|Miscalculations and misconceptions
By Safa Haeri
LONDON - With Iraqi
resistance forces downing a second American military
helicopter in a week, veteran Iranian and Arab political
analysts are warning of "a debacle" awaiting the
coalition forces, putting the blame squarely on the
decision to dissolve the Iraqi army overnight, and a
lack of adequate intelligence.
the biggest mistakes of the coalition forces was to
dissolve the army and the security forces," Peyman
Pejman of the Inter Press Service quoted
Brigadier-General Mohammed Abdullah Shahwani as saying
in Baghdad. Shahwani left Iraq in 1990 and became a part of
Washington's covert efforts to topple the Iraqi
At the height of its
power under Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi armed forces
boasted 995,000 men, with 4,500 tanks and 400 combat
aircraft. In addition, it possessed a considerable
stockpile of weapons of mass destruction. At the time of
the US invasion in March, the army stood at 400,000 men.
But the army was not much liked by Saddam or the
Ba'ath Party. It was an inefficient machine, made up
of autochthons and tribesmen. It was also a melting
pot, representing all segments of Iraqi society, and a mosaic
very different from the Republican Guards, the Special
Forces or Saddam's Fedayeen - well trained, well
equipped, brainwashed and high performing units.
Iraqi army neither considered itself as Saddam's army
nor was it trusted by the Iraqi leader and the Ba'ath
Party. Its role in Iraqi society and the regional
balance was subtler than that and its removal could
therefore have profound consequences for the area,"
Ashraf Fahim wrote in the London-based Middle East
In the aftermath of the
easy US-led win in Iraq, some European and Middle
Eastern supporters of the neo-conservatives rejoiced,
reminding those who were against the war that Iraq did
not turn into "another Vietnam nor Baghdad another
Stalingrad". But as time passed, one has to admit that
Iraq is in fact becoming a Vietnam, with the Sunni
triangle of Fallujah, Tikrit and Baghdad becoming
Another major error of the Americans was to undermine
the Sunnis who, though in the minority, had effectively
run the nation for years, with the
majority Shi'ites sidelined, points out Ahmad Ra'fat, an
Italian-Iranian journalist who covers the Middle East
and the Balkans for the influential Spanish weekly El
Tiempo from Rome.
"The result is that we see less anti-American
operations in the dominantly Kurdish and Shi'ite
regions of Iraq than in the Sunni regions, like in
Falluja and Tikrit, known as the bastions of Iraqi national
resistance to the occupying forces," he told Asia
Times Online on his return from war-ravaged Iraq, adding
that the Kurds are not considered Arabs and that the
Shi'ites are suspected of allegiance to neighboring
Fahim argued that "When L Paul Bremer
[chief US administrator] announced the disbandment of
the Iraqi army on May 23, it appeared to be a logical
step from the perspective of a conquering power."
But as attacks on American troops picked up over the
next few months, Bremer's apparently routine decision
began to seem like a fateful error, he added. It is not
known who exactly ordered the dissolving of the Iraqi
army. Iraqi and US sources in Baghdad say that the
decision was a direct order from the Pentagon, and not
an idea promoted by Bremer.
According to a Los
Angeles Times report, the decision was taken at "very high
policy levels" in the Bush administration following a
"template" suggested by Pentagon hawks and their allies
like Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress (INC) prior
to the war.
The State Department's "Future of
Iraq project defense policy and institutions working
group" warned of the dangers of dissolving the army and
recommended retaining a core of 100,000 career soldiers.
However, apparently the vision advocated by the hawks
and the INC of Iraq as an "ideological model" for the
region, security-dependent and constitutionally pacified
in the manner of Japan and Germany after World War II,
In this thinking, demilitarization was
part of the de-Ba'athification process announced by
Bremer on May 15, stating, "They were thrown out by
something called the freedom of Iraq." But according to
Abedin, the Americans' behavior toward the Iraqi army
was both "catastrophic and humiliating" and they should
expect "a severe defeat".
One reason for this situation is, according
to Abedin, a dramatic lack of knowledge and information
the American strategists had about the Ba'ath Party, its
background, thinking and culture, as well as a gross
underestimation of the party's abilities.
"Contrary to what is perceived in Washington,
the party did not have a war and offensive education,
but one of defense, resistance, guerrilla-type
operations, as learned in the Seventies from Soviet
instructors," he explained.
The likelihood that
making one of the largest armies in the Middle East
redundant might result in this outcome seems not to have
occurred to Pentagon planners. "In the blink of an eye,"
concluded a report by the Center of Defense Information,
"400,000 men, with few appreciable skills beyond pulling
a trigger, were left with little to do."
Many Iranian, Arab and European analysts agree
that a great majority of these men made
redundant overnight joined the ranks of Saddam's other
highly trained military organizations, attacking not
only American occupation forces and their allies, but also Iraqis who
cooperated with "the enemy", including the police force,
civil servants, members of the Iraqi provisional
council, as well as international institutions like the
International Red Cross and non-government agencies, in
a manner that experts agree are "highly-coordinated,
well calculated and professionally carried out".
Many former soldiers acknowledge providing
weapons to guerrillas and, in some cases, participating
in attacks against coalition forces. According to some
Iraqi and coalition sources, the sudden dismissal of the
army and security services opened Iraq's borders to an
estimated 5,000 Islamic suicide fighters from
neighboring countries, including Saudi Arabia and Syria,
prepared to fight the "infidel" occupiers.
The dismissal also left the
coalition with insufficient manpower to protect
Iraq's oil pipelines, where widespread sabotage is impeding
the financing of the country's reconstruction.
decision to fire the entire army with one month's
severance pay exacerbated the disillusionment of the
officers. "As a result, a million once kept busy in the
army joined the maelstrom of guerrilla war, car bombing
and violent crime, and coalition forces are now suffering
from such apparent naivety," Fahim noted in his article.
asked: "The former regime was keeping the security with
the help of a million Iraqis disseminated in several
security units, under the general command of Taha Yasin
Ramazan, the vice president. How can the Americans do
the job with 150,000 people who are soldiers, not
policemen, strangers to the land, the society, the
As hundreds of
former soldiers now regularly demonstrate outside US
offices in Baghdad, with some rallies turning violent,
Bremer asked Washington to immediately recall much of
the former Iraqi military to help keep the peace and
also to employ them in reconstruction projects. Calling
up those former soldiers would help the US "speed the
process of relieving the burden on its troops", Iraqi
Governing Council president Iyad Allawi said.
But few experts think that the idea will work.
"The decision to dismantle the 400,000 to half a million
strong army and, as a result, send over 2 million people
- based on one Iraqi family consisting of six mouths at
the minimum - most of them angry, humiliated young men,
was a great miscalculation and we shall see its
disastrous consequences in the near future," one expert
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