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April 13, 2004

A putatively Brit perspective on things in Iraq.

Mind you, this is the same army whose prescription for successfully dealing with the Malay insurgency involved very specific targeting of individuals and brutal actions against them. Worth pondering, though I think the Brits have a generally 'softer' area of Iraq to police. Of course, the counter-argument to that is, "It's softer because of their approach." In my experience, the Brits are generally more attuned to cultural nuance than we are, and do get along better in that regard. Comes from being an smallish island nation dependent on overseas trade and is also a relic of the Empire. It's just harder for Americans to get the exposure to external cultures. After all the Canadians (sorry to my largish Canadian readership) aren't that dramatically different from us (though where they exist, they can be pretty sharp - and the Canadians are more Brit-like in their approach to the outside world, which weakens my argument somewhat) and hispanic culture in the US certainly doesn't prepare you for working in the Islamic world!

US tactics condemned by British officers

By Sean Rayment, Defence Correspondent

Senior British commanders have condemned American military tactics in Iraq as heavy-handed and disproportionate.

Strong words not necessarily supported by the following comments. I suspect the correspondent is perhaps projecting a bit.

One senior Army officer told The Telegraph that America's aggressive methods were causing friction among allied commanders and that there was a growing sense of "unease and frustration" among the British high command.

The officer, who agreed to the interview on the condition of anonymity, said that part of the problem was that American troops viewed Iraqis as untermenschen - the Nazi _expression for "sub-humans".

Too bad the fellow won't speak openly - because he makes a pretty harsh statement. This is almost troll-like behavior on a blog, in a sense.

Speaking from his base in southern Iraq, the officer said: "My view and the view of the British chain of command is that the Americans' use of violence is not proportionate and is over-responsive to the threat they are facing. They don't see the Iraqi people the way we see them. They view them as untermenschen. They are not concerned about the Iraqi loss of life in the way the British are. Their attitude towards the Iraqis is tragic, it's awful.

"The US troops view things in very simplistic terms. It seems hard for them to reconcile subtleties between who supports what and who doesn't in Iraq. It's easier for their soldiers to group all Iraqis as the bad guys. As far as they are concerned Iraq is bandit country and everybody is out to kill them."

I suspect there is truth to the "Bandit Country" mentality, if I'm not prepared to accept the premise of the 'untermensch' comment. As the big dog, and the one that the fleas are attacking all the time - (oops, there I go, slipping into that disrespectful mode) I can imagine the troops are having trouble distinguishing the good guys from the bad guys.

The phrase untermenschen - literally "under-people" - was brought to prominence by Adolf Hitler in his book Mein Kampf, published in 1925. He used the term to describe those he regarded as racially inferior: Jews, Slaves and gipsies.

Although no formal complaints have as yet been made to their American counterparts, the officer said the British Government was aware of its commanders' "concerns and fears".

The officer explained that, under British military rules of war, British troops would never be given clearance to carry out attacks similar to those being conducted by the US military, in which helicopter gunships have been used to fire on targets in urban areas.

British rules of engagement only allow troops to open fire when attacked, using the minimum force necessary and only at identified targets.

The American approach was markedly different: "When US troops are attacked with mortars in Baghdad, they use mortar-locating radar to find the firing point and then attack the general area with artillery, even though the area they are attacking may be in the middle of a densely populated residential area.

We do use the radars, and we do fire back at times - when the situation (and lawyers in the TOCs permit), but this borders on calumny. I obviously don't track every event, but as an artilleryman I'm connected with people over there, and many is the time we've not responded with indirect fires to an attack like that, but have instead sent the reaction forces to the spot - almost always missing the bad guys, who skedaddle pretty quickly - taking advantage of the fact that they know we won't routinely respond with fire to attacks from populated areas. This Brit isn't reading the same after-action reports I'm reading, anyway.

"They may well kill the terrorists in the barrage but they will also kill and maim innocent civilians. That has been their response on a number of occasions. It is trite, but American troops do shoot first and ask questions later. They are very concerned about taking casualties and have even trained their guns on British troops, which has led to some confrontations between soldiers.

Can anyone point to a credible report of this kind of activity? At this point, the article starts to sound more like a screed written in a Baghdad bar, right after having watched a re-run of "Apocalypse Now."

"The British response in Iraq has been much softer. During and after the war the British set about trying to win the confidence of the local population. There have been problems, it hasn't been easy but on the whole it was succeeding."

The officer believed that America had now lost the military initiative in Iraq, and it could only be regained with carefully planned, precision attacks against the "terrorists".

