Thursday, December 18, 2003

* Mounting Challenges to U.S. Military Presence in Iraq and the Rising Costs of Occupation

Mounting Challenges to U.S. Military Presence in Iraq and the Rising Costs of Occupation

Ali-Asghar Kazemi[1]
December 2003

1- Introduction
The fact that the number of American casualties in Iraq, after the official termination of war, outnumbers those during the active military operations, should be considered as an alarming sign to U.S. strategy and policy makers in Washington. Those who speak about the Vietnamization of Iraq, describe the American military intervention there a futile war which did not but spread terrorism more than before in the world. They argue that neither “ Weapon of Mass Destruction” WMD, nor the alleged link to terrorism was finally proved. To use the words of the American Under Secretary of State for Arms Control, John Bolton, testifying before the House International Relations Subcommittee, “ No conclusive evidence as yet found in Iraq”.
This whole picture is indeed discouraging both the public opinion inside the U.S. as well as the world at large, especially the former U.S. allies, who initially opposed to American military intervention in Iraq. Furthermore, the situation is inducing more and more the people of Iraq to resist to American presence, and instigates the old warriors to come to the scene and challenge the demoralized U.S. military occupying Iraq. The atmosphere is somehow the same for the British and to some extent to other coalition token forces.
The main questions this paper shall attempt to address and analyze briefly are the followings:
1- What are the main sources of challenge to American occupation inside Iraq?
2- What are the wider implications of the ongoing situation?
3- Who gets what and how?
4- What are the American options?

2- Sources of Insecurity in Iraq

American quick military victory in Iraq at the beginning of the year 2003 had an immediate impact on U.S. potential contenders and rivals. Many of those who had objected such intervention and described it as illegal and immoral and some who had coined it as an imperialist war against a Moslem Nation, were impressed by the quick round up. Almost all of them endorsed the collapse of the cruel Baathist regime, and many softened their attitude towards the American intervention, hoping to get some benefits in the reconstruction phase in Iraq. But, the optimistic feeling did not last long. As soon as the coalition forces eased the situation a bit, in order to embark on material, social and political reconstruction, then we witnessed the gradual emergence of petty and at first isolated resistance.

At the initial phase of resistance, only some pockets of unarmed Iraqi, liberated from the long subjugation, began to exercise their democratic rights and took to the streets of major cities of Iraq to protest against the lack of security, water, electricity, and shortage of food etc. At first, the Americans did not mind and not only tolerated but even appreciated such peaceful protests and took them as natural for the liberated masses from a tyrannical regime. The movement was interpreted as a good sign of democracy and freedom of expression. Even foreign reporters were invited to witness by themselves the miracles of democracy. Hundreds of papers suddenly appeared in the street corners, and people read them with enthusiasm and here and there shook hands with the liberators.

The easing atmosphere, however gave a free hand to those who feared the emergence of a democratic Iraq in the Middle-Eastern political arena, and gradually invisible hands started to obstruct the trend, both from inside and outside Iraq. At the beginning, U.S. forces faced only minor armed attacks. Then, suddenly resistance appeared in forms of well-planned sabotages, car bombings, suicide attacks, and gradually reaching to full-scale military operations.[2] In order to determine the sources of these recent operations, one has only to rely on his imagination and speculate on the matter, based on the facts and data provided by official sources and the independent reporters covering the events in Iraq.

It is safe to say that those challenging the U.S. occupation of Iraq come from various backgrounds, and do not pursue the same objectives and interests. One way of classifying them is as follows:

1- A faction or group of average unemployed and desperate people who feel humiliated by foreign occupation and have no hope for the future and think that the Americans are not able to restore law and order in Iraq. This group is not necessarily pro-Saddam and does not wish to see the old Baath regime to be revitalized, but has a great desire to regain national identity. These peoples are most susceptible to manipulation for political protests. They are not prepared to take arms for any considerable up rise or revolt against Americans. They are easy to handle and would be satisfied and calm by material rewards and attention, if provided to them directly by the Americans or through Iraqis in charge of welfare. These people are not inherently harmful, but other opportunistic groups can use them in mass demonstrations against U.S. presence in Iraq.

