A Fifty Years War In Iraq
By Terrell E. Arnold

Put a razor wire barricade around a village. Block all entries and exits except one carefully guarded by armed troops. Make anyone who leaves or enters the village show a special identity card that is only in the language of the occupying force. Trash any building that appears involved in attacks on citizens or military forces. Hold members of any suspected insurgent family hostage until the insurgent turns himself in. Assassinate anyone who is suspected of being the leader or a follower of an insurgent cell. Deny any culpability for the resulting sorry state of affairs. All of these are hard-line approaches taken by the Israelis to vanquish rebellious Palestinians. Many of these tactics, some sources indicate all of them, have recently been adopted by US forces in Iraq. US officers have gone to Israel to study them. Israeli "consultants" have gone to Iraq to help implant these new tactics. Reports from military officers in the Sunni Triangle, north and west of Baghdad, suggest the troops are satisfied with the results.
There is a perverse quality about this development. It can be taken as given that military forces under attack will try whatever tools available to survive and achieve their military objective. It can also be taken as given that insurgents opposing invading forces will take whatever steps they can to stay alive and still do harm to their enemies. The tools on both sides, however, must pass acid tests of workability. This forces all of the players to ask: "Why are we doing this?" Typical answers to that question are all short term: We need to stop suicide bombers. We want to keep potential shooters out of range. We want to deny insurgents access to weapons. We want our people to feel safe. We want the people to stop resisting us. We want the occupiers to leave. The perverse quality is that nobody looks at the big picture.
The big picture in this case is harsh: The Israelis have been using these tactics for half a century and they are nowhere near success. They have displaced, killed, imprisoned, abused, hassled and rendered countless Palestinians homeless with these tactics. The political promise of Israeli leadership to the people is that the tactics they use will make Israel safe and end the Palestinian struggle. That has not happened. All they have really achieved is enrichment of the common pool of Palestinian anger and will not to submit. The Palestinians have never had equal capability to pursue this engagement, but they have pursued an equally bootless struggle. Neither side is victorious. Neither admits defeat. The relative sizes and capabilities of forces are immaterial.
American and Coalition forces in Iraq are moving toward this same dubious outcome as they concentrate on trying to squeeze the resistance out of the Iraqi people. Rather than quelling resistance, harsh measures are generating new pools of hate and determination to frustrate the occupier. It also generates new groups, in country and abroad, who offer sympathy and support to the insurgents. The prevailing result is a moving pattern of resistance that takes on new dimensions with each engagement. The "enemy" is not a fixed quantity, therefore defies containment.
For the United States, this situation is especially dangerous. Convincing the Iraqi people that we have their interests at heart was never a slam-dunk prospect. Invasion in its nature is hostile. Proving this invasion is not hostile to the Iraqi people can take more time than the Iraqis will allow. Increasing the harshness of tactics will only shorten the time to general disillusionment. The worst result of widespread resort to harsh tactics, however, will be a growing Iraqi conviction that there was never any intent to help them.
Capturing Saddam, if indeed he was captured and not bought, does not help this picture. Now that he is in custody and the Baath is in a manner headless, many Iraqis will believe that there is no threat from that source. Therefore there is no justification for harsh tactics against Iraqi civilians. With Saddam out of the picture in any military sense, the disillusionment of Iraqis will increase sharply unless the conflict environment improves. Insurgent groups can see this as well as outsiders, and Coalition forces should expect them to be deliberately provocative. Smart insurgent leaders will look for ways to increase the Coalition error rate.
Osama Bin Laden is said to be looking on this situation with some glee. He can see that the situation contains the seeds of an American disaster. He would probably welcome, even provoke US adoption of Israeli tactics, because he knows how destructive of Iraqi belief in American goodwill those tactics can be. Use of those tactics will likely be publicized in Arab media, and the parallel to Palestine will become a common criticism in Islamic countries. Already damaged American credibility will be the main victim.
At this point, it is obvious that the exit from Iraq will not be easy. But any chance to make a graceful exit requires that American forces rise above the urge to make clever and immature military responses that undermine any effort to find a satisfactory political outcome. Restraint is called for now more than ever before, unless, of course, our forces and the Bush administration wish to repeat the Israeli experience of a fifty years war that goes nowhere.
The writer is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer of the U.S. Department of State. He welcomes comments at: <>



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