"The US will have to abandon the sledgehammer-to-crack-a-nut approach - it has failed," he said. "They need to stop viewing every Iraqi, every Arab as the enemy and attempt to win the hearts and minds of the people.

As I've observed before, there is some truth to this nugget. Hopefully the Brits have dusted of the Malaya book, and the SAS/SBS are working with our SOF on dong just this.

"Our objective is to create a stable, democratic and safe Iraq. That's achievable but not in the short term. It is going to take up to 10 years."

I agree whole-heartedly. You can't create something from nothing overnight. But it helps if the target population would take some responsibility and show some initiative as well, which leads to this next bit, in the extended post.

Now comes from Strategy Page (used with permission)

IRAQ: Let's Hear it for Tyranny

April 12, 2004: Many Iraqis are angry that American troops are fighting back at Sunni and Shia gangs that have been killing and terrorizing Iraqis and foreigners. The Iraqis demand that some other, less violent, way be found to deal with the Iraqi thugs. In the past, the only Iraqi solution to dealing with these thugs was to submit to them, an approach which led to tyrants like Saddam Hussein. Bad habits are hard to break. Many Europeans are angry as well. But these are the people who have brought us Adolph Hitler, Joe Stalin, Francisco Franco, Benito Mussolini (and many others), in the last few generations. So they know a lot about how to nurture tyranny, and want America to learn from the European experience. In fact many Arab nations are criticizing the treatment of Iraqi terrorists and murderers. None of the Arab nations has a functioning democracy, all are ruled by men who exercise power through force. So opposing the treatment of the murderers in Fallujah, and Sadrs thugs in the south, can be seen as professional courtesy between Arabs. The mass media, by and large, reports all this with a straight face.

Compare and contrast, campers, with the previous bit from the Telegraph. We're supposed to do something that no one has done before in the region, we can't hurt anyone doing it - regardless of the provocation, and we're supposed to follow the advice of people who generally haven't dealt with tyranny well in the last century unless we came along to help. We we let them take the lead in response (WWI) we got WWII. When we took the lead (WWII) we got the Cold War, which was a significantly less brutal effect than Clemenceau gave us.

I have dealt with arab militaries before, I can't say that I have truly dealt with arab culture outside of that milieu - and I can say a frustration in dealing with Arabs officers is that they seem to live in a Cloud-Cuckoo Land of contradiction, and can argue, with a straight face, mutually exclusive positions, and seem baffled when you point that out. These aren't stupid people, they just see the world through lenses that provide them the ability to say outrageous things. You can hear arguments that it's perfectly okay for US forces to take casualties, but they should not inflict them. It's bad to kill arabs, but it's okay for Americans to die while saving Arabs from each other and themselves. And they look at you funny when you give them the old Scooby-doo "uh-ruh?"

On an un-related to my comment above, but related to the article - I bet the commander's on the ground are wishing we had mature non-lethal effect weapons. Of course, the young marines would be expected to expose themselves to lethal effects in order to use them - but again, in Cloud-Cuckoo
Land, that makes sense.

The ceasefire in Fallujah, to facilitate negotiations between tribal elders and gunmen, is holding. Arab doctors say that over 600 Iraqis have died in Fallujah, and that most of them have been women and children. The doctors are almost certainly lying, as Arab, and especially Iraqi, officials have consistently lied in situations like this. The marines are operating under rules of engagement that avoided civilian casualties, although some did occur. The Iraqi gunmen would try to protect themselves by firing from among unarmed civilians. This did not always work. Most of the dead in Fallujah are armed men caught shooting at marines or Iraqis.

One hyphenated word. Al-Jazeera.

Two of the three battalions of the new Iraqi army was brought in to perform security in parts of Fallujah where the gunmen had been cleared out. One of those battalions refused to enter the city. Some of the troops said they "would not fight Iraqis." This was described as a "command failure," meaning that the Iraqi officers were not up to the task of leading and motivating their troops. This has long been a problem with Iraqi troops and it is recognized that selecting and training competent Iraqi officers will be a major task.

This one works both ways. We don't want to trade one brand of thugs for another. A reluctance to fight Iraqis is, in all, a Good Thing. The failure of the leadership in this instance is distinguishing between Iraqis who want a new Iraq, and those leftover Ba'athist thugs and their foreign running dogs (or, more likely, masters) who want the status quo ante. If they can't make that distinction, well, better that they didn't go in. But it does mean there is a lot of work ahead to build an army and police structure that isn't going to collapse in disorder at the first sign of a strong thug. I.e., a new Saddam.

