi forces. Bush and Blair want a short, sharp, almost "surgical" war, so that they can claim victory and avoid large numbers of casualties that would have a political impact at home. But things are working out differently.
Initial confidence waning
As Richard Norton-Taylor writing in the British Guardian newspaper, pointed out before the war started, "British military commanders hope the regime will collapse soon after a bombing campaign based on America's "shock and awe" tactics. " But then he added that, "The more cautious among military analysts emphasise the risks and uncertainties. They point to the old adage that the best laid military plans do not survive the first contact with the enemy." And in case anyone had any doubts, Lieutenant-Colonel Hugh Blackman, commander of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, told the Sunday Telegraph (reported in The Guardian, March 18, 2003) that "If we deploy in Iraq there will be lot of dead bodies, we can be absolutely sure of that."
Reality is in fact turning out to be on the side of the pessimistic forecasts. Now the Pentagon has admitted that the war may last 30 days, and Bush has asked for an extra $75bn based on this perspective. Blair has had to admit that, "…I should warn that our forces will face resistance and that the campaign, necessarily, will not achieve all its objectives overnight." (Daily Mirror, March 22, 2003). In fact the war could drag out for far longer.
Almost from day one of the war we have had reports about the taking of this town or that. The port city of Umm-Qasr was supposed to have fallen days ago, and yet every day the news reports have to correct the previous reports. There are still "pockets" of resistance, they say. The fact is this war is not going to be a stroll to Baghdad where the masses will all come out and rejoice at the presence of US and British troops at the gates of the city.
In the beginning we were promised a barrage of 3000 cruise missiles in the first 48 hours. Instead we had a small attack on Saddam Hussein's palace. Why was that? Apparently the CIA had been tipped off as to the whereabouts of the dictator. Unfortunately for Bush, in spite of lobbing several millions of dollars worth of missiles, they missed. But what does this attempt to assassinate Saddam Hussein reveal? It shows that the Bush administration would have liked to "decapitate" the regime and then hopefully the rest of it would crumble and then they could come to a deal about how to govern the country under US domination. This way they could avoid a messy and bloody war. They hope the Iraqi army will just surrender en masse in the face of such a devastating war machine. That explains all the pictures of surrendering Iraqi soldiers.
Now, undoubtedly, many Iraqi soldiers may be wary of fighting a machine they feel they cannot defeat. And also, why should they fight for Saddam Hussein? He is a terrible oppressor. It is reminiscent of the huge numbers of Italian soldiers during World War II surrendering to far smaller numbers of British soldiers in the North African desert. They saw no reason to fight for the hated Mussolini. Surrender and capture was their way of getting out. There must be an element of this among some of the Iraqi troops.
Some comparisons have been made between Saddam Hussein's regime and that of the Viet Cong in the 1960s and 1970s. But this is a false comparison. That regime had given the lands to the peasants, it had nationalised the means of production and, in spite of the Stalinist deformations, it had offered real improvement to the masses' living conditions. Thus the peasant army in Vietnam had a concrete reason to fight the US troops. They were fighting for their land and for the defence of the gains of their revolution.
So it would not be surprising if a certain number of Iraqi troops, at least among the conscript soldiers, were seriously thinking of getting out of the war. However, the numbers of soldiers that have actually surrendered so far are still very small, compared to the size of the Iraqi army. If we are to believe the media reports (because so far they have repeatedly contradicted themselves) about 3000 Iraqi soldiers have surrendered. That is still a very small number compared to the 389,000 fully active military personnel that make up the Iraqi forces.
Bulk of Iraqi army still intact
Thus the bulk of the Iraqi Army is still intact. It is not crumbling as easily as they had expected. That is because many Iraqis do not see the incoming troops as a liberation army. Far from it, they see them as a foreign invader who is there to defend the interests of imperialism. For more than ten years the Iraqi people have suffered the terrible consequences of the sanctions imposed, in particular, by the USA and Britain, of course through the UN. At least half a million children, and possibly up to a million, have died as a result of these sanctions. So how the Iraqi people are supposed to welcome the US and British troops as "liberators" is anyone's guess. Only people who live isolated from the real suffering of ordinary working people can live in a dream world where such fantasies may seem as reality.
