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'Shock And Awe' Kills Innocents

April 01, 2003 12:59 IST

When President George W Bush launched war against Iraq on March 20, his advisers promised him an almost painless short-duration conflict leading to a quick 'regime change.' The theorists of 'Shock and Awe' believed that a 'decapitating' strike on a government building in Baghdad would eliminate President Saddam Hussein and the core of Iraq's leadership, leading to the government's collapse or surrender. If that didn't work, the use of 3,000 deadly Tomahawk missiles in 48 hours -- more than the total used in the entire 1991 war -- would paralyse the Iraqi State and destroy military command posts. This would wreck the morale of Iraq's army and trigger its instant disintegration or a coup.

Within three days, this strategy came a cropper. US intelligence agencies made a grave blunder in assessing the vulnerability of the command structure -- and probably Hussein's location -- and the morale of Iraqi forces, in particular the Republican Guard. This was, of course of a piece with the terrible mistake they made in 1991 when they bombed a civilian shelter in central Baghdad, killing 400 innocent people -- believing that Hussein was present there. (The same happened in Libya in 1986 when the US ended up killing Muammar Gaddafi's baby daughter, not him!)

Last week, the badly shrunken war coalition, comprising just the US, Britain and Australia, committed another mistake. It took its own rhetoric about 'liberating' Iraq seriously and launched an assault through the predominantly Shia south, hoping that the people there would shower roses upon the invading troops. The troops would then rapidly march on Baghdad, which would soon fall: after all, the coalition enjoys overwhelming, indeed forbidding, military superiority over its half-disarmed, sanctions-battered, adversary. Totally forgotten were lessons from the past, during which the colonial British repeatedly promised to 'liberate' Iraq from 'tyrants' and 'dictators.' Lt Gen Stanley Maude in March 1917 said, like Gen Tommy Franks does today: 'Our armies do not come into your cities and lands as conquerors or enemies, but as liberators.' A terrible spell of colonial tyranny followed. The Iraqis learned never to trust imperial powers.

The war coalition has been jolted by numerous setbacks, which have the potential to radically change the course of the conflict, especially its political complexion. These include stiff resistance and shows of popular anger against the invasion, the confirmed death of 49 Western soldiers, capture of at least seven US prisoners of war, loss of five combat aircraft and many tanks and artillery pieces, a fratricidal attack by an American soldier, and repeated re-eruption of fighting in cities earlier declared 'captured.' Militarily, the biggest 'negative' is the emergence of 'guerrillas' and 'guerrilla tactics.' The Iraqis are fighting to defend their nation -- not for Hussein!

Irrepressible resistance from snipers and militias has proved as damaging to the coalition as artillery engagement by Iraq's regular forces. In almost every town declared 'taken' earlier, the Anglo-Americans are still fighting for control. This is true, as this is written, of Basra, Nassiriya, Najaf and Karbala. The war coalition had a terrible time 'pacifying' Umm Qasr for five full days after its official 'fall.' Iraq's only deep-sea port, and key to supplies of heavy weapons and humanitarian aid, Umm Qasr has a population of only 4,000. What might happen in Basra (population: 1.5 million) can only be imagined. The British seem all set to target its civilians by declaring Basra a 'military objective.' They are also playing the 'Shia card' by inventing an 'anti-Saddam revolt:' If all this is a prelude to what's to come in Baghdad, then US-UK forces could get sucked into close-quarter combat and guerrilla warfare -- in which they enjoy little advantage over the adversary, unlike in high-technology warfare.

Despite fierce assaults on the Republican Guard, Iraq's military command is holding out; Hussein is in full control. If this situation persists, the US will have two options as its troops enter Baghdad from the south and the newly opened northern front: get into close combat -- ie street-to-street warfare -- or apply discriminate force by bombing civilian facilities (television stations) or residential areas -- as happened on March 26 at a busy market in Baghdad, where 17 civilians were killed. Among the US options are 'e-weapons' and 'microwave pulse-bombs.' Although called 'non-lethal,' these can cause horrific damage. Microwave pulse-bombs release powerful electromagnetic radiation, which instantly 'fries' all electronic circuits within a radius of 2 to 2.5 kilometres, melting down radars, computers, radios, hospital machinery, ambulances, even hearing-aids and pace-makers. This last is like a person's heart exploding!