(snipped bit)

Official and traditional Iraqi leader continue negotiations to end the fighting. The gangs of Iraqi gunmen are getting cut to pieces by American troops, but the images of the fighting shown on the Arab media, and broadcast back to Iraq, reflects poorly on the Iraqi leadership. There has been an "understanding" that if the Iraqi leaders prevented large scale opposition, the coalition would flood the country with Iraqi police and security troops and pour in money, foreign aid workers to rebuild the country after three decades of Baath Party plundering and mismanagement, hold elections and leave. The current violence by Baath Party and Shia radical gangs represents the failure of Iraqis to even tolerate the rebuilding of their own country, and reflects poorly on the traditional Iraqi leadership. While many Iraqis complain that the country has not been rebuilt in a few months or a year, most Iraqi leaders know better, and know that there have been progress month by month. And that if Iraq is allowed to fall back into it's traditional cycle of armed gangs fighting for power, all will be lost. This does not play well, or at all, in the media, but it is the sort of illusions you have to deal with in Iraq.

This hearkens back to Cloud Cuckoo Land culture. You let Saddam wreck the country for decades, and it's supposed to be rebuilt to bigger, better, faster, overnight. And if you don't get that, well, the running dogs of the guy who fed people into industrial shredders must be right, eh? Anyone take a look at how long it took to rebuild Europe? Kosovo? Bosnia?

April 11, 2004: The Iraqi leadership has finally asserted itself and negotiated a ceasefire in Fallujah and an admission that the criminals in Fallujah must be brought to justice. The Shia leadership has been after Muqtada al Sadr even before the fighting began. But al Sadr continues to defy the Shia leadership and is shrilly calling for Iraqis to rise up against foreign troops in Iraq. The Shia leadership does not want to go to war with Sadr, but Sadr is increasingly at war with them.

It only takes one side to have a war, eh? Some day the peaceniks may figure that out.

A major ally for Sadr, and obstacle for Iraqi leaders, is the Arab (and to a certain extent, European) media, in which the removal of Saddam and reconstruction efforts are portrayed as an insult to Islam and and a disaster for the Iraqi people.

While deep in their hearts of hearts, they know that the failure to do so is the real insult to Islam - but in Cloud Cuckoo Land, that is our fault. As I learned when dealing with Saudi officers as students, you just weren't supposed to 'notice' things. That was rude. If the officer wanted to chow down on pork at a barbeque while knocking back a few beers and flipping through the pages of Penthouse, you weren't supposed to notice. That was especially true of the kind of officer-student who did the afore-mentioned activities, but always had to go pray when a difficult group problem was due in class. Very pious then. And you weren't supposed to notice. If you did, well, somehow it was your fault, not theirs. The old joke about two Baptists in a liquor store being blind had nothing on some of these guys. No, not all were like this - but enough were that it noticeable. Especially in the ones who made sure you knew that they were one of the innumerable princes in the House of Saud. There goes my chance to work for the State Department.

Most of the gunmen in Fallujah are the thugs and torturers who tormented Iraq for decades, but are portrayed as Arab nationalists fighting for Iraq's freedom. Sadr, and his gunmen, are despised and feared by most Iraqis, but that fear prevents Iraqis from speaking out publicly as long as Sadrs young thugs roam about freely. Iraqis will tell you privately of their fears, but the unwillingness to stand up for their own rights is a major problem in getting Iraq to "work."

Coalition leaders, and even the troops, have been telling Iraqis for over a year that they have to stand up and fight for their own rights and freedom, or else they will be again ruled by Ba'athist or radical Shia thugs. These exhortations have had some effect, as dependable Iraqi police and security units are showing up in the operations against the Sunni Arab and Sadr gunmen. But this sort of personal responsibility is not something many Iraqi have been able to practice for the last three decades, Moreover, those Iraqi who were willing to fight tended to flee the country (about 20 percent of Iraqi did so during Saddam's rule), and these more prosperous and assertive Iraqis are resented when they return to help rebuild the country.

Which is why this is going to take a long time. If I fault the Bush Administration for anything about all this - it's for the seeming sense of strategic tunnel-vision that posited this was going to be a short, sharp campaign and a quick hand-over. There was absolutely no historical precedent for that attitude. And however sold that idea should be sent to the woodshed. New think is fine, and getting out of the box is good - but if you do it rootlessly, you are going to find there's a painful learning curve.