The media are making a big noise about the big advances of the US and British troops, but when we take a closer look at the situation we can see that a great deal more fighting is needed before they can claim real success. A large part of their advance so far has been across a sparsely populated, almost desert area. The bulk of the Iraqi population is concentrated around the two major rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates. When they have come up to the cities, they have immediately announced that these have been "secured", apparently almost with no fighting.
To hide reality new words are being invented all the time, and the meaning of old words is also changing. One would think that in common everyday English the word "secured" means taken. Far from it! Now in the latest spin on this war it means "we have reached the outskirts of the city and are involved in skirmishes with pockets of Iraqi resistance"!
The situation in and around Basra is emblematic. British forces have had to retreat from Basra after meeting fierce resistance. They thought they could easily "mop up" Basra, but now it has been reported that marines and paratroopers could be called in as the British have had to admit that they underestimated the level of resistance they would encounter.
According to The Guardian (March 25, 2003), "British officers admitted they had vastly underestimated the extent of resistance and expressed disappointment that so far they had not been enthusiastically welcomed as liberators. The option of calling in the marines and the paratroopers came after some units of the Desert Rats were forced to withdraw about 10 miles from Basra yesterday." And the report added that, "The reaction of British troops to the unexpectedly severe opposition has been mixed, with some showing little sign of concern and others expressing fear that the war could drag on for months."
They are considering the use of heavy bombardment to take Basra, and this has already begun. This is because they fear that there could be many casualties among US and British troops if they try and take the city with ground forces. Heavy bombardment may spare the lives of their own soldiers but it would certainly endanger that of many Iraqi civilians. So much for the use of smart weapons that only hit government and military targets.
Proof that many civilian targets have been hit is the fact that water and electricity supplies have broken down under the bombardment. Now there is even an argument about the percentage of the Basra population that is without water. Blair has even had to go to the British parliament to reassure them that at least 40% of the population have had their water supply restored. So much for attacking only the regime and not the people!
Then came the news about a popular uprising in Basra. Again the British military raised this as a possible way of taking the city almost painlessly. The people would rise up, throw out the Iraqi forces and cheer the incoming "liberators". Then the news changes again. The British colonel, Ronnie McCourt is no longer sure that what is happening in Basra is a revolt of the people against the Republican Guard. The main Shiite opposition group has declared that what is happening in Basra is not a popular uprising against the Republican Guard but a protest movement because of the lack of water and electricity. According to the Al Jazeera TV channel, one of the few media companies to have an office inside Basra, there are no signs of a revolt. Thus the British are facing the inevitable prospect of having to send in ground forces to take Basra, with all the risks of heavy casualties that this involves.
What happened at Nassiriya also shows how difficult things can get for them. Four thousand US troops have been involved in three days of severe fighting. Up to 500 Iraqi soldiers have been killed. According to Agence France Presse almost all the buildings along the main road in the town have been damaged, bearing bullet marks, evidence to the fact that a lot of street fighting was involved. - and a lot of damage to civilian targets also took place.
Similar problems have been encountered in Umm Qasr. Although this important port has now been declared under allied control, there was strong resistance in parts of the town, and they are still not sure that the whole town has been "secured".
US fears entering the cities with ground troops
The fact that right from the beginning they had decided to avoid going into the cities, where they risk getting involved in street fighting, reveals one important thing. They are still terrified of losing large numbers of US and British troops. They understand that this could seriously affect "public opinion" back at home.
According to Lieutenant General Cordy-Simpson, "The next 48 hours are critical as the Coalition Forces push on towards Baghdad. We have made dramatic progress so far but are inevitably going to suffer more casualties unless we secure our lines of communication. We have seen what has happened in towns like Umm Qasr and the port of Al Faw which we thought we had secured. Although on paper, the war is going as planned, the casualty figures are higher than we expected." (Daily Mirror, March 25, 2003)
And he added that, "We'd hoped an early regime collapse would send the message to Iraqis to surrender. Instead they're fighting harder than expected and psychology, one of the most important weapons for both sides, isn't working so well for us." (Daily Mirror, March 25, 2003)
In fact as the number of casualties among US and British troops mounts, public opinion in Britain and the USA could swing heavily against the war.
