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U.S. war plans run into determined resistance
What happened to the "liberation"?

April 4, 2003 | Pages 6 and 7

IT WAS supposed to be over in a week or two, with U.S. soldiers welcomed as "liberators." But the first two weeks of the war on Iraq have thrown Washington's plans into turmoil. PAUL D'AMATO and ALAN MAASS answer questions about the war.

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DID THE U.S. government really believe that this would be a cakewalk?

WHEN DICK Cheney appeared on NBC's Meet the Press the weekend before the war, he said: "[T]here is no question but that [Iraqis] want to get rid of Saddam Hussein, and they will welcome as liberators the United States when we come to do that." Pentagon adviser Richard Perle was even more smug: "Support for Saddam, including within his military organization, will collapse at the first whiff of gunpowder."

The U.S. war plan--which reportedly was imposed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld over the objections of several generals--was based on this assumption. The U.S. sent a relatively small fighting force into Iraq, so that it could move hundreds of miles quickly to the outskirts of Baghdad, where it would take on whatever was left of the elite Republican Guard after the "Shock and Awe" bombardment of Baghdad.

In other words, Rumsfeld and Co. assumed that U.S. soldiers would only have to actually fight a small core of Saddam Hussein's most loyal supporters.

SO WHAT happened?

WHAT HAPPENED is that the U.S. totally underestimated Iraqi resistance to an invasion. U.S. forces bypassed southern cities like Basra and Nasiriya because they believed that the populations would support the U.S.--probably even rising up against anyone who represented the regime.

Instead, U.S. and British soldiers have faced fierce fighting in every city they've tried to enter. It's clear that in Iraq, there was a lot of planning about how to organize a resistance in a small country with a much weaker military.

First, Iraqi forces were massed in the cities. British journalist Robert Fisk quoted an Iraqi official saying they would "let the Anglo-American armies 'roam around' in the desert as long as they want, and attack them when they tried to enter the cities."

Iraq prepared for guerrilla warfare, planting stores of weapons around cities and using not only uniformed soldiers, but people out of uniform for the fighting.

Plus, there are clear signs of a resistance that's independent of the government--for example, the thousands of Iraqis who are returning to "defend Iraq because of Iraq, not because of Saddam Hussein," as one man told the New York Times.

As Lt. Gen. William Wallace, the U.S. Army's top commander in the Persian Gulf, put it, Iraq's strategy is "different from the one we'd war-gamed against." Bush and his team--completely unquestioned by a pliant media until now--have been exposed.

"[I]magine a force far less than one of the recent peace demonstrations," Alexander Cockburn of Counterpunch wrote, "landing in Corpus Christi, Texas, then advancing towards Phoenix through sandstorms, bypassing all major conurbations and occasionally announcing it has successfully seized significant portions of the deserts of the southwest and nervously threatening to declare war on Mexico if it intervenes."

There are other complications for the U.S. For example, the situation in northern Iraq--home to the Kurdish minority--remains a potential crisis. There are many factors involved, but one point must be crystal clear to the Kurds--that the U.S. war isn't going to liberate them.

The first U.S. action in the area was to bomb not Iraqi government targets, but the small Islamist militia Ansar al-Islam, which is supposedly connected to Osama bin Laden. And the second was to take over the northern oilfields--not only to exploit them, but to appease neighboring Turkey, which is threatening to invade to stop the Kurds from establishing an independent state.

Bush, Rumsfeld and the rest went into this war counting on the Iraqi people's hatred of Saddam Hussein and his regime. But what they didn't even contemplate was the greater hatred for a U.S. invasion and occupation--even among Shiites and Kurds, who have faced the worst of the Iraqi government's repression.

As one man told Robert Fisk: "Our soldiers know they will not get a fair deal from the Americans. It's important that they know this. We may not like our regime. But we fight for our country…You claim you are coming to 'liberate' us. But you don't understand. What is happening now is we are starting a war of liberation against the Americans and the British."