2- The remnants of the old Baath regime and the special Republican Guard, who are still devoted to the ousted tyrant, but hated by the average Iraqis, having no future and no other choice than to fight the occupying forces, since, they have nothing to loose. These groups believe that they have failed to perform their sacred duty of resisting the invading forces during the U.S. intervention, and by saving their heads, they lost their honor and prestige. They want just to make up for their betrayal and perfidy to the leader and the people during the harsh invasion. Most observers believe that either Saddam personally or his most devoted general, Ezzat Ibrahim, are involved in organizing these groups in recent major military resistance to American forces.

3-Moslem fundamentalists coming from a wide range of background, who essentially oppose foreign infidels taking over the lands of Islam. These zealous Islamists may range from the remnants of Al-Qaeda to other extremists, mainly of Sunni and orthodox factions of Moslem devout. These are not in favor of democratic elections in Iraq, which may end-up to Shia majority rule in Iraq. Among these Moslem zealous we may find citizens of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Sudan and other Vahabi Sunnis in the region.

4-Another group of Moslem devout of Arab (Iraqi) Shia militants, who are claimed to be supported by Syria and Iran (The Badre Army), through sophisticated connections, apparently unchecked even by authorities in power. As some circles claim, these groups are responsible for a number of well-planned and sophisticated sabotages in Baghdad and other major cities such as Najaf and Karbala, causing extensive casualties and damages.[3]

This latter group has long been the subject of American suspicion and apparently some of its members have been disarmed by the American military. Whether the group is capable of conducting such well-planned organized attacks is subject to query.

5-More recently, it has been said that hundreds of Islamic militants who had fled Iraq during the war, have returned home and are planning major resistance and attacks against U.S. forces. They include Ansar-Al-Islam, a militant group allegedly linked to the Al-Qaeda terrorist network, which escaped into Iran, and have since returned. Many car bomb blasts in Baghdad are believed to be the work of this Group.

6-There are some who believe that the young and much less learned cleric, Moqtada Sadre, whose father was killed by the Baath regime, has been active recently among Shia devout against Anglo-American invasion and occupation. This group is arbitrarily put into a separate category of Moslem Shia challenging the U.S. presence and occupation of Iraq, since the objectives they follow differ from those who oppose the principle Velayate-Faqih.[4] Whether this young activist has any future in Iraq’s political arena, it is not quite obvious. Because, the tactics and slogans they are using are very immature and do not lead to credible serious resistance. Furthermore, people who have gathered around the young Sadre seem not to be taking his leadership seriously. Therefore, this group may not cause much preoccupation for Americans in Iraq. Nonetheless they have to be checked and contained, if they want to clear the impediments on the road of the Iraqi transitional power.

7-There is sill another speculation (Though it may sound like fantasy, but is worth mentioning), on the invisible hands behind the organized terrorist attacks in Iraq. The idea is based on a conspiracy theory that sees the hands of Israeli intelligence in these sporadic, yet sophisticated operations. There seems to be no credibility in this scenario, apparently fabricated by anti-Jewish circles that use every possible imagination to prove that Zionism is benefiting from terrorist attacks aimed at destabilizing Iraq. Since, by doing this, Israel can further push the Americans to go along with its longtime strategy of neutralizing the threat of Hezbollah and other Moslem militants in Lebanon and Syria and to instigate American sentiment against the Islamic regime in Tehran.

The speculations further refer to the new Israeli strategic vision that would prepare the ground to get rid the Israeli of their Palestinian problem, and give them a “ breathing space “ and revitalize the Zionist dream of a greater Israel. This view believes that Israel is capable of shaping the strategic environment in the Middle East, in cooperation with Turkey and Jordan, through weakening and containing Syria, and rolling back this country’s influence in Lebanon. This whole scenario, of course with the help of the United States, will draw a new road map for making the Middle East a safe place for Israel. Some anti-war group in the United States go along with this argument, though it may look a bit imaginary.

The above classification is far from being conclusive, and any one with a bit of imagination, can easily add to this list or argue against any one of them.

3- The Wider Implications of Iraq’s Instability: Who gets what and how?

The experience of the United States in Iraq suggests that American coercive measures to counter problems of terrorism and related issues in the world are of the nature that cannot get widespread support. Thus, we see that American intervention in Iraq, which is considered as the product of U.S. desire to consolidate its superpower status, is challenged not only from inside but even by a number of European States. Each of these has its own reason and philosophy to object to the trend.

