Wednesday, March 15, 2006

"An unbelievable mess"

That's the judgement of John Sawers, Tony Blair's special representative to Iraq, on America's handling of the occupation. But it wasn't written last week, or even last year; no, Sawers' warning of gross incompetence came three years ago, just months after the fall of Saddam. And that's not even the half of it. He described the US occupation government has having

No leadership, no strategy, no coordination, no structure, and inaccessible to ordinary Iraqis.

And made it clear that any progress depended on providing basic security and law and order - tasks the Americans considered "nation building" and thus beneath them. As for the US military, it was part of the problem:

A big part of the problem is the US Third Infantry Division. They fought a magnificent war and now just want to go home. Unlike more mobile US units they are sticking to their heavy vehicles and are not inclined to learn new techniques. Our Paras company at the embassy witnessed a US tank respond to (harmless) Kalashnikov fire into the air from a block of residential flats by firing three tank rounds into the building. Stories are numerous of US troops sitting on tanks parked in front of public buildings while looters go about their business behind them. Every civilian who approaches a US checkpoint is treated as a potential suicide bomber. Frankly, the 3rd Inf Div need to go home.

Sawers felt that "the military culture in the capital needs to change". Unfortunately a plan to send a British unit to Baghdad was not implemented, and the capital was left in the hands of the Americans, who continued to alienate the locals with a combination of heavy-handed treatment and utter neglect. The results of that mistake can be seen splashed across market places and dumped in rubbish tips today.


I'm not sure that sending a British unit (or a Kiwi unit, or anyone else) would have helped. The problem is that a large number of Iraqis resent being occupied by foreigners - and the ones that tolerate the occupation are mainly doing it to gain advantage for their faction.

Events in southern Iraq have shown that British units, too, become battle-weary and commit atrocities. No army contains more than a few soldiers that are happy with a policing role - this is particularly true of small peacetime volunteer armies. (The post-WW2 allied armies were relatively good at this role because they contained large numbers of conscripts, who naturally included those with the aptitude and experience for post combat work - normal volunteer recruitment (based usually on the promise of excitement) doesn't generally bring in such people).

Posted by Rich : 3/15/2006 04:16:00 PM

Sure - but US brutality in the early days of the occupation (remember the massacre of protestors in Fallujah?) set the tone for the whole enterprise, and exacerbated that trend. And it really didn't have to be that way...

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 3/15/2006 04:56:00 PM