Friday 3 October 2003

To Win in Iraq, Change Tack (UPI)

M.D. Nalapat 

MANIPAL, India, Oct. 2 (UPI) -- Foreign troops arrive as liberators, receiving a rapturous welcome from the local population. Soon after, small forces of armed men begin to emerge occasionally from the shadows, shooting at the occupiers -- who must respond indiscriminantly if at all because they cannot distinguish between friend and foe.
Civilian casualties mount. The welcome evolves into suspicion. The resistance grows bolder, thanks in no small part to increased support from within the population. The minor attacks multiply until the occupation force is goaded into carrying out major military operations that cause countless civilian casualties.
Post-war Iraq? No. It is Sri Lanka, circa August 1987, the year an Indian military force landed on the island to enforce a peace between Sinhalese and Tamils.
Within weeks irregulars from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam launched an offensive against the IPKF, using civilian areas as cover. Liberation movement guerillas would pop up from within a crowd, spray a passing IPKF convoy with bullets and disappear -- while the soldiers fire back on a crowd of non-combatants.
After more than a year of this, the Indians changed their tactics.
They began to emphasize medical and other services to win the hearts of the civilian population, and they used used radio and print to disseminate information about the ruthlessness of the LTTE towards any individual who opposed it.
Instead of attempting to track down every single guerilla fighter, the IPKF concentrated on the major population centers and the roads leading to them, ensuring they were kept free of violence. Local governments were left to local control rather than taken over by the occupying army, which now confined itself to military operations and tasks apart from goodwill moves such as relief of medical camps
By mid-1988, the Tigers had been cornered, their headquarters at Nithikaikulam destroyed.
Later than year local council elections were held, resulting in a majority for those hostile to the LTEE's violent tactics.
The Tigers were by now confined to a small patch of land in the Mullaitivu forests, awaiting an Indian offensive to wipe them out. In April 1989, however, power transferred from Sri Lankan leader J. R. Jawawardene to the new president, R. Premadasa, someone who was historically hostile to India.
The new president secretly armed the guerrillas and asked publicly for the Indians to leave by July. They ceased operations after that demand was made -- thus allowing the guerillas to recoup their strength -- even though the last IPKF soldier left Sri Lanka only on March 24, 1990. After that, the LTTE swiftly regained control over most of northern Sri Lanka.
President Premadasa's reward was to be assassinated in 1993.
What the LTTE guerillas were about to lose militarily was won back for them politically. Had Premadasa not changed course, the guerillas might have been finished off by the time the last of the IPKF left the country.
The lessons for any other army of occupation should be clear.
First, standard military tactics have no value in an unconventional guerilla war. Emphasis must be placed on ensuring that the local population does not provide a reliable base in which to hide;
Second, attention must be given to the message disseminated throughout the countryside, linking the guerillas rather than the occupiers to any hardships the population may experience;
Third, political authority must be left in the hands of local leaders. This allows the occupying army to concentrate on winning the war rather than administering a territory;
Fourth, any political compromise giving the guerrillas extra time or space, which can be used to rearm and restore morale, must be avoided.
The United States and the organizations it has created to governing Iraq in the post-war period are ignoring these basic lessons. The lessons learned in Sri Lanka between 1987-89 can be applied to contemporary Iraq.
-(Professor M.D. Nalapat is vice-chair of the Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair, and professor of geopolitics at Manipal University. ©Copyright M.D. Nalapat.)

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