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No One Could Have Imagined…

Andrew North, the departing BBC Baghdad correspondent, looks back on his time reporting from Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion: Iraq: The trauma and the mistakes

“If you go back to the Desert Storm fight [in 1991] they used regular army formations,” said Lt Gen Richard Natonski, when I met him again recently at the Pentagon in Washington.

“They did not resort to what you might call irregular warfare.”

And looking back, he says he now sees the Nasiriya battles as “an indication of what was to come, not that we ever thought that that was what was going to happen”.

You could say that also sums up Iraq since 2003. No-one ever thought most things were going to happen. But time after time, it has sprung surprises and shattered the expectations on which the Americans and British invasion was based.

So much was lost in the early days though, when occupying American and British troops failed to stop the looting.

Much of the problem was that they hadn’t fully understood that the country was now their responsibility, that this was now an occupation.

US rhetoric before the war – that American troops would simply “decapitate” the regime then hand over to the Iraqis had sunk deep among the troops I was with.

As soon as the main fighting was over in April 2003, they were thinking of home. And just six weeks later, the Marines I was with were loading onto ships.

First of all, plenty of people “imagined”, warned of, and expected a guerrilla war in Iraq. The Neocons were the only people who were so clueless as to not understand this would happen.

When the Iraqis invaded Kuwait, a Kuwaiti resistance grew up in a country with no military, so it was obvious that in a country with as much military experience as Iraq, a guerrilla war was a given.

Hell, William Tecumseh Sherman was worried about guerrilla warfare at the end of the American Civil War, and this has been part of US military thinking ever since, and is the reason you don’t let looting break out, or allow civil society to break down.

General Shinseki was fired for stating the obvious, that we would need a quarter to a half million troops for the war. Rumsfeld and the Neocons believed that, despite all of the evidence and military history, they knew how to conduct an invasion on the cheap. They were disastrously wrong. The majority of serious military thinkers knew this was going to be a catastrophe, but no one in the Hedgemony ever listens to reality.

2 comments

1 Michael { 12.25.07 at 12:22 am }

Hello. Has there ever been an occupation not first premised upon a military surrender which did not result in guerrilla war?

2 Bryan { 12.25.07 at 9:01 pm }

To the best of my knowledge, Michael, no. Until the other army admits defeat and stacks its arms the war continues. I would tend to accept Sherman’s viewpoint on this as he was so clearheaded and right about so many things, including the length of the Civil War and the terrible disaster that war really is.