While mopping up will continue for some time, Saddam Hussain’s regime is now history, taken violently out of contention by Coalition forces. The dictator’s bronze statue in Baghdad’s Shaheed Square was symbolically pulled down by an American Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) lending a helping hand to a small but cheering crowd who had failed to take it out with hammer and cudgel. With sporadic fighting continuing in smaller pockets of Baghdad, the public response to the Coalition’s presence is still understandably muted.
Notwithstanding the ferocity of the fighting in cities like Nasiryah, Karbala and Najaf, Baghdad crumpled like a paper tiger. Even those who have no love lost for the Saddam regime felt demeaned by the lack of resistance in the city itself by the vaunted Special Republican Guard, the Saddam Fedayeen and the myriad number of units of the security apparatus. Honourable exceptions aside, where was the Iraqi regular Army and / or the remnants of the Republican Guard? Muslim leaders die with their soldiers in a greater ratio than others, where did all the Iraqi leaders go? Subjected to a relentless and precise air assault for nearly 20 days, despite the command and control mechanism with its key command personnel being violently “degraded”, the modern high-tech term for “elimination” without distinction of human beings and/or defence material, they could have fought on as their compatriots gallantly did on the L of C, in dispersed fashion. The 10 Divisions of the Iraqi Army remaining intact in the northern sector “degraded” themselves without fighting any battles, throwing off their uniforms and disappearing from Kirkuk (and Mosul) as Kurdish fighters approached. The presence of Kurds in Kirkuk annoyed Turkey forcing the Kurdish PUK to hand over to US troops and leave immediately. There is a lesson here for soldiers everywhere, prolonged involvement in civilian governance seriously degrades professional capability and potential. A fighting army is meant to be a lean, mean machine, it cannot afford to live off the fat of the land. Wherever, in Baghdad or in Tikrit, if Saddam Hussain has not chosen to fight and die with his soldiers, where is his repeated claim of over 30 years of being a “soldier brave”?
With ambiguity in Arab minds (as well as mass world perception) whether the US has come as “liberators” from Saddam’s regime or “occupiers” interested only in Iraqi oil wealth, how will the Coalition handle the peace? Widespread looting in Baghdad, Basra (and other cities) does not bode well for the future, the country is rapidly sliding into anarchy. Hospitals in Baghdad have been ransacked by armed gunmen. The killing of two leading Shia clerics in Najaf, including the freshly returned (from UK) Sayed Abdul Majid Al-Khoie is a serious setback. This will complicate matters by inflaming Shia-Sunni tensions, even though the incident seems to be a Shia-Shia factional fight. The priority should be to enforce the rule of law, Coalition troops policing the streets till a credible Iraqi law enforcement agency is in place, a delicate task (confirming the “occupier” theory) this is unavoidable. At last reports troops of 101st Airborne were moving in to Baghdad to reinforce US 3rd Infantry Division and 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. After being duly screened for their past record, elements of the police as well as soldiers of the former Iraqi Army could be used as a nucleus for the new police force, i.e. if these “ghosts” can be found. A small percentage would continue to wage war in the absence of an “unconditional surrender”, ominously this guerilla war could be supported by neighbouring countries, already Rumsfeld has gone to town on Syria. Emergency medical aid may not be a difficult proposition because of the integral medical units with the fighting formations, the British are already in full swing in Basra. A much wider effort is required in which doctors and nurses from adjoining countries would be invaluable. Potable water is a dire necessity on an emergency basis, food and other vital supplies should follow, Um Qasr in operation increases the material flow. The humanitarian aid earmarked by the UN must be trucked in from all ports of the region. This is a tremendous suo-moto opportunity for Israel to become an integral part of the world it is located in, by providing their port logistical facilities and trucking in food and water, as well as field medical teams to look after the civilian injured.
Armchair “warriors” and closet “strategists” rendered outrageous theories and opinions across TV screens in Pakistan and abroad, ranging from extremist views on religion to politics as well as the military conduct of the war, the most vociferous were those who had not heard a shot being fired in anger. These reflected the emotions of the streets rather than the cold logic of facts. This was extremely irresponsible, simply playing to the gallery it gave a wrong perception to our naéve and gullible people. Why do people not volunteer to go and fight a guerilla war in Iraq, they do not need visas? The waging of the war will always be condemned in many countries, the swift manner of its conclusion is a remarkable military achievement. Tommy Franks ran a brilliant campaign, awe-inspiring in being high-tech, with unbelievable speed and audacity. The high point was his outstanding ability to adjust the war strategy to changing circumstances and the seizing of opportunities. Give the Coalition credit for limiting the number of civilian casualties, thankfully the targets were as precise as advertised, purely military or Saddam-regime specific. Some missiles and bombs did go astray but the crossfire of ground fighting accounted for most civilian casualties. When the suicide bombing started, edgy Coalition soldiers did shoot up a number of vehicles carrying women and children, these were horrific! Snipers have been very active throughout the city. Indiscriminate reaction against urban guerilla warfare will breed hatred in the streets, it has have to be controlled and specific. A dialogue between Iraqi leaders on the pattern of the Afghan “Loya Jirga” in planned for the city of Nasiriyah, the US favourite is Iraqi dissident Chilabi. One should be careful not to foist “adventurers” without a political base onto the Iraq population, replacing one despot with another.
Winning the war, the Coalition must not lose the peace and/or the battle for hearts and minds of the Iraqi and world’s populace. The US has ruffled many feathers, rubbing the noses of the nay-sayers in the dust would be extremely counter-productive, the objectives were the same, only the mode and manner different. Widespread anti-US feeling in the Arab and muslim world needs to be addressed with care. Scenes of jubilation in the streets of Baghdad (and other cities) will help in cooling outraged passions. A tremendous display of “Public Relations” under pressure by US soldiers happened in Najaf when a very vocal crowd confronted them proceeding towards the Mosque with Hazrat Ali’s tomb. On live primetime TV, a US Army Lt Col (2nd Battalion 101st Airborne) in full battle gear asked his soldiers to “lower weapons and smile” unquote. Slowly backing off, his last gesture before leaving the area was a muslim “salaam”, a hand held to his chest. Any hasty move or bull-headedness could have spelt a bloodbath, that particular soldier deserves to be showered with military and civil awards.
Saddam Hussain may be (or was) a sadistic monster, nobody ever accused him of being a coward. One does not see him abandoning Iraq to death and destruction and escaping with his life. That would be the ultimate denouement, an insult to the self-respect of all Arabs (and muslims), even those who hated him. The requiem “last post” for all soldiers is the wailing bugle notes sounding “lights out” at night. The Coalition military machine has just blown “Taps” for Saddam Hussain’s regime and consigned it to eternity.
Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan).