- "Amateurs talk strategy; professionals talk logistics."
-- Gen. Omar Bradley
- Washington, DC, December 16, 2005 -- The flawed assessment
offered by the Baker-Hamilton report neglects a crucial aspect of the political-military
situation of the US and other foreign armed forces in Iraq: the danger
that the US army of occupation might be cut off, encircled, and annihilated
as a fighting force over the next few months. This flaw in turn makes it
easier for Baker-Hamilton to reject a priori the one rational response
to the current reality, which is the extrication of US forces before it
is too late. We do not need a new way forward in Iraq; we require a speedy
way out of Iraq.
- The real argument concerning Iraq has nothing to do with
victory; the issue is now avoiding catastrophic military defeat for the
US, in a form far worse than the Baker-Hamilton group has chosen to imagine.
The looming specter is the worst of military cataclysms a battle
of annihilation on the model of the Romans at Cannae, L. Crassus at Carrhae,
or of von Paulus at Stalingrad.
- US forces attempting to defend a zone of occupation deep
within landlocked Iraq now face an extraordinarily critical situation.
These forces are wholly dependent on a supply line based on two roads on
either side of the Euphrates which stretch some 400 miles (about 650 km)
from Kuwait north towards Baghdad. It is along these roads that gasoline,
food, ammunition, and all other sinews of war must be transported by truck
convoy. Two roads of 400 miles each add up to 800 miles of highway to defend
an impossible proposition in the face of a sustained people's war
by the Shiites of the lower Euphrates. The Iraqi resistance understood
early on that these truck convoys represented a grave vulnerability for
the occupation forces, and this has been the key to their most effective
weapon so far, the improvised roadside bomb or IED. This vital aorta of
supplies could now be cut in several places at once by the Shiite guerrillas
of the Mahdi army or related groups.
- COALITION OF THE WILLING MELTS AWAY
- Originally, this area was supposed to be guarded by a
multinational force drawn from Bush's so-called coalition of the willing.
But, almost unnoticed in the US, the "coalition of the willing"
has disintegrated and vanished from the scene, leaving a dangerous void.
The 1,800 Italians completed their departure on December 2. The 2,400 Poles
say they are in the process of leaving. The South Koreans are reducing
their contingent from 3,300 to 2,600. The Australians have come down from
2,000 to 1,400. The 1,650 Ukrainians, the 1,345 Dutch, and the 1,300 Spanish
are long gone. Also gone are the 600 Japanese, the 462 Bulgarians, the
423 Thais, the 368 Hondurans, the 302 Dominicans, the 300 Hungarians, the
230 Nicaraguans, the 192 Singaporeans, the 150 Norwegians, the 128 Portuguese,
plus assorted smaller forces. All in all, in excess of 12,000 coalition
troops have already departed from the southern Euphrates area, or are in
the process of leaving at least one full division.
- That leaves 7,200 British forces, the remnant of a larger
force which the British had fielded for the 2003 invasion. British Defense
Secretary Des Browne and Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said in late
November 2006 that the UK contingent would hand security control over to
the Iraqis in the province of Maysan on the Iranian border in January,
and then hand over security responsibility in the southern port city of
Basra by the spring of 2007. Browne predicted that by the end of 2007 British
forces in southern Iraq would be "significantly lower - by a matter
of thousands. The planning for this has been going on for some months."
- In short, the most vital logistical link for the US forces
stretches for 400 miles through regions now in the process of being deserted
by the former allies and coalition partners. This area is very large, and
there are no US land forces are available anywhere to maintain a semblance
of security. This adds up to a finding that the US position in central
Iraq is simply untenable, now that the "coalition of the willing"
has melted away. This fact must be faced, and a US pullout begun at once,
before this massive danger turns into a catastrophic rout.
- Are there any alternatives to this 400 mile double gauntlet
from Kuwait to Baghdad? If there were alternatives, the US forces might
shift their base, like McClellan moving his base from White House on the
Pamunkey to the James River during the 1862 Seven Days battles before Richmond.
But there are no alternatives to the Kuwait-Baghdad roads. The road from
Amman, Jordan to Baghdad passes through Anbar province, where the position
of the US Marines is desperate and the power of the Baathist-Sunni national
resistance is growing. Turkey, angered by the US sponsorship of PKK terrorists
which are supposed to attack Iran but also attack Turkey, shows no sign
of offering alternative supply lines. In any case, the roads coming into
Baghdad from the west, north, and northeast through places like Tikrit
and Baquba are subject to constant attack by the Baathist-Sunni resistance.
No alternative supply lines could come through these regions.
