Iraq: April 11, 2003


The Iraqi 5th Corps, responsible for the defense of Mosul, has surrendered to officers from the U.S. Army Special Forces. Kurdish and American troops have entered Mosul, where widespread looting has already broken out. Like Kirkuk, the local Baath party abandoned the place and local anti-Saddam or criminal groups came out and began to take over. When this happened, the Kurdish militias had to either come in or stand on the outskirts and see both cities descend into anarchy. But Turkey is still threatening to send several divisions into northern Iraq if Kurds are left in control of Kirkuk and Mosul. But there are only about 4,000 American troops in northern Iraq, so if order is to be maintained, armed Kurd's, who speak Kurdish and Arabic, are going to be needed. The Turks appear content to demand the appearance of American control, and the Kurds are smart enough to go along with that. But in the long run, the Turks will be watching the Kurds and remain ready to pounce if there is any sign of Kurdish independence. The Kurds know this, and only have to fear rogue Kurdish groups trying to start an independence movement. In the long run, the Kurds hope to get a federal (like the United States) type government with the northern (majority Kurd) provinces of Iraq granted lots of freedom to pass their own laws and spend their own oil money.

Iraqi exiles are coming back to Iraq, often flown in by American military transports. The exiles are the only experienced Iraqi politicians untainted by a relationship with Saddam Hussein. For the last two decades, any Iraqi politicians who showed any independence got executed by Saddam, if the potential victim did not flee the country first. While the exiles are resented by many Iraqis (because the exiles did not have to suffer Saddam's brutal rule), many of the leading exiles have lots of money and political experience that they are quickly putting to use. The most prominent of these, Ahmad Chalabi, is the head of the Iraqi National Congress (the largest exile group.) Chalabi has demonstrated is political skills by quickly demanding, to Iraqi audiences, that American forces withdraw and give control of Iraq to Iraqis. Even Chalabi knows this is impractical, but he will lose Iraqi votes if he doesn't say it. Arab irrationality will quickly surface in Iraq, with local leaders trying to outdo each other in making impossible demands on the coalition. However, this sort of thing is not unexpected, so coalition leaders will have to go along with some of the silliness in order to get things done. While the Arabs often ask for the impossible, they are just as often happy to settle for illusions. 

Some UN officials are accusing coalition troops of war crimes for not promptly stopping the looting and anarchy. The coalition commanders point out that there are still irregular fighters opposing the coalition and order cannot be restored overnight. But the critics of the war against Saddam in Europe and the Moslem world see another opportunity to oppose coalition operations. 

In the large cities, order is returning neighborhood by neighborhood, as locals organize self defense units and oppose roving bands of looters. The coalition commanders have called Iraqi civil servants to come back to work, with the coalition guaranteeing the payroll. The looting and anarchy will diminish in Baghdad over the next few days, as it has done earlier in Basra. 

The resistance to coalition forces remains to be largely foreigners, the "mujahadeen" ("holy warriors") who have come to Iraq to "oppose the Christian crusaders who are making war on Islam." Many of these clueless kids have wised up after talking with Iraqis, but a lot of them are beyond any reason and determined to die for the cause. American troops are accommodating them, but this also causes coalition casualties as well. These losses are still running about eight casualties per division per day, as they have throughout the three week war. Suicide attacks will continue, but the people doing this are largely freelancers. Lacking the support teams that make suicide attacks so devastating elsewhere in the Middle East (especially Israel), the Iraqi suicide operations will continue to be much less effective.

Ground combat in Baghdad is largely seeking out and destroying the small anti-coalition elements that remain. There are still intelligence reports coming in indicating where leaders of the former government are hiding. This often involves a mosque, school or similar location. Coalition troops often encounter armed resistance, and when they get into the place, find that it has been long used for military purposes. But more Iraqis are coming forward to point out where Iraqi weapons have been hidden. The coalition is also offering large cash rewards for information about chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. But so far, few of these weapons have been found.

Bombing operations are shifting to Tikrit, Saddam's home town and the place where many Saddam loyalists are fleeing. Special Forces have been watching Tikrit closely for months. In the next week or so, armor units will show up. This, combined with constant bombing, will, it is hoped, caused most of Tikrik's defenders to surrender. Most of the Iraqi army throughout the country has deserted, the coalition holds only about 8,000 Iraqi prisoners. This part of the operation went according to plan. Coalition psychological operations stressed convincing Iraqi troops to desert and just go home. Most of done this, including the Republican Guard and many of the security services. But many Iraqis with blood on their hands have run for Tikrit, or the Syrian border (going into Jordan might mean an encounter with an Iraqi exile related to someone they have tortured or killed). Also, two decades of propaganda and praise for Saddam have created a minority of Iraqis who believe it and are willing to die for it. 

A fifth coalition division has begun operating in Iraq. Units of the 4th Mechanized division are moving out of Kuwait and north towards Baghdad. 

Despite their opposition to the removal of Saddam Hussein's government, France, Germany, Russia and China will be back in Iraq as soon as the shooting dies down. The reason is money. Even when Saddam had little more than a few billion dollars a year in oil for food money, these four countries were eager to make sales. And for good reason, Russia, France and China supplied most of Saddam's weapons (nearly $100 billion worth) between 1972 and 1990). Germany supplied huge quantities of industrial equipment, some of it essential to the production of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. These nations have also sold Iraq lots of non-military material over the last three decades, most of it legally, some of it not. In the last year of Saddam's rule, each of these nations sold at least a billion dollars worth of goods and services to Iraq, plus snagging large contracts to upgrade and develop Iraqi oil facilities and untapped oil fields once the UN sanctions are lifted. Three of these nations (Russia, France and China) are still owed billions of dollars for weapons delivered, but not paid for. This explains two things. First, all four of these countries see Saddam as a good customer, and realize that if he his replaced, his successors will not be well disposed towards nations that supported Saddam. The reason for this has always been quite clear; Saddam was a brutal dictator and anyone who did business with him will be seen as supporting the mass murder and brutality. Not that these countries won't be able to do business with future Iraqi governments. They will probably have to pay larger bribes and offer better terms to overcome their questionable past. More painful will be attempts to collect on those debts for weapons. The amount of Iraq's debts are not known accurately, yet. But they are thought to total some $300 billion. About two thirds of this is for damages and reparations resulting from Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Some $55 billion is loans from other Gulf nations (mainly Saudi Arabia and Kuwait), taken out by Iraq during the 1980s was with Iran (started when Iraq invaded Iran in 1980). The way these things work, when a nation changes governments and goes work out deals on paying off it debts, the debts for weapons are less likely to be paid off at all.. When Saddam was alive, the arms debts were somewhat more likely to be paid in full. Iraq will ultimately pay only a fraction of the money owed. But international banks will get closer to a hundred percent, while the Merchants of Death will get a lot less. To cap it all off, these four nations (and many others) accused the United States for going after Saddam "for the oil." The reasoning seems to be that if we are vile, scum sucking merchants of death, you must be as well. This is not always true.

The widespread looting in Iraqi cities is bringing out the worst in Iraqis, and putting the worst Iraqis on the streets in large numbers. The people are more terrified of the looting than they were of the coalition armed forces. The looters began by going after government assets, but now are stealing from anyone who appears vulnerable. In many areas of the country, U.S. Special Forces have already made deals with tribal and religious leaders to take control in their areas. But these traditional leaders, who made deals with Saddam in order to survive, do not control a lot of urban territory, especially in the major cities like Baghdad. 




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