Opposition was already massive before the war began. Now among many of those who opposed the war there will be a kind of resigned acceptance, as they cannot see how it can be stopped. But if the news programmes start to announce large numbers of casualties, both among the Iraqi population and the US and British troops, then the mood at home could change very quickly. Thus both Blair and Bush are terrified of the political effects this could have. Therefore they are almost in denial about what is really happening in Iraq. Blair in particular seems almost to believe his own propaganda.
Significant was the reaction of the father of one of the US soldiers killed in action. He was shown on British TV holding a picture of his son. He held it up to the cameras and told Bush to look at the picture and said, "You've taken my only son, Mr Bush." Apparently this wasn't shown on US television. That in itself shows that they are not confident of holding public opinion behind them if the number of US casualties continues to grow.
The US and British ruling classes, that privileged minority of fat cat capitalists and bankers are sending poor working class people from Britain and the USA to kill ordinary Iraqis all for the benefit of the rich and powerful. Sooner or layer this fact will dawn on ordinary working people and they will turn against their capitalist masters. But for now the myth is being maintained. That is why it is worth looking at a few of the problems that are cropping up for the imperialists.
The battle of Baghdad
They are preparing now for the attack on Baghdad. The story will be a different one when this battle gets seriously under way. Saddam Hussein is concentrating most of his forces around Baghdad. Inside the city, three main militias are ready for street-to-street fighting. There the bulk of the 60-70,000-strong Republican Guard is concentrated. It is better equipped, paid and trained than the regular army. There is also the 20-25,000-strong Special Republican Guard. This force has spent the last twenty years or so training in street fighting for the defence of the capital.
The Republican Guard has at its disposal three armoured divisions, one mechanised division and two infantry divisions. These have been positioned about 15 to 20 miles from Baghdad. But all experts are expecting them to withdraw to the outer perimeter of the city as the fighting intensifies.
It will be a bloody affair. Soldiers and civilians will be killed in large numbers. Whereas some conscript soldiers have surrendered, the Republican Guard, in its history, has never actually surrendered or fled from the battlefield in the face of a superior enemy. So while they may be defeated it can be expected that they will fight fiercely before going under. Their job will be to defend key points and slowdown the American and British forces. The more loyal units will most likely be withdrawn into the city and wait to attack the incoming forces. They have in fact already slowed down British and US forces in Nassiriya, Umm Qasr and are still Basra. In Nassiriya they held the Americans in three days of fierce fighting and lost many of their men.
The Special Guard are trained in house-to-house fighting and their task will be to inflict as many losses as possible on the US and British troops. Saddam Hussein knows that the American commanders have a problem with what is regarded as unacceptably high casualties. They do not want to upset public opinion too much at home. Thus the Iraqi forces will withdraw into the city, posing a dilemma for US commanders. If the Americans want to avoid losing too many ground troops they will have to use their air power in an attempt to destroy the Iraqi forces, but inside the city this will necessarily cause many civilian casualties.
The plan is clearly to draw US and British troops into the city itself, where the fighting will have to be almost man-to-man and street-to-street. That is where they will able to inflict the greatest damage to incoming troops and thus cause high levels of casualties. In these conditions, according to The Guardian (March 18, 2003), "If one assumes that the Republican Guard will fight in urban territory, which diminishes the west's technological superiority, it could go on for as long as morale stands up."
According to US army experts, Baghdad is surrounded by one of the biggest concentrations of surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft artillery in the world. The defences around Baghdad are now in fact far stronger than they were during the last Gulf War 12 years ago.
Precisely because fighting on the streets of Baghdad involves the risk of heavy casualties for the US and British troops, US commanders said before the war had even begun that they would not be drawn into street fighting and that they would be prepared to sit outside Baghdad.