- Normally it would be virtually impossible for the US
military machine to be destroyed in place. Indeed, it is unlikely that
Iraqi resistance fighters could defeat US forces in pitched battle in the
open field. But this is not necessary for the US to be defeated in this
way. If US gasoline and ammunition supplies were cut off, US force protection
capabilities would be severely undermined. Some supplies might be brought
in by air, but this could not be sustained for very long, especially because
the surface to air missile capabilities of the resistance are improving.
The US forces in central Iraq might improvise a Chosun reservoir-style
fighting retreat towards Kuwait, but here again losses would be extravagant,
and much equipment would have to be abandoned.
- It may be objected that US air superiority makes the
eventuality discussed here impossible. But bad weather and sandstorms can
disrupt air power. In addition, swarms of guerrilla fighters armed with
modern RPGs spread out in ambush positions along 800 miles of roads may
not be concentrated enough to represent remunerative targets. Where the
roads pass through towns and cities, convoys would be hard to defend from
the air against urban guerillas firing from buildings.
- The threat to the exposed 800-mile US supply line may
be compared to the kind of people's war unleashed against US forces in
Mogadiscio, Somalia in 1994 not taking place not in one city, but
along 800 miles of roads. The most dangerous variant would be a simultaneous
national insurrection (or Sicilian Vespers) of Sunnis and Shiites, targeting
most especially the supply convoys of foreign occupiers.
- In technical terms, the Mahdi Army would need to deploy
its forces in a series of well prepared defensive hedgehog positions along
the two critical roads from Kuwait to Baghdad, possibly supplementing this
with other hedgehogs blocking the exits from the remaining British and
multinational bases in southern Iraq. These would be positions modeled
on the Hezbollah defensive hedgehogs in southern Lebanon which gave such
a good account of themselves against the attempted incursions by the Israeli
Defense Force during the August 2006 war.
- If US forces are indeed devastated in Iraq, it will not
be an historical novelty. In the first Afghan War of 1839-1842, a British
army which crossed the Khyber pass into Afghanistan was totally massacred.
Another British force under General Gordon was wiped out in Khartoum, Sudan
in 1885. An Italian force under Baratieri was decimated at Adowa, Ethiopia
in 1896. A British army under Gen. Townsend, invading the Ottoman Empire
during World War I, was pocketed, besieged, and forced to surrender at
Kut on the Tigris in 1915-1916. The French were surrounded and destroyed
at Dienbienphu, Vietnam in 1954. In each case, the arrogance and racism
inherent in the imperialist mentality blinded the generals and other officers
in charge to the trap closing around them. Non-European forces were held
in contempt and systematically underestimated until the encirclement of
the foreign forces had been completed. In Washington, any general reporting
on the obvious danger represented by the almost defenseless US supply line
would be placing his career in jeopardy. In any case, the report would
hardly be taken seriously by the racist third-string neocon civilians still
running the Pentagon. To all this must be added that the situation of US,
UK, and other NATO forces in Afghanistan is if anything more hopeless than
that of the Iraqi occupiers. If the Afghan resistance makes good on its
promise of an unusual winter offensive this season, the stage will be set
for the cutting of supply lines there as well. Afghanistan, of course,
is even more landlocked and remote than Iraq, and therefore constitutes
an even greater logistical nightmare.
- THE BAGHDAD POCKET
- Instead, the Pentagon and US Central Command appear obsessed
with winning what they call the battle of Baghdad, where they may now be
concentrating most of their troops. Much of this has to do with the prominent
television and political attention accorded to atrocities taking place
in Baghdad, as compared similar events in with outlying provinces. This
obsession became overwhelming in July 2006; in October the US generals
admitted that they had made no progress. Their response was to send more
forces into the Baghdad pocket. The "plus-up" or "double-down"
now avidly discussed by Bush with his military yes-men is widely billed
as destined especially for the Battle of Baghdad. This amounts to sending
more forces into a pocket when encirclement is almost complete. Can these
military professionals be blind to the ring that is closing around them?
Patrick Cockburn reported in late October that food was getting scarce
in some Baghdad neighborhoods, as a result of Sunni-Baathist interdiction
activity. But such shortages would hardly be felt by the career managing
denizens of the Green Zone.
- Today, the US Army and Marines are surrounded by a cruel
and trackless ocean of hostile insurgents, resistance fighters, militias,
and death squads. Their rear echelon and vital supply line are in the air,
virtually defenseless against determined attack and interdiction. A serious
effort by the Mahdi Army and/or the Badr Brigades on the roads north of
Kuwait would have a very good chance of shutting down the truck convoys
delivering gasoline, food, and ammunition to US forces operating in central
Iraq. The only rational answer is to withdraw these US troops now.
