Chaos Theory: Bush's delusions & Iraq's destiny (Part 2)

by Stephen John Morgan - Date: 2007-01-19 - Word Count: 3460 Share This!

The classic counter-insurgency strategy of the US consists of the "ink-blotch" approach. This involves taking and securing one area after another until the "ink" spreads across the map of the city linking up the different secured areas. However, conversely, the insurgency can also work in a somewhat similar manner, but with the critical advantage of detailed local knowledge and popular support. Furthermore, they are not necessarily "constrained" to the ink-blotch approach, but can work on a partially "non-specific" geographical model, engaging the enemy both face-to face and from the rear. Thus, they may even allow US forces to occupy certain areas, as part of a strategy to close a noose around them. Indeed, during the battle for Haifa street, US troops were not just fighting across one side of the street to the other, but were taking fire from all different directions at once. Insurgency is most effective through speed and surprise, taking in "bite size chunk" and, where possible cutting off groups of units from one another in order to surround and eliminate them.

It is true that the US has the enormous advantage of aerial support. But at Haifa Street this proved worthless. Apache attack helicopters and even F-15 jet fighters were employed, but they still failed to dislodge the insurgents. A key factor in this was that the insurgents used a tactic of high mobility. They changed positions swiftly and frequently in small numbers of only two or so men, melting away and then reemerging in different positions. The US troops were left spinning in all directions and were frequently forced to run for their lives and abandon building after building.

Furthermore, there is one key "super advantage", one ultimate weapon which the insurgents have a monopoly of and which the US forces can never have - that is the weapon of time. As a form of counter-psychology, Bush partially recognizes this in comments about "staying the course". Even in his recent announcement he remarks that failure would necessitate troops staying on in Iraq for much longer. This is nothing but hot air and neither the insurgents, not any one else believes it. The fact is that the Americans have to "win" quick and win quickly in some form or get out soon. The situation within the army, the domestic and international situation all represent ticking clocks keeping pressure on the US presence.

Try as they might, whatever real ground the Americans manage to occupy, they can never fight the insurgents on the territory of time. This is ground the US can never hold and secure. Here the militias are omnipotent and unchallengeable rulers. Time is safe haven is an impregnable shelter and fortress for them, which cannot be penetrated by any laser-guided missiles or stormed by 20,000, or 1 million new US troops. It is the US forces Achilles' heal. And moreover, it is a weapon which sucks the lifeblood out of them. With the weapon of time the insurgency is able to wear down the superior forces, render impotent the most sophisticated weaponry and leave the foreign troops vulnerable to unexpected, unrelenting and sudden assaults. Time is a is a burden on the US war effort and its troops. The longer they stay in Iraq, the more the conflict becomes death by a thousand cuts.

The weapon of time, moreover, affords the insurgents the luxury of a greater choice over deciding when and where to fight, when not to and when to retreat. The ability is to generally choose the time and duration battle is a decisive tactical advantage. Unlike the US troops the insurgents hands are not tied by the need to show they are constantly winning and, indeed are less burdened by the stigma of loosing.

Moreover, unlike the US troops, for them abandoning a battle isn't a psychological defeat. For the insurgents, retreating is seen as not just "smart," but something which may sometimes help to disorientate and deceive the enemy. It is also a method by which the insurgents can protect and preserve their forces more frequently than regular forces can. Indeed, a cornerstone of guerrilla warfare is slowly conserving and building one's own forces, while relentlessly grinding down those of the occupiers. Even when it comes to wider scale combat, they will still pursue these types of tactics, in order to never give the enemy an unnecessary advantage or victory. Time allows them to fight from the shadows, to strike from behind, above and below, and to melt away in order to fight another day. In asymmetrical warfare, time affords insurgents a geometrical advantage over arithmetical forces.