The continued occupation of Iraq may bring more instability to this region; however, a sudden American withdrawal may be more detrimental to the overall international and regional order. To understand this paradox, one should realize what is happening within the grand strategy of U.S. policy makers, aimed at the overall world order. Some people believe that any serious challenge to American intervention and occupation of Iraq, especially from European powers, would eventually be doomed to failure and perhaps more counterproductive at this stage. Similarly, rearguard effort to prove that American action was legally or morally wrong, is now unconstructive and could only create mutual discontent and irritation. Even those who suggest that the United States should be contained from further interventions elsewhere in the world, through the instrument and by the leverage of the United Nations, believe that this may only weaken more than ever this world body.

What happens if the United States were finally forced to pull out from Iraq by a coalition of all those active and potential challengers of American occupation inside the country on the one hand, and the rising criticism of anti-war movement within and outside the United states, on the other? What about the former U.S. allies in Europe who initially opposed the American intervention and later consented, rather through expediency and for the pursuit of their benefits, in the reconstruction phase?

France, for instance, believes that America will not be effective or legitimate in effort to rebuild Iraq without its help. In fact, France did not contribute financially to Iraq’s reconstruction in recent Madrid session, despite the fact that she endorsed the United Nations’ Security Council Resolution on Iraq along with the unanimous votes of all members.

Eventually, France like many countries in the Middle-East, who first objected U.S. intervention in Iraq, would like to see the United States to sink in a quagmire, because they believe that a weakened and disappointed America will abstain from going after countries like Iran and Syria, who appear to be on the agenda for the next round of reprimand. France and other states within the European Community, think that after U.S. setback in the Middle-east, they would be in a position to assume their rightful place as an American rival and
even contender, in shaping the new world order[5].
Perhaps, no other country like Iran is more affected by the events occurring in Iraq. Changes for the best or worst are equally and vitally important to Iran. Indeed, a democratic Iraq, established through western values and orientation, is an ominous threat to Iranian socio-political fabrics. Because, it may raise people’s expectations for more liberal policies, thus distancing the society from traditional Islam. On the other hand, a democratic free election in Iraq, with no imposition of any limitation from foreign powers, either through constitutional provisions or otherwise, may bring Shia majority into power.

Such change may not necessarily please right wing conservative in Tehran, especially if the new regime in Iraq distances itself from the much critical principle of Velayte Faqih, which is the main pillar of the Islamic Republic in Iran. Furthermore, the emergence of a rival theological center in Najaf may undermine that of the city of Qom, which is considered the core of Shia clerical authority. Given the fact that the Islamic Constitution does not recognize political and legal delimitation within the realm of Islamic Ummat, the clerical power-shift from Qom to Najaf, may bring about a political shift of Shia authority from Tehran to Baghdad. This would be a nightmare to clergy leaders who do not like to happen. This makes the whole paradox, that is, while the emergence of a democratic Iraq could rationally benefit the region, it may lead to the destabilization of some neighboring state such as Iran. Iranian authorities have
been watching very closely the development in Iraq. They seem to be quite conscious of the critical situation, and they believe that the Americans eagerly need their assistance, not only for the reconstruction but also for the maintenance of border security and the overall stability of Iraq.

5-American Options in Iraq and the Wider Problem of Terrorism

This whole dark picture of Iraq, tend s to prove that Americans can not successfully control this liberated nation from the tyranny of Baath regime, without the internal and external assistance of interested parties. Otherwise, sooner or later, we may be witnessing widespread challenges against the American occupation that might trigger an unfortunate civil war. Such situation would be a serious impediment to the establishment of a stable and viable government with the necessary authority to run the country without outside influence.

Meanwhile, in order for the United States to pave the way for Iraqi to regain their sovereignty as a free independent nation, they have to tackle with a number of outstanding issues that are aimed at the very credibility of U.S. as a super- power, endeavoring to reshape the world order after the events of September 11, 2003:

1-Ben Laden has recently spelled out the reasons he encouraged his devouts to attack American interests in Iraq. To him, a tiny portion of strategic planners known as neo-conservative imposed the war in Iraq. Many in the world are of the same opinion and believe that American claim that Iraq is the central front against terrorism, is another way of manipulation of the truth. Since Saddam had nothing to do with the September 11 attacks, nor with Al-Qaeda.

