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Monday, July 28, 2003

On the Difficulties of 'Nation Building'

This article from the FT about the CSIS report seems to make a number of points which are surprisingly obvious, and should have been obvious many months ago, what seems far from obvious is why so little thought appears to have been given to them.

Five US soldiers were killed over the weekend in a spate of attacks by Iraqi militants, as a new study warned that the US may soon find itself in the midst of "a third Gulf war against the Iraqi people". On Saturday, three soldiers were killed in a grenade attack while guarding a children's hospital in the city of Baquba, and a fourth was killed in an attack on a convoy west of Baghdad. On Sunday, the fifth was killed by a grenade attack south of Baghdad near the city of Hilla.

Forty-nine coalition troops have been killed by militants in Iraq since the beginning of May, and attacks average 10 to 20 a day throughout the country. General John Abizaid, the new commander of Centcom, on July 16 became the first senior US official to acknowledge that what the coalition faces in Iraq is a "classical guerrilla campaign". A study on guerrilla warfare in Iraq by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington think-tank, blames bad planning by the US administration and the low priority given to "conflict termination" and nation-building strategies by the Pentagon.

CSIS military specialist Anthony Cordesman says the US has not learned the lessons of past conflicts, that "even the best military victories cannot win the peace". He writes: "Unless this situation changes soon, and radically, the United States may end up fighting a third Gulf war against the Iraqi people . . . It is far from clear that the United States can win this kind of asymmetric war." The study is likely to be a further blow to the US administration, already facing mounting criticism for chaotic reconstruction efforts in the country.

Mr Cordesman offers a grim assessment of the future of the Iraqi conflict: "The most likely case still seems to be a mixed and poorly co-ordinated US nation-building effort that does just enough to put Iraq on a better political and economic path, but does so in a climate of constant low-level security threats and serious Iraqi ethnic and sectarian tensions." The Pentagon's policymakers saw the Clinton administration's focus on nation-building as a waste of resources, the report says.

US policymakers say the Iraq war ended too suddenly for an effective postwar strategy to be launched. Mr Cordesman credits the coalition with avoiding many of the worst-case postwar scenarios, such as massive refugee crisis and wholesale destruction of energy infrastructure. But Mr Cordesman offers a detailed critique of the planning and analysis that went into the war - 26 "avoidable problems" ranging from failure to introduce a police force to assuming that toppling Saddam Hussein would have won "hearts and minds". In confused and angry scenes in the Shia holy city of Kerbala on Sunday US troops opened fire as Iraqis protested over Marines killing a man the day before, Reuters reports from Kerbala.
Source: Financial Times

And just in case the point needed emphasising, here is the Reuters report the FT refers to. (My impression - and it's only an impression since I have no special expertise here, is that the internal dynamic in Iraq is so complicated that possibly the Kurds are the only group which is really content, and that the Kurds being content is also probably a source of unease for the other groups, both internally, and (in the case of Turkey) externally. Living in Spain, and seeing how live the historic internal conflicts involving Basques and Catalans with the dominant 'Castillan' group actually are, despite all the economic progress, it is difficult to see an easy resolution of Iraq's internal rivalries).

An Iraqi man was killed and three wounded in the Shi'ite holy city of Kerbala on Sunday when protesters clashed with U.S. troops and Iraqi police, witnesses and hospital workers said. Marines said two Kalashnikov rifle shots were fired during the protest and they returned fire. Reuters journalists saw troops fire in the air to try to disperse stone-throwers angry at the killing of another man by U.S. troops on Saturday. Doctors at a hospital in the city, home to one of Shi'ite Islam's holiest shrines, said the man killed in Sunday's protest had been shot and showed the wound to a Reuters correspondent. One of the wounded, Shaer Abbas, said he had been hit with an electric cattle prod. "During the protest, two rounds were fired from a building," a Marine officer told Reuters. "They were fired from an AK-47. We're investigating to make sure the firing has stopped."

Residents said unrest began on Saturday when locals accused U.S. troops of encroaching on the grounds of the revered Imam Hussein mosque. In resulting clashes, they said, an Iraqi died. The Marine officer said the Iraqi killed on Saturday had been shot by troops because he was armed and posed a threat. The death sparked Sunday's protest, with hundreds of men marching from the famed, gold-domed mosque waving banners and shouting anti-American slogans. As gunshots rang out, Marines dived for cover behind walls and many Iraqi police fled.

Soldiers arrested several protesters. At least one of the detained Iraqis was carrying a Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle. In angry confrontations, Marines threw several protesters to the ground and pointed their weapons at the crowd. The funeral of the Iraqi killed on Sunday was due to take place at 5 p.m. (9 a.m. EDT) on Sunday afternoon, and was expected to be another potential flashpoint in the tense city.

Violence directed against U.S. troops in Iraq has been concentrated in Sunni Muslim areas, the heartland of support for Saddam Hussein. But recent protests and attacks elsewhere are a sign of anger among the country's majority Shi'ites too. U.S. troops have generally stayed out of mosques in the holy Shi'ite cities of Najaf and Kerbala to avoid offending locals. Last weekend thousands of people protested in Najaf to show their support for a radical Shi'ite leader.
Source: Reuters

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