Another key weakness in the US counter-insurgency strategy is the fact that, to a larger degree than in other conflicts, they lack the advantage of surprise. The other crucial advantage enjoyed by the insurgents is the superiority of information which they have. It is evident that part of the reason for the failure of previous attempts to mop up insurgent strongholds has been that their opponents frequently know that they are coming well in advance. The reason for this is that the Iraqi Army and police are riddled from top to bottom with informers and active militia members on a scale not seen in similar situations. These are mostly Shias, but the Sunnis are also not lacking in their insiders either. On top of having wide scale support among sufficient numbers of the local population, this means that they can retreat with their weapons and information almost whenever they prefer to avoid confrontation and capture. Ironically, the paradox is made even worse the more the US involves the Iraqi in its operations. With the specific aim of including as many Iraqi forces as possible in the new phase of insurgent "clean-up", the US forces are just bringing on board hundreds of extra collaborators and spies. This factor not only works in the defense favor of the insurgents, but also when they choose to launch offensive actions. Indeed, the more the Iraqi Army and police are involved, the greater becomes the opportunities for inflicting heavy causalities for a minimum of risk to their own forces. The more closely involved the Iraqis are, the greater the chances for their embedded networks to set up major ambushes and traps for American forces.

Conversely, the insurgents also have a special edge in the tactic of surprise, since the us has probably less informants in their ranks than in any other wars. They don't even have enough trainers who speak Arabic for bringing Iraqi units up to scratch, let alone recruiting Iraqis prepared to risk a torturous death within the key militias. Despite their advantage in high-tech surveillance equipment, they just don't have the translators to be able to effectively interpret and intercept insurgent and militia communications.

Finally, and in some ways the decisive factor is the moral question. This has two dimensions - one the cause for which the American troops believe they are fighting and the manner in which it has been transmitted; and secondly, the way in which the insurgents view their cause against that of their internal rivals and the aims of America.

Within a very short period of prosecuting the war, its moral foundations and potential for victory was already undone when it became clear that it had been based on barefaced lies and deception. One of the most important things for the morale of a fighting soldier is that they are able to look up to their Commander-in Chief as a man of integrity. Instead, once the WOMDs were never found and Hussein's links to Al Qaeda disproved, the soldiers were left fighting for a liar and a cheat. Furthermore, as it became increasingly clearer that they were unwelcome on Iraqi soil and that the vision of "freedom and democracy" withered, they began wondering just for what and for whom they were laying down their lives. To make matters worse, support for the war at home in the US was crumbling, which all added together to create a sense of meaningless and futility as far their involvement was concerned. With it the prospect of winning became increasingly untenable, the sectarian strife unbearable and the demands on their physical commitment unsupportable. St. Thomas Aquinas made the famous point that "For a war to be just three conditions are necessary - public authority, just cause, right motive." Clearly, the war was exposed as having none of the three, and demoralization began to reach such levels that even commanders in the field were taking the unprecedented step of warning publicly that the US Army could "break."

"In war," Napoleon Bonaparte said "the moral is to the physical as four is to one." The insurgents, who on paper were no match for the world's greatest super power, began to grow in morale partly because of the very same reasons that the Americans' was deteriorating and secondly, because they viewed their cause from many different angles as being morally superior to their enemies, be they American or sectarian. Morals are always a question of the angle and perspective from which one views them. It may be repugnant to suggest that suicide bombers, terrorist, tortures and supports of dictatorship have the moral high ground, but that is the reality of the moral dynamic in this war and the this is the crucial reason why they cannot be beaten by the Americans. For the insurgents of whatever hue, they are fighting for their right to self-determination, to national liberation, for the defense of their religion, sect, ethnic minority or cult-like, messianic ideology. In the sphere of psychological combat this gives them a fourfold advantage over their common American enemy. They are fighting for causes which are both concrete and visionary, while if one asks the average American soldier what he is fighting for, the overwhelming reply will be just for "his buddies, in his unit." Such a situation is not sustainable for any length of time. On the psychological time line, the advantage also lays with the insurgents.

Furthermore, and very importantly, one also has to bear in mind also that these "insurgents" are not a ragged band of bandits and lunatics who can just about fire a gun. Many are highly trained ex-army troops of all ranks, especially those from the former, elite Republican Guard and the older ones in their forties are battle-hardened from the horrors of the Iran-Iraq war. They are strategists and tacticians, with good knowledge of communications and have had the last 3 years in which to prime their skills for the purposes of urban guerrilla warfare. They can train up new recruits and use their resources skilfully. They are highly motivated and, moreover, feel that they are fighting for the liberation of their homeland, the protection of their people, be they Sunni or Shia. Furthermore, the Sunnis have had a big influx of new volunteers since the execution of Saddam Hussein, and among them Al Qaeda has been recruiting especially well. Al Qaeda itself is well-trained and disciplined. Moreover, when necessary they are prepared to come forward as the kamikaze "shock troops" of Sunni insurgency, fanatically devoted to their cause and totally prepared to die for it.

