At the gates

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    From the Publisher/Arnold G. York

    Our troops are now at the gates of Baghdad and we may soon see a bloody battle for control of that city, which is really the country, Iraq. It’s exactly what we didn’t want to happen. The last thing we wanted was for the climactic battle to be urban warfare, in a city that was familiar to the enemy and unfamiliar to us, and filled with several million civilians trying to stay out of the crossfire. Remember back. We had several different objectives: a military objective to rid Iraq of Saddam Hussein and the Baath party, and of weapons of mass destruction; and a political objective to avoid turning this into a permanent war of the West versus the Arab world, so we don’t have to do this again and again.

    Now we’re in a dilemma. If we attack Baghdad but try to avoid the kinds of artillery and air bombardments that would devastate the city and kill countless civilians, it means our troops are going to have to slog it out on the ground, house to house. I’ve heard some military experts say, based on their experience in other urban wars, the anticipated casualty rate could be upward of 25 percent. With 100,000 to 150,000 troops, the arithmetic computes to thousands of American and British casualties. If we level the place, or any part of it that can be used by the enemy, we’re going to see thousands of civilian casualties. The Iraqi civilians can’t get out because the Iraqi army won’t let them out. The civilians are their aces in the hole, and their defense plan is to force us to kill the civilians and create a worldwide outcry. It’s happening already. Just one suicide bombing and our troops begin to shoot, even if they’re merely uncertain. It’s understandable. They can’t tell who’s the enemy and who’s not. The seven women and children recently killed in a van at a roadblock are a result of the heightening of the tension and the necessity to respond quickly, under pressure, with deadly force.

    The problem we have is the Iraqis are going to fight to the death. Most of Hussein’s really loyal troops are Sunnite Muslims. They really have no choice. If they surrender they not only will lose power, but there will probably be a blood bath of revenge by the Kurds in the North and Shiites in the South. For now, all the Iraqis have closed ranks behind their leader, Hussein, but that shouldn’t be surprising. Americans have closed ranks behind Bush, even those who don’t like him, and the Brits population has done the same with Prime Minister Tony Blair. But once it’s over, the Iraqis’ cooperation between Sunni and Shiites will collapse.

    We already have a military plan for taking Baghdad and bringing down the Hussein regime, but now we need a political plan. We can’t leave that to our generals. Theirs is almost always a military response. Give us more troops and then attack. That won’t work for us because, even as we win, if it’s an extraordinarily bloody win, it’s not going to be followed by a quiet rebuilding of the country and an introduction of democracy as we hoped for. It probably will be more like the West Bank, with the Americans and the Brits looked at as an army of occupation, and resistance in the form of suicide bombers and such. The reason I say this is, clearly, if the Shiites in Southern Iraq have not greeted us as liberators, you can imagine the reception we’ll get from the Sunni around Baghdad. A military-type government, run by an American general like Tommy Franks, in the manner of post-war Japan, simply won’t work. We’re not going to be dealing with a nation that feels itself defeated, just one that feels it was overrun by a conqueror and would probably resist with political support from many other parts of the Arab world. However, I believe there is a political solution, and it runs this way.

    If Winston Churchill and the West really created Iraq, then let the West recreate Iraq. I say we split it into three parts and three countries. The northern part goes to the Kurds. They’ve been our allies and they have waited a long time for their own country so why not give them one. Turkey will go out of their minds so we’ll have to stay for a while to protect the Kurds. We abandoned the Kurds after 1991, but this time we have to make it stick. In the south, we create a new country that’s Shiite or at least primarily Shiite. In the center, which includes Baghdad, we make it Sunni country. But that is not enough because, for it to work, these have to be viable as countries, which means all three of them would split up the oil and the oil fields. We’re going to take some of it to pay for the war, but the rest is theirs. Needless to say, the French and the Russians, and just about anyone else who got a sweetheart oil deal for looking the other way while the boycott was being run, have all those wonderful deals abrogated. No more $7 a barrel crude in a $30 a barrel world. Perhaps we’ll need to give the Turks some cheap oil to avoid a war on the Turkey/Kurd border, so be it.

    We also have to make it clear we’re not looking for retribution. Once Hussein and his most immediate inner circle are out of power and gone, dead or in exile, and their weapons of mass destruction are collected and destroyed, we are out of there, and the sooner the better. It’s foolish to think we’re going to create government in a country where everyone hates us. It’s foolish to believe we can form a centralized government where all the elements meet and work out things democratically. It’s foolish to think we’re going to be seen as liberators. All we can do is accomplish our objective, which is getting rid of Hussein and his government, getting rid of the weapons, perhaps leaving the United Nations or some other force behind, and getting out of there as quickly as we can.

    Maybe with this plan some of Hussein’s armies, which now see no alternative other than fighting to the bitter end, may see a future, or a possibility to be part of a new government. And we might actually have a chance of taking Iraq with a minimum of bloodshed. The alternative is a bloodbath.