Analysis: Iraq, 5 years and gaffes later

By CLAUDE SALHANI, UPI Contributing Editor  |  March 17, 2008 at 10:41 AM
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WASHINGTON, March 17 (UPI) -- This Wednesday will mark the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. Five years during which time America has been at war; make that wars, in the plural. While Iraq, due to the sheer scale of the conflict, seems to take center stage, there are two other wars being fought simultaneously. One is in Afghanistan against the resurgent Taliban who simply refuse to be beaten, and the other is the one President Bush likes to call "the war on terror."

While the invasion of Afghanistan to deny al-Qaida a safe haven after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks against U.S. territory was justifiable, the same cannot be said about the conflict in Iraq, where in his haste to march to war, Bush committed a number of major mistakes.

Reporting on the progress on the first anniversary of the war this reporter wrote a piece titled "Imposing democracy, a recipe for failure." The article was published on March 1, 2004 and stated:

"Democracy is a very slow process. It needs to be tailor-made and custom-fitted. It's not a mass-produced, off-the-shelf, one-size-fits-all product, as U.S. policy would often have you believe. Just look at what is happening in Iraq.

"What we learned about Iraq is that it was made up of a complicated mosaic of religions, sects, tribes, clans, family loyalties, cultural and political parties and alliances, all of which needed to be consulted if there was to be a national understanding.

"Much as greater democracy is badly needed in the Middle East, it cannot be impose from Washington, London, Brussels, Paris or Berlin. It has to be dished out in small increments and with the accord and cooperation of the countries involved."

On the third anniversary of the war, we asked if the world was better off, if the United States were safer, if the allies in Europe and elsewhere were more secure? At that time, in March 2006, the answer was: hardly.

In an article titled "Pandora's Box opened in Iraq," Daniel Jordan, an instructor at Ventura College, and Neil Wollman, a senior fellow of the Peace Studies Institute and a professor of psychology at Manchester College in Indiana, found that "poverty had risen by 20 percent." They cited a U.N. report indicating that childhood malnutrition had doubled. They quote a Minority Rights Group International report citing "Iraq as a country where minority rights are the most under threat."

According to the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, the U.S. invasion of Iraq has benefited al-Qaida, as large numbers of recruits joined up in the hope to fight the U.S. military.

"Iraq is a breeding ground for terrorism," said Jordan and Wollman.

At that time we counted 16 major policy mistakes committed by the administration:

1. There were no weapons of mass destruction.

2. Saddam Hussein's links to international terrorism were unfounded.

3. Sidelining the United Nations in the initial reconstruction.

4. Believing that the coalition troops would be welcomed as liberators.

5. Declaring "Mission Accomplished" and "Bring 'em on."

6. Ignoring requests from Pentagon brass to increase the number of troops.

7. Dissolving the Iraqi army.

8. Prematurely enforcing the de-Baathification program.

9. Allowing the looting and rioting in the early days of the occupation that gave way to greater anarchy.

10. Putting too much trust in the newly constituted Iraqi army before it was operational prepared.

11. Naming former Baath officers in charge of the Fallujah force, and then reneging on the nomination.

12. Erring on the cost estimates of the war.

13. Betting on Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, hoping he would rally around the coalition with his Shiite followers.

14. Going after Moqtada Sadr and issuing an edict wanting him dead or alive and in the process wasting time, energy and resources.

15. The Abu Ghraib prison scandal.

16. The Ahmad Chalabi fiasco.

Sun Tzu, author of "The Art of War," wrote six centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ that the first step in defeating your enemy is to know him.

Historians and military tacticians still consult Sun Tzu's writings 27 centuries after he first published his philosophy on war. Similarly, historians and generals will, for decades to come, go over Bush's Iraqi war plans to learn how to avoid becoming embroiled in similar misadventures. Consider that in the past five years the war in Iraq has become America's costliest in monetary terms: $502,200,558,133 and counting. This will help place it in better perspective; $275 million per day; $4,100 per household. As for human casualties, almost 4,000 U.S. soldiers killed and more than 60,000 wounded. Iraqis have paid a far higher price with more than 700,000 killed and 4 million refugees.

This is the result of failing to know what Sun Tzu knew six centuries before the modern era.


Claude Salhani is editor of the Middle East Times.

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