4. The Danger of Mayhem and Meltdown

Matters are going to become even more polarized as the battle heats up. Bush, in his announcement of the troop increase, stated that one reason past efforts had failed were too many "restrictions" on the troop activities. The battle will be brutal and the Americans will take heavy casualties. None of the US troops feel they are fighting for a just cause. They are concerned with their own buddies and getting through. This will be seen psychologically as the last "fling," and these factors will tend towards a breakdown in discipline and standards during the fighting. Consequently, civilian casualties will be far higher and instances of atrocities and massacres more widespread.

US general have already warned that the US Army is close to breaking point. When morale begins to break down, so too do morals. The abuse at Abu Ghraib prison, the atrocities carried out in Fallujah, Haditha and Mahmoudiya are only the tip of the iceberg of what is already going on and mere blips on the radar screen of what is to come as the battle gets more brutal. In what will be considered by both sides as a fight to the last, US troops engaged in the most intense urban warfare ever, and with an enemy that is totally intertwined within a supportive local population, it is inevitable that US troops will cause large scale collateral damage.

In these circumstances, outrage among the population can fuel the fire of the war in Iraq to frenzied levels. These wouldn't take the form of disciplined Western-style demonstrations, but in today's Iraq it would mean the appearance of tens of thousands of armed and enraged protesters. This could provoke popular armed uprisings. It should be not be forgotten that many streets have their own volunteer defence forces and that almost every man in the country is armed with rifles and small arms for his own and his family's self-defence. These same weapons could be quite easily turned on the Americans by outraged mobs demanding their immediate withdrawal. US troops could be caught in a position of mowing down hundreds of civilians threatening to overwhelm them. If such things come about, then, for the first time, serious demands could be made to indict US generals and officers for war crimes in front of international tribunals.

If keeping a watch over their own conduct and their own safety isn't enough, US troops will constantly have to keep one eye over their shoulder at the Iraqi Army also. It will not just be monitoring their loyalty and effectiveness which will be important, but what Iraq Shia Army units get up to themselves while the US troops are preoccupied with the real fighting. Instead of winning hearts and minds as they are expected to do, many of the Iraqi soldiers will seize the opportunity to rob, kill, and rape. The Shias soldiers, with government encouragement, will take every opportunity to use each encounter to serve their sectarian interests against Sunni insurgents and civilians. Haifa street was a case in point, where in the heat of the battle, Prime Minister Maliki personally intervened to replace a Sunni General by a Shiite commander, making the sectarian character of the conflict explicit.

Worse still, in order to speed up the extermination of Sunni insurgents, the Iraqi government has trained up crack paramilitary murder squads, like the notorious "Wolves Brigade" who act as shady, semi-official paramilitary auxiliaries for creating ethnic cleaning, terror, murder and torture, much like in Central America and Yugoslavia. The Wolves Brigade have already been accused of many atrocities, including killing clerics and assassinating innocent Palestinian refugees in Iraq. Similar groups called the Serpents and Scorpions are being formed to supplement their activities.

The Iraqi Army is an unreliable and contradictory force. From a purely military standpoint they are almost more of a liability than a support to the US, especially under fire. They are also poorly trained and poorly motivated. Desertion, absenteeism, apathy and unreliability is rife. In truth, most units couldn't repulse an attack by the Swiss army on bicycles. Furthermore, despite a formal mix of Sunnis and Shia in the officers corps, the rank and file are obviously overwhelmingly Shia reservists. This has suited the US until know, because most of their efforts have been against the Sunni insurgents. But if they attempt to use the Iraqi Army against fellow Shias and especially the Mahdi Army, the Americans could quickly find the bulk would go over and turn their weapons against the US. This is even more so for the police, who jobs are little more than a fresh change of clothes for the militiamen. The previous attempt to subdue Baghdad centred upon the Sunni insurgents. It had the rather limp title of "Operation Together Forward." This time they may find it will be more like "Operation Apart All Over the Place " or worse still "Operation Against Each Other Backward."