2-There are those who believe that terror and terrorism are before anything a tactic and not an entity or institution, against which one cannot declare war. In this view, terror is an instrument used by the weaker to intimidate the stronger or to discourage him to pursue his objectives.

3-Criminal and terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda, are fundamental fanatics who represent no one within the Islamic community but themselves. Therefore, they should be treated like criminal gang. In other words, to equate the problem of terrorism with Islam, not only irritates Moslem believers but also may further undermine the American cause to cope terrorism.

4-Organizations such as Hezbollah, Hamas or Islamic Jihad, which are using terror tactic (otherwise named freedom fighters), are only product of half a century of humiliation and political mismanagement in the Middle East. They are fighting for specific cause. They may be wrong in their tactics, or we might not like their approach, but this does not change the situation, as long as a satisfactory solution for all parties is not found. Americans are not involved directly in this affair, but their superpower status and their support of Israel, necessitates their involvement.
5-Furthermore, it is argued that people resisting American occupation in Iraq, merely exercise their legal rights provided for in the 1949 Fourth Geneva Conventions[6]. This is to suggest that if the indigenous population revolt successfully U.S. forces and evict them, occupation ceases. The legal aspect of the matter is an interesting case that could be the subject of a separate study.

On the contrary, some believe that war imposed on Iraq and the consequent crisis, aggravated the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by giving green light to Israel to reoccupy and brutalize the Palestinians under the guise of “ fighting terrorism.”-Iran has been accused on various occasions to destabilize the reconstruction efforts in Iraq, and is suspected to be involved in a number of events there. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator in Baghdad, recently claimed that neighboring countries of Iraq, Iran and Syria, continue to meddle in various ways in the internal affairs of this country. But so far no clear-cut evidence has been provided for these claims.

Whether American forces in Iraq are considered liberators or occupiers or both, is a paradox. And whether the establishment of a democratic government in Iraq should mean the total expulsion of the occupying forces, is a vital question to which no precise answer exists. But, it is not certain that the U.S. could escape from facing the above-mentioned issues. Whether the United Nations or any other forms of international coalition can replace the Americans during the transitional period, until a stable government is established in Iraq, this remain s to be seen. The U.N. itself is in the midst of serious legal, administrative and financial crisis. We cannot expect much from this world body, since it is only what the world community, as a whole wants to be. Thus, the United States may not want to rely much on this world body, as long as it is not fully responsive to its world strategy.

5-Conclusions and Policy Recommendations

In conclusion, it is advisable that the U.S. determines its course of action in Iraq, as well as the Middle East as a whole, by judgment of long-range consequences rather than immediate objectives. Acting on the basis of a limited perspectives and short run calculations may be detrimental to its status of
“ Superpower.” Failing to look ahead and scrutinize the ends, may only stir up the crisis situation in the Middle East. We have to understand that the nature and structure of the emerging world order will not tolerate a “Pax Americana. ” Peace-keeping, is not analogous to war-making and occupation. It is a task that has to be performed by a collectivity, legitimately entrusted the function for the benefit of the world.

Unilateral and competitive action of peace-keeping is likely to increase the risks of instability and insecurity. A multilateral approach through the United Nations offers a mutually acceptable and more manageable means of limiting those risks. Today the foundations of power have been moving away from the emphasis on military force and conquest.[7] If the United States wants to remain strong and preserve its superpower status, it has to pay attention to its “soft power” based on democratic values and technological leadership, rather than “hard power” based on military forces and coercive capabilities.[8]

The United States in order to cope with the emergence of an unbearable crisis situation in Iraq and the wider Middle East, it shall embark on a three- level policy concurrently pursued at home and abroad. The following recommendations in this respect may be worthwhile of consideration:

