'US a victim of its own propaganda'

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Posted by Tony from 69-pool1.ras11.calan-e.alerondial.net ( on Thursday, March 27, 2003 at 0:55AM :

'US a victim of its own propaganda'
By Major General Afsir Karim

After the first few days of smooth-sailing the US and the British forces in Iraq have clearly got bogged down, especially in the last two days, and the US forces have suffered a reasonably serious number of casualties.

The coalition forces seem to be taken aback at the fierce resistance put in by the Iraqi army even in places far away form Baghdad, like Basra and Nassariyah.

This was contrary to the earlier perception that any resistance by the Iraqis will be only in the form of the Republican Guards, that too only in and around Baghdad.

I will put this down primarily and largely to the US and the coalition forces becoming a victim of their own propaganda. They seem to be ill-trained for a ground conflict and fighting in the towns.

For the past many months the US and Bush administration has been feeding the world on the theory that the Iraqi people were dying to get rid of Saddam Hussein and what was needed was a gentle push rather than shove.

It was put out that as soon as the coalition forces entered Iraq, they would be welcomed by the Iraqis as liberators and heroes and therefore, making the task of the forces on the ground a formality.

The only exception to the rule, it was conjectured by the US, would be the Republican Guards, the Special Republican Guards and the Special Security Organisation, all fiercely loyal to Saddam Hussein.

But what has been demonstrated in Iraq has been just the opposite. While there have been surrenders by pockets of the Iraqi army, there has been, at least at the time of speaking, no large-scale defections from the Iraqi army.

Instead, the resistance has been fierce. More importantly, not one instance has been evidenced when the civilian population has come out of the towns to welcome the US forces as liberators.

That is why I am forced to conclude that the US army has internalised the propaganda of its leaders and are now paying the price for what I would call the lack of preparation for a proper and coordinated ground assault in the face of resistance from the Iraqi army.

There has to be certain amount of training and preparation for taking towns, where one will be faced with civilian population and there may be cases where the Iraqis have taken advantage of that.

This face-to-face to combat in the towns and bylanes means that the technological superiority of the US and the coalition forces is severely neutralised. The efficacy of the artillery and the tanks is to a large extent neutralised.

Secondly, this resistance raises questions about the justness of the war launched by the US, not only in the minds of the independent observer but also the collation troops.

Rather than being welcomed as saviours, they have been forced to fight a real battle and this affects their morale and motivation to quite an extent.

These are the reasons why I think that you are likely to see a certain slowing down of the coalition war machine in they next few days. It will certainly not be the cakewalk as it was portrayed.

Most certainly, it will take much longer than the week or two weeks that was anticipated before the war was launched.

This prolonging of the war in Iraq has also the potential for a backlash from the people in the Muslim countries who are allies of the coalition war machine.

There may be unbearable pressure on the allies like Bahrain to opt out from their own population if the war prolongs and the civilian casualties in Iraq are large. Turkey is already proving to be a thorn in the US side, though the reasons are quite different.

I do think that the coalition can overcome these unexpected hurdles by launching and using the air-borne forces. But the problem that is likely to come up is that air-borne forces, while swifter and more effective, are also likely to suffer more casualties due to the mode and nature of their operation.

I am not sure that the Bush administration or Tony Blair is in a position to absorb the political backlash that may accrue, especially if the bodybags from Iraq start arriving in large numbers.

However, this is not to say that the US will not ultimately prevail in this war. Their superior logistics and their air superiority will start telling at some point in the near future.

So, the talk of Iraq becoming another Vietnam for the US is misplaced. Iraq is a much easier terrain than Vietnam and militarily, I do not think it is an apt analogy.

The US and the coalition will ultimately prevail, but the pain and the costs, politically and in other ways, will be much heavier than the US and the coalition would have calculated when they took the decision to change the regime in Iraq.

(Afsir Karim is a retired Major General of the Indian Army and is now on Advisory Board of India’s National Security Council. He is also prominent commentator on military and strategic matters.)

(As told to E Jayakrishnan)

-- Tony
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