- Growing US hostility towards Muktada Sadr was signaled
in early December, when he was demonized by a sinister photo on the cover
of Newsweek. The US forces have already clashed with the Mahdi Army once,
but with limited success. A plausible scenario of events that would propel
Muktada Sadr and his Mahdi Army to cut the exposed US supply line is already
in sight. On Monday, December 11, reports surfaced that US-backed intrigues
were underway to oust Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki from office, and replace
him with a new puppet prime minister subservient to Bush's new friend "His
Eminence" Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, to secessionist Kurds, and to pro-US
Sunnis. Later in the week Senator McCain postured before the cameras in
Baghdad, demanding that Muktada's influence over the Iraqi government be
liquidated a campaign stunt of criminal irresponsibility which should
not be forgotten. Maliki is considered an asset of Muktada Sadr. If Sadr's
man is thrown out as prime minister, and if attacks by US and Iraqi puppet
forces on the Mahdi Army follow, Muktada might well retaliate by moving
to interdict the US logistical aorta between Kuwait and Baghdad, thereby
severing the US logistical pipeline. As of today, Muktada's 30 members
of parliament and 5 cabinet ministers continue to boycott the Maliki regime
because of Maliki's willingness to meet with Bush in Amman, Jordan in early
- As Patrick Lang has reported in the Christian Science
- "American troops all over central and northern Iraq
are supplied with fuel, food, and ammunition by truck convoy from a supply
base hundreds of miles away in Kuwait. All but a small amount of our soldiers'
supplies come into the country over roads that pass through the Shiite-dominated
south of Iraq. Until now the Shiite Arabs of Iraq have been told by their
leaders to leave American forces alone. But an escalation of tensions between
Iran and the US could change that overnight. Moreover, the ever-increasing
violence of the civil war in Iraq can change the alignment of forces there
unexpectedly.  At present, the convoys of trucks supplying our forces
in Iraq are driven by civilians - either South Asians or Turks. If the
route is indeed turned into a shooting gallery, these civilian truck drivers
would not persist or would require a heavier escort by the US military.
It might then be necessary to "fight" the trucks through ambushes
on the roads. This is a daunting possibility. Trucks loaded with supplies
are defenseless against many armaments, such as rocket-propelled grenades,
small arms, and improvised explosive devices. A long, linear target such
as a convoy of trucks is very hard to defend against irregulars operating
in and around their own towns. The volume of "throughput" would
probably be seriously lessened in such a situation. A reduction in supplies
would inevitably affect operational capability. This might lead to a downward
spiral of potential against the insurgents and the militias. This would
be very dangerous for our forces.  What about air resupply? It appears
that only 5 to 10 percent of day-to-day military deliveries into Iraq are
currently transferred by air. Inside Iraq, local deliveries by air probably
amount to more. In a difficult situation, the tonnages delivered could
be increased, but given the bulk in weight and volume of the needed supplies,
it seems unlikely that air resupply could exceed 25 percent of daily requirements.
This would not be enough to sustain the force." (CSM, July 21, 2006)
- Moderate imperialists may still find the one reasonable
option, the expeditious departure of US land forces, unacceptable. They
should compare withdrawal not with the unattainable illusion of military
victory (even at considerable cost), but rather with the decimation or
even annihilation of the US expeditionary force in Iraq over the coming
months. This would be a US disaster of incalculable proportions, but it
is the outcome which Baker-Hamilton and most commentators have neglected.
Compared to the thorough destruction of 150,000 troops, a speedy departure
of army and marines, however embarrassing, appears far more attractive.
Those who wish to support and defend US troops must face the fact that
the only way to do this is to remove them from the ring that is presently
closing around them in the US occupation zone in central Iraq.
- The Baker-Hamilton report and other US observers talk
of chaos, sectarian violence, and civil war as if these were totally undifferentiated
and unorganized violence. In reality, it may only be a question of time
until the Baathist-Sunni national resistance and the Mahdi Army converge
on a campaign to expel foreign occupation forces by attacking their most
obvious weakness: truck convoy logistics between Kuwait and Baghdad.
- In the dream world of Washington discourse, the dire
consequences of further deterioration in Iraq are imagined as being visited
mainly on Iraqis. Washington operators act as if they had all the time
in the world: 9 months for the Baker-Hamilton commission to deliver its
report, several weeks for other reports to be filed, and many more weeks
for the White House to evaluate these reports. In the face of an altogether
formidable adversary, this conduct is foolhardy in the extreme. To borrow
a simile from Churchill, what if the bear blows first? Let us not wait
in Iraq to find out.
- When the Israeli army broke its sword against the Hezbollah
lines in southern Lebanon this past summer, the death knell sounded for
the US-UK model of imperialism in the Middle East. Is the US ruling class
viable enough to learn this lesson in useful time?
- The following are some of the rare published accounts
which deal with this critical question.
- Baghdad is under siege, by Patrick Cockburn, 01 November