WHEN U.S. officials try to explain what's happened, they almost sound like they think that Iraq isn't "fighting fair."

THE CONQUERORS are blaming those they intend to conquer for putting up resistance. What we're seeing in Iraq are classic tactics to fight a conquering army--which is exactly what the first weeks of the war have shown the U.S. to be.

During the American Revolution, British generals complained about the tactics of the American colonists. "Never had the British army so ungenerous an enemy to oppose," one British general wrote. "They send their riflemen five or six at a time who conceal themselves behind trees, etc., till an opportunity presents itself of taking a shot at our advancing sentries, which done, they immediately retreat. What an unfair method of fighting!"

What the Pentagon complaints boil down to is this: If the Iraqis won't welcome us as liberators, why won't they come out with a bull's-eye on their chest, line up and let us shoot them down?

SO IS the U.S. going to lose this war?

IT'S TOO early to say that. But it's an incredible statement that we're even asking the question. You can say that the U.S. lost the first round of the war--most of all politically, in terms of Washington's image around the world. But even militarily, though the U.S. has inflicted more casualties and taken over large areas, it's facing unexpected obstacles.

The U.S. still has a massive advantage from a military standpoint. At the most basic level, Washington spends $400 billion a year on its military, and Iraq spends a little over $1 billion. Those are enormous odds for Iraq to overcome.

And if the tide turns for the U.S. in Iraq, you can be sure that today's criticisms will all be forgotten--and Bush and Rumsfeld will once again be media darlings.

We also have to keep in mind the contradiction on the Iraqi side. Support is flowing to Saddam Hussein and his regime because they are the targets of a U.S. war. But this is a government that has murdered oppositionists, put down rebellions and generally suppressed the democratic aspirations of the Iraqi people. That can be a factor in how determined the Iraqi resistance remains.

But at this point, the U.S. faces numerous problems that Pentagon planners aren't sure how to solve. First, they need more ground forces in Iraq, but it will take time to get them there. Plus, the success of the resistance in southern cities will only encourage more Iraqis to take part--and this is before the battle of Baghdad has begun.

So the logic for the U.S. military--the same one as in Vietnam--will be to escalate, escalate, escalate. That means an even more intensive air war. Because the resistance is generalized, the goal of the bombing will be generalized--to terrorize the whole population. The U.S. will have to do what it's done in Basra--target the civilian infrastructure and cut off electricity, water and communications.

The logic will play out in ground operations as well. From the standpoint of U.S. soldiers, the more resistance you encounter, the more you just blast away. If you're not sure about a building, you call in air strikes. If you're walking down a street, and you're not sure what's ahead, you shoot first.

These soldiers will also be asking what the hell they're doing in Iraq. But at the same time, there will be a hardening of attitudes. And that's when you start to get atrocities like the My Lai Massacre during Vietnam--when a war of conquest turns into a war against the whole population.

And all this will remain the case if and when the U.S. manages to topple the government and declare itself the victor. The difference between the last day of the war and the first day of the "peace" probably won't be very clear.

Washington has the military superiority, and no one should think that the Bush White House will hesitate to murder any number of Iraqis to win. But massive civilian casualties will have a political cost--further exposing the lie that the U.S. is "liberating" Iraq. And taking control in Iraqi cities, especially Baghdad, will mean major U.S. casualties.

The fact that the war is going to drag out will probably produce a surge for the antiwar movement. The frantic blaming of Iraqis for fighting back can't convince more people of the justice of this war. The only direction that support for the war is likely to go is down.

Already, the Chicago Tribune reported on a poll that showed 47 percent of New Yorkers supporting the war and 49 percent opposing it. That's a barometer of how things will develop in the rest of the country as people discover the horrors that the U.S. government is inflicting--and the level of resistance, which proves that the Iraqi people don't think that they're being "liberated."

It's already impossible to claim this in the Middle East. You can't use the term, or people will laugh at you. The longer the war goes on, the more this sentiment will spread around the world, leading more and more people to take a stand against this war.

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