The Perfect Soldier: Special Operations, Commandos, and the Future of Us Warfare by James F. Dunnigan
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Dirty Little Secrets
Top Ten Myths About the War in Iraq
by James Dunnigan
March 26, 2003
War brings forth strenuous efforts to report what is happening and why. It also brings forth many persistent myths. Here are ten of them. There are more, but you get the idea.
- Iraqis Will (or Won't) Fight- Iraq has a dismal record in the warmaking department. However, the Iraqi secret police have an excellent record at inflicting violence on unarmed (or lightly armed) Iraqis. Several hundred thousand Iraqis work for Saddam performing this necessary (for keeping Saddam in power) function and these are the people who are fighting now. Not a lot of them, but all of them know that if Saddam falls, their jobs, and perhaps their lives, disappear. Note that the Iraqi army has largely avoided the coalition military units moving through Iraq. And the number of armed thugs willing to shoot it out with coalition troops is quite small.
- The Republican Guard is a tough, well trained, combat organization. No, the Republican Guard selects people, especially officers, primarily for their loyalty to Saddam. They get paid a lot better than the regular army, have better equipment, barracks and rations. But as fighters, they are nothing special. During the Gulf War, the Republican Guard did stand and fight, and were blown away by American combat units, even when they outnumbered the Americans five (or more) to one.
- The United States made a big mistake by not overthrowing Saddam in 1991. We had promised our Arab allies in 1990 that we would expel the Iraqis from Kuwait and would not invade Iraq. The Arabs said they could handle Saddam. They couldn't, but don't want to admit it. The U.S. waited twelve years, and then stopped waiting.
- The United States armed Saddam. This one grew over time, but when Iraq was on it's weapons spending spree from 1972 (when its oil revenue quadrupled) to 1990, the purchases were quite public and listed over $40 billion worth of arms sales. Russia was the largest supplier, with $25 billion. The US was the smallest, with $200,000. A similar myth, that the U.S. provided Iraq with chemical and biological weapons is equally off base. Iraq requested Anthrax samples from the US government, as do nations the world over, for the purpose of developing animal and human vaccines for local versions of Anthrax. Nerve gas doesn't require technical help, it's a variant of common insecticides. European nations sold Iraq the equipment to make poison gas.
- The United States is doing it for oil, as in seizing Iraq's oil and assuring cheap oil for the United States. When Gulf nations nationalized American oil companies operating in their territory over the last half century, the U.S. did nothing. Assuming that after the U.S. liberates Iraq it is going to turn around and steal all the oil is pure conspiracy theory, with no basis in fact or history whatsoever.
- The world opposes the U.S. invasion of Iraq, so the world must be right. The rest of the world is different. One difference is that the rest of the world is more risk averse. They would rather tolerate Saddam and the threat he represents than take risks to eliminate his murderous tyranny. Moreover, many people in the rest of the world consider it more important (and a lot safer) to feel right than to do right. That's why everyone tolerates murderous situations in Congo, Sudan, Rwanda and North Korea.
- The U.S. created Saddam. Arab nationalism created Saddam. He neither asked, needed nor got any help from the United States as he rose to power in the Baath party. When he took over in 1979, he promptly went to war with Iran a year later. Even before that, public opinion, and public policy, regarding Saddam (the bloody minded head of the secret police) was negative. You can go read it in the contemporary papers. Despite most Americans feeling OK about Iran getting hammered by Iraq (because Iran had held our embassy staff hostage for over a year), there was no move to provide Iraq with weapons. When the Iraqis looked like they might fold, and Iran's then fearsome Islamic Jihad (against less observant Moslems, and mostly against America, the Great Satan) might spread, the U.S. provided Iraq with satellite photos of Iranian military positions. After that war ended in a draw in 1988, the U.S. believed Saddam's pronouncements that he had seen the light and would rein in his aggressive impulses.
- The U.S. strategy for invading Iraq is a colossal failure. Hard to say, as it's less than a week since the war began and the strategy is decapitation (eliminating Saddam), not fighting thousands of Saddams thugs before getting to the Big Guy himself. Come back in a few weeks and the truth will be revealed.
- It will cost the U.S. billions of dollars to rebuild Iraq. Last time anyone looked, Iraq was sitting on several trillion dollars worth of oil and, as such, can easily obtain loans to pay for its own reconstruction.
- The UN embargo hurt the Iraqi people more than Saddam. The Kurds in northern Iraq, getting the same per capital share of the oil for food money as the rest of Iraq (controlled by Saddam) has done dramatically better than any Iraqi ruled by Saddam. That may be because the Kurds are not building palaces, new missiles, bunkers and military bases. Nor did the Kurds have a large army, or a secret police organization. Iraqis and Kurds know who was sticking it to most of the (anti-Saddam) Iraqi population. Just ask them, as reporters often have, and they will tell you (unless one of Saddam's thugs is nearby.)