Thus, in spite of all the technology at their disposal it seems that some of the US Army tops are thinking of a siege of Baghdad! Far from 21st century methods they are thinking of the tactics of the Nazis when they tried to take Moscow and Leningrad! That means they plan to wear down the population of Baghdad, deprive it of food and water. We can have no illusions in the idea that this is a "surgical" war where civilians are spared.
Smart bombs not so smart
The same applies to the so-called "smart" weapons. Every evening we have to suffer the spectacle of Rumsfeld and the American generals trying to sell us the fairy tale about how this war is one of precision bombing. But the more serious analysts are more sober. Tucked away in the pages of The Economist (March 15, 2003) we find a more realistic appraisal:
"Unfortunately, there are few previous examples of clinical urban warfare, and plenty of gory ones. The longer urban battles go on, the less restrained they tend to become…" and it adds that, "…up to 10% of "smart" bombs generally turn out not to be so smart after all."
If we apply this calculation to the 3000 cruise missiles that were to be dropped in the first 48 hours of war, then that would mean that at least 300 of them would go astray.
In spite of all the technology, two helicopters have crashed into each other killing all on board. A British plane has been brought down by a patriot missile. An ITV camera crew have been killed by so-called "friendly fire". A US missile has hit a bus full of Syrian workers as they tried to flee across the border to Syria. A stray bomb hit a Kurdish village, killing 33 Kurds. Cruise missiles have landed in Turkey and US rockets have also landed in Iran.
What this means is that once the war is over we will be served up with plenty of documentaries about how the smart bombs weren't so smart. And we will find out about the real level of civilian casualties!
The propaganda war
At the moment side by side with the real war of arms we have the propaganda war, which is aimed at rallying support among the people at home. Thus they need to show that this war is justified. One thing they are looking for is proof of the so-called "weapons of mass destruction". They are having difficulties in this. In spite of attempts to say the contrary, they have not yet found any evidence of these weapons. Pentagon official, Major General Stanley McChrystal has had to admit that so far they have found none. Of course, they keep repeating that they are sure they will eventually find them. They may find that they have to manufacture the evidence!
The extent to which this propaganda war is being fought can also be seen over the question of prisoners. The British and US military are complaining about captured soldiers being shown on Iraqi TV. No one doubts the brutal nature of the Iraqi regime. But so far all we have seen is these prisoners being paraded on Iraqi TV and being questioned. The fact is that when the first prisoners were taken the US denied that any of their men had been captured. Then the Iraqi regime proved that they had been taken by showing them on TV. The anger of the US administration is not so much about prisoners being taken. They are angry because they are aware of the effects this can have back home. They would prefer a war without any US casualties or any US prisoners.
The point is who are they to talk when in the Guantanamo Bay US base in Cuba they have openly admitted to torturing the prisoners there. When these prisoners were taken from Afghanistan over a year ago they were blindfolded and handcuffed, and they were filmed and photographed for the whole world to see. Now some of these have been freed after the US had to admit that they were innocent! For them there is no Geneva Convention, there are no human rights. The hypocrisy of the US stinks.
In the real world many Iraqis are being killed. Today's bombing of a market in a poor district in the northern part of Baghdad killed many civilians, but the CNN, the BBC and other western channels said that this was not "independently confirmed". But the truth will emerge. They are killing many Iraqi civilians. They are facing stiffer resistance than they had expected. They have lost more casualties than they had expected and as they go into the cities, in particular Baghdad itself they will be suffering even more casualties.
This is going to have an impact worldwide. The mass movement against the war was already huge before it started. It is destined to grow stronger. In Britain and the USA they have tried to rally support on the basis of the idea that we have to "support our boys". They send these young soldiers to their deaths, but at the same time pretend they are gravely concerned for their "safety".
The only real way of "supporting our boys" is to bring them home. To do that the war must be stopped. But how is that to be achieved? It will not come from pious appeals! This war is about interests that lie at the heart of capitalism and imperialism. The way to stop this kind of war and many others that inevitably will be fought in the future, is to struggle here, today, for a movement that can put an end to the system that spawns war. Only the working class, the trade unions and the workers' parties, united around a genuine programme of socialist transformation of society can put an end to the barbarism we are witnessing every day on our TV screens.