1-At the Domestic level:

a- Given the sensitivity to potential casualties abroad, especially now in Iraq, the United States has to acquire the necessary persuasive force to convince the American public for its continued occupation of Iraq, despite the mounting challenges against U.S. forces.
b- In order for President Bush to stop loosing popularity in this coming election year, he has the critical task to persuade the American families of the rationale of U.S. soldiers being killed on a daily basis in Iraq.
c- The gradual spreading of anti-war sentiment in America shall be contained in order to avoid the Vietnamization of Iraq.
d- To contain the rising sentiment of anti-Moslem spreading inside the U.S. by avoiding to associate terrorism with Islam and American Moslem followers or those coming from various parts of the Middle East and North Africa. To allocate more resources for Iraq’s reconstruction through the Congress, and closely supervise their uses.
2-At the International Level:

a- The United States has to further rectify its policy of unilateralism, through a process of widening partnership, taking into account the interests of other contending world and regional powers.
b- Give a more essential role to the United Nations, through widening participation of other States for the reconstruction of Iraq[9].
c- Get the Arab States more involved in the training and formation of security and internal order forces in Iraq. This could also include the formation of political and diplomatic cadres.
d- Open direct talks with countries neighboring Iraq, especially Iran, Syria and Turkey for the purpose of maintenance of extended borders, thus avoiding infiltration of irresponsible groups to enter Iraq with the objective of destabilizing its internal order.
e- Encourage international investors to participate in and contribute to the reconstruction of Iraq.[10]

3-At the local level:

a- To pursue the policy of confidence building through well planned program.
b- Gradually diminish U.S. forces showing inside cities, which is a source of national humiliation and negative reaction.
c- Gradually leave the task of law and order to Iraqi police.
d- Let the people of Iraq prepare the appropriate draft for Constitution, without, just the same, trying to impose or dictate openly to the transitional government.
e- Gradually replace American forces by that of Arab States who are more familiar to Arab language and affinities of Moslem community.


[1] Professor Kazemi holds Ph.D. in International Law and Relations from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts U.S.A. He is the author of many books and articles. He is legal advisor on matters of International Law of the Sea. Currently, he is Dean of the Faculty of Law and Political Science, Islamic Azad University (Science and Research Campus). For more detail please consult Academic Site of Dr. Kazemi:

[2] The first serious attack was aimed at Hotel Al-Rashid, the site of U.S. Head-Quarters, and where the so-called architect of American Military intervention in Iraq (Paul Wolfovits, Under Secretary of Department of Defense) was residing during his visit to Baghdad in October 2003. The most recent attack was the shooting of American transport helicopter, carrying some 30 or more soldiers, and killing at least 16 of them on November 1, 2003.

[3]The fatal car bomb in Najaf, killing Ayatollah Bagher Hakim and a great number of Moslem innocents gathered in the Friday religious sermon near the tomb of Imam Ali, and other terrorist attacks aimed at the United Nations organs and some foreign embassies in Baghdad, are supposed to be the work of these groups.

[4] It is interesting to note that in some circles of theological debates in the Seminaries of Najaf, the idea of Velayate Faqih (Theological rule) is never accepted. This is a major source of discontent in Tehran political and ideological milieu.

[5]John Chapman, Director of the London based International Institute for Strategic Studies IISS, once said: “ What European are saying about Iraq is that this is our backyard, we are not going to let you meddle in it, but we are not going to tend it ourselves

5- Fourth Geneva Convention Art.65, also provided in the United States Law of Land Warfare, p.435 (b).

[7] - See e.g., Joseph S. Nye, Jr.,” Limits of American Power,” Political Science Quarterly, Vol.117, No. 4, Winter 2002-2003, pp.545- 559, at 549

[8] - See ibid, p. 552 establish representative local and national governments. The UN's local Iraqi staff members are working on these programmes in parts of the country.

[9] -At the time of revision of the first draft of this paper, a number of developments, both negative and positive have occurred in the Iraq’s crisis. On the negative side, further harsh attacks to American and allied forces have taken place, namely the killing of a number of Italians forces stationed in Iraq. Other terrorist attacks have taken place in Saudi Arabia and Turkey, claiming the life of a great number and injuring hundreds of innocent peoples. On the positive side, the gradual involment of the United Nations and international support for restoration of condition of stability and security in Iraq, in pursuit of the objectives spelled out in UN Resolution 1511, of 16 October 2003. One other development that can be considered as very positive and potentially constructive, is the official visit of the some members of Iraq’s Governing Council, including its temporary head (Mr. Jalal Talebani), to Tehran, as well as Turkey, which is a step forward in the recognition of that body, so far rejected by most Arab States.
[9] Resolution 1511 calls on the UN to strengthen its vital role in Iraq by taking such measures as providing humanitarian relief, promoting economic reconstruction and advancing efforts to

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