Leadership: August 20, 2004


The U.S. Army is trying to figure out how long the fighting in Iraq will last, what the ultimate losses will be, and how many American troops will be needed before everything settles down. The last two times there was a uprising in Iraq (1920 and 1941), British troops put down the rebels within a few months. The fighting both times was more violent, with the British suffering 3,000 dead in 1920 and a few hundred in 1941. In both cases, the British relied on the Sunni Arab minority to run the country after the rebels (who included a lot of Sunni Arabs) had been defeated. 

Another major difference between then, and now, is the size of the population. In 1919, Iraq only had about 2.2 million people. In 1941, it was only 3.8 million. Today it is about 24 million. There are also a lot more guns, and other weapons, in the hands of the general population today. Rebellions dont start, or go very far, if the potential rebels dont have weapons. Thanks to Saddam Husseins spending spree in the 1970s and 80s, billions of dollars was spent on weapons, including over a million AK-47s and RPG rocket launchers. Most of that stuff was still lying about when Saddams government collapsed, and many of those weapons were promptly looted. There is yet another difference between the earlier rebellions and today; the Sunni Arabs are no longer seen as the natural leaders of Iraq. For centuries, the better educated, wealthier, more organized and very ruthless Sunni Arab minority (about 20 percent of the population) had dominated the majority (mostly Shia Arabs, and Kurds). But with democracy arriving, the Shia Arabs and Kurds will be in charge. This makes Sunnis angry, afraid or, in some cases, armed and violent.

The combination of more people, more weapons, and no Sunni Arabs in charge creates a unique situation. Basically, a well armed (and well financed, courtesy of billions stolen by Saddam) minority of the Sunni Arab minority continues to fight against any government in Iraq that does not allow the Sunni Arabs to be in charge. Its more of a civil war than a rebellion, and one the government wants to resolve with as little bloodshed as possible. With enough well trained troops, the government could round up a lot of the looted weapons, arrest known Sunni Arab troublemakers and shut the rebellion down. Thats because, unlike the two previous rebellions, the current one involves only a small fraction of the population. Most Shias are not interested in any more fighting, none of the Kurds are, and a majority of the Sunnis are not disposed towards  violence either. There are also over a thousand hostile Sunni Arabs coming in from other Arab countries, and some hostile Shia from Iran.

After over a year of fighting this rebellion,, U.S. combat deaths are less than 600, Iraqi and other coalition forces have suffered about as many. The rebels have lost over 10,000 dead. The rebellion isnt over yet because, unlike the earlier ones, the rebels are so outnumbered, they cannot fight battles. In 1920 and 1941, large groups of armed Iraqis would confront British troops, in addition to guerilla attacks by small groups. The current hostilities are a very lopsided civil war, with over 90 percent of the population on one side. The Sunni Arabs fight on partly because they fear war crimes trials for atrocities committed when they served Saddam, and partly because they really believe that Iraq cant do without them. The foreign terrorists fight because of the non-Moslem foreigners, and later will fight because Iraq will be seen as not Islamic enough because of cooperation with infidels (non-Moslems). 

All of this makes Iraq a rather unique rebellion, guerilla operation, civil war, or whatever you want to call it. Comparisons to other guerilla wars will be difficult, because the size of the population supporting the guerillas has a direct bearing on the chances of the guerillas succeeding. In Iraq, the small portion of the population supporting guerilla operations indicates that the possibility of success is very low. But the fighting could go on for a while. The Malay insurrection of 1948-60 was carried out largely by the Chinese minority (37 percent of the population of 6.2 million). The Malay unrest, like that in Iraq, was pretty low key, with most of the population never bothered by the violence or military operations. The Malay situation eventually left 6,710 rebels and 3,400 civilians dead. The armed forces lost 1,865 (1346 Malayan and 519 British).  

The American army has carefully studied the Malay situation, and that may be the most likely model to follow.  The key to winning in Malay was making sure there was law and order at the lowest level. Iraq has a problem with criminals, as well as rebels, so effective policing is doubly important in Iraq. The war will be won in the villages and neighborhoods. 




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