Sat, 29 Mar 2003


U.S. must consider effects of drawn-out war

How long will the Iraq affair last?

Sayidiman Suryohadiprojo Former Governor National Resilience Institute (Lemhanas) Jakarta

We are now into the second week of the American aggression against Iraq and people are starting to wonder how long this affair will last. Many people, especially in the U.S., thought the aggression would be a light and quick adventure for its armed forces, with its overwhelming technological superiority. Not only is the Iraqi army smaller in number than its U.S., British and Australian opponents, it also cannot hope to match the U.S. firepower and mobility. It looks very much like a fight between David and Goliath.

However, it seems that the fighting is not just decided by the size of the armies and their technological capabilities. An equally, perhaps even more, important factor is the fighting spirit of the Iraqi people and its army. The Americans are aware of this and have taken the necessary measures to minimize that factor.

Even before the invasion started the Americans had begun their psychological warfare efforts, which are ongoing. Leaflets are dropped and radio and television programs are broadcast to convince the Iraqi people and army that the U.S. is not fighting them, but that their aim is to liquidate Saddam Hussein.

And is not the Saddam regime the cause of much suffering for the Iraqi people? They should therefore not take up arms against the U.S. and its allies, who come as liberators for the oppressed Iraqi people.

And why should the Iraqi army fight the U.S. forces if it is already an established fact that the Americans and their allies are superior? That would only cause unnecessary loss of life and sorrow. The quicker Saddam Hussein and his entourage can be liquidated the better for Iraq. Because the U.S. would then initiate the reconstruction of the country and the realization of a democratic and prosperous Iraq.

We saw on television that these psychological operations had some effect, when Iraqi soldiers were shown surrendering to the U.S. army and marines while some high-spirited Iraqi people shook hands with the invading Americans.

However, it also became clear that this was not the whole picture. The U.S. Central Command had to brief the press that there were still firefights in Umm Qasr, which three days earlier had been proclaimed to be in U.S. hands.

That meant the U.S. could not break the Iraqi fighting spirit entirely. And the reports of fierce fighting in Basra and Nasiriya are clear indications that the war is far from over. And still the U.S. and the allied forces have not entered Baghdad, which must be the main target of their military operations. On the sixth day of the aggression it was reported that U.S. forces were about 50 miles from Baghdad.

The U.S. military strategy in the attack on Baghdad seems to be centered on the use of tremendous firepower, with the launch of cruise missiles from naval ships far from Iraq and bombs dropped from B-52 and other bombers. The objective is surely to hit and liquidate Saddam Hussein and his family and principal assistants. Another objective could also be to demoralize the people and army in Baghdad, and convince them that it would be better for them not to oppose the American invasion.

It is, however, far from certain that the bombings have killed Saddam. And it is still to be seen whether the Iraqi people and army in Baghdad are demoralized by the very heavy firepower. If they are, then the capture of Baghdad by the approaching U.S. forces will be easy. It would also facilitate the capture of Saddam, dead or alive. But reported resistance in Umm Qasr, Basra and Nasiriya suggests there is no guarantee that the Iraqis in Baghdad will be easy prey for the Americans.

The Americans will face trouble even if they can enter Baghdad. The Iraqis will definitely challenge the Americans and allies in urban combat. In urban combat, U.S. technological superiority will be almost neutralized, because urban fighting basically relies on the use of small arms.

We remember how the Russians defended Stalingrad against the German offensive during World War II and how Stalingrad became the graveyard of many German soldiers. And we don't know how effective the U.S. and British soldiers are in this kind of fighting.

For them, the decisive factor could be their professionalism. For the Iraqis, who are willing and ready to sacrifice themselves in close combat, the decisive factor could be a fighting spirit that is motivated by patriotism. Early on Thursday the Americans had to admit to the loss of a tank by an Iraqi suicide attack near Basra. The same sorts of attacks, perhaps on a larger scale, could happen in Baghdad, which would lead to the sad conclusion that the U.S. invasion will become a drawn-out affair.

And that would have a very significant influence on the international situation, politically as well as economically. President George W. Bush seemed to be aware of that possibility when he stated that the war could last longer than expected.

Have he and his hawkish assistants already considered the new problems they will have to confront domestically as well as internationally?