Such methods will greatly increase 'collateral damage' -- kill innocent people by the thousand! They could speed up Baghdad's fall but won't stop urban guerrillas sniping at the invading

troops. The occupiers will probably retaliate with excessive force -- like Israeli forces do in Palestine, causing worldwide outrage. The vital question is: how many casualties is the US-UK prepared to suffer if this war becomes messy and prolonged? Gulf war veteran US Gen Barry McCaffrey says the coalition's casualties could be as high as 3,000 dead!

The US public is shocked by Iraq's capture of five PoWs. A rattled Washington has accused Iraq of 'parading' and mistreating them, in violation of the Geneva Convention. Iraq did display the PoWs and allowed interviews with the local media. This was wrong, although Iraq didn't 'parade' the PoWs to arouse 'public curiosity.' The British were far worse -- and even more wrong to display Iraqi prisoners marching with their arms raised above their heads or with white handcuffs at the back. More deplorable is the widely publicised treatment by US forces of bedraggled Iraqi PoWs, who were made to kneel down and strip-searched.

The Geneva Convention is above all about protecting innocent civilians and children -- whom the Anglo-Americans are shooting. Only one (the third) deals with prohibition of PoWs' inhumane treatment and harassment of PoWs, or subjecting them to 'insults and public curiosity.' This description is totally inappropriate in the present case. The American PoWs were not humiliated or aggressively interrogated on camera -- unlike in 1991, when they seemed to have been beaten to exhaustion: they could barely lift their heads.

The US follows terrible double standards on PoWs. Take Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, where over 600 Al Qaeda suspects lie detained, often in chains, inside cages, worse off than animals. Brutal methods have been used to extract information from them, driving 29 of them to attempt suicide. The US doesn't even call them PoWs, only 'unlawful combatants.' This is an insult to international law. The US invokes only one international convention, although it has violated several far more important statutes, including the UN Charter itself!

Clearly, the US has a huge credibility problem. It has blundered in underestimating the strength of Arab nationalism and its own unpopularity in Iraq's neighbourhood. For instance, in next-door Jordan, the ratio of positive to negative perceptions of the US has decreased from 34/61 to 10/81 after Washington announced it would attack Iraq. Equally inept was America's attempt to bring Turkey on board. Turkey has refused to station 62,000 US troops, thus denying them easy access to northern Iraq. It has since offered overflight rights on condition that its forces enter Northern Iraq to put down the Kurds. This has further alienated the Kurds from the US, and complicated war plans.

Why has the US taken such grave risks while mobilising a formidable armada of the latest 'fourth-generation' weapons to pound Iraq into submission? US objectives go beyond oil and even the search for global economic dominance. They are rooted in a plan to establish its total and unfettered global supremacy. The US is making a naked bid to redraw the map of the Middle East and redesign the world order -- through military hegemony. Nothing sums up this grand venture more eloquently than the ideas of the Washington-based think-tank, the Project for the New American Century. PNAC explicitly wants an American Empire, in which the US alone has veto power and calls all the political shots. Such 'full-spectrum' dominance precludes even 'advanced industrial nations from challenging our leadership or even aspiring to a larger regional or global role.'

PNAC's members include Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Jeb Bush and Elliott Abrams. These men are at the apex of US power. President Bush has actually implemented some of PNAC's key recommendations. The Iraq war is only one. Perle admitted this on March 21 at a briefing by the American Enterprise Institute (which also include neo-conservative guru William Kristol and other buddies of people 'embedded' in the Bush cabinet). The super-hawks' short-term post-war agenda? Radical reform of the UN, 'regime change' in Iran and Syria, and 'containment' of France and Germany!

The world's up against such demonically powerful forces. We must resist their unjust, illegal and horrible war. If it's Iraq and Iran's turn today, it could be Korea, Pakistan or India's tomorrow. This is not alarmism. A visit to reveals it's the cold truth. That's why our government and political parties shouldn't waffle on Iraq. Nor should citizens be indifferent to the peace movement. Far too much is at stake.

The Gulf War II


Praful Bidwai