Consequently, the US troops will be facing a the most complex and novel combination of armed civil unrest ever seen. They will have to deal simultaneously with some of history's most professional urban guerrilla insurgent groups, coupled with sectarian civil war and a likely popular uprising in a form of a national war of liberation against them by both Sunni and Shias separately. Even instances of joint Sunni/Shia actions, rising up from among the masses, could not be ruled out, where anger against the Americans reaches boiling point .

An intensified offensive is pregnant with unforeseeable inflammatory "incidents." Anything from an American massacre to a sectarian pogrom could rocket matters right out of control. Just as the bombing of the holy Shia mosque of Samarra turned the Mehdi militia into a mass force, so different insurgent groups could quickly become mini armies. Already US military estimates have talked of the need for some 450,000 US troops to realistically stand a chance of controlling the situation in Iraq. This was some time ago. Today, the combined Sunni and Shia militia forces could number anything up 3-500,000. Even if their numerical size is quite so great, the scale and organisation of so many of armed insurgents groups in any one country, finds few parallels in history. And as the "Battle for Baghdad" takes off, their numbers are likely to swelled around the country and from abroad. Thousands more Arab recruits will pour across the borders, reminiscent of the foreign legionnaires of the Spanish Civil War in the 1930's, but probably on an even larger scale.

Aid in terms of funds and more sophisticated weaponry will intensify for both Sunni and Shia groups. Intelligence reports suggest that the Mehdi Army have received foreign training and posses a much larger and more sophisticated arsenal of weapons than before. British Intelligence and Chatham House estimate the Mehdi army to be "several hundred thousand strong." Intervening in their stronghold of Sadr City would be like sticking one's hand in their beehive. They know every alleyway and back street. Entering US troops will be stung from all directions. The battle for Sadr city may have the character of Israeli incursions into the Palestinian territories, with burning barricades, sling shot firing youths and a yet more numerous and powerful militia force than all the Palestinian resistance groups put together.

US casualties could start to be reported not in single numbers but in the dozens and even hundreds. US TV screens may soon be carrying pictures of helpless units trapped under fire, with soldiers being dragged from burning buildings and smouldering humvies and then being torn apart by crazed mobs. The spectre of beheaded American corpses lining the Baghdad thoroughfares and US troops swinging from the lampposts is not out of the question. As the battle intensifies outside powers will supply the insurgents with anti-aircraft weaponry and other more sophisticated arms. The sight of "Black-Hawk-downs" falling from the air could become common place.

In his speech Bush also warned that, without the new troops, the government would fall. In fact the government is likely to fall largely because of it, together with the more and more blatantly sectarian approach of Maliki. However, only days before Maliki was demagogically committing himself to the iron fist of militia disbandment, even he was publicly talking of resigning! In reality, it will take only one major mishap for Maliki to jump ship. It will not be long before the Iraqi government collapses in the coming situation. In reality, it has long ago lost any public legitimacy. Even amongst the Shias it support is wafer thin. In truth, it is simply a theatrical puppet show, a shadow court commanding a phantom army over the carcass of a country.

Worse still, these governing "ex-pats" like Maliki, along with others who spent years under political repression, are total novices when it comes to power politics. They are in weigh over their heads especially in such a dire situation as Iraq. They have no feel for the situation, no touch for the masses or finesse in anticipating and handling delicate and explosive issues. They lack any foresight as to the real situation and especially with regards to the consequences of their own actions. They are out of their depth, little more than narcissistic novices led by greed for personal power, prestige and the plundering of the state purses and lucrative kickbacks. They lack any moral ballast or integrity. In many ways they resemble the mafia business bosses of the new Russian capitalism after the overthrow of communist dictatorship - except they are much less successful. In brief, the majority of Iraqi government ministers are inexperienced, totally irresponsible, myopic and thoroughly egotistic. Worse still, they show a sectarian mentality verging on humanitarian criminality. (Part 3 to follow)

Related Tags: iraq, mahdi, al qaeda, bush, morale, chaos theory, mehdi, qaida (part 2

Stephen John Morgan is a former member of the British Labour Party Exectutive Committee. He is a political psychologist, researcher into Chaos/Complexity Theory and lives in Brussels (Old Europe) Contact

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