Monday 12 March 2007

Losing Minds and Hearts in Iraq (UPIASIA)

M.D. Nalapat

Manipal, India — India has been at the business end of jihadi-funded insurgency since 1981, the year in which Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) began to organize a "Khalistan" movement that would in a couple of years launch a terror campaign in India's Punjab State. Although local members of the Sikh community declined to come on board, enough funds were raised from ethnic Sikhs in the United States and Canada to provide the funding for a vicious struggle that lasted till the mid-1990s.

The Khalistan movement blended seamlessly with the other jihadist operation in Kashmir, an insurgency set off by those who returned to the Indian-held part of the state after receiving training in Pakistan from 1982 to 1988. It is still smoldering, and has thus far cost 73,000 lives, mostly in the killings of Muslims by Wahabbis.

In 1989 the USSR was defeated in Afghanistan and the ISI transferred its attention to Kashmir. Unfortunately for them, New Delhi proved a tougher proposition than Moscow, the reason being the manner in which the security forces conducted anti-jihadist operations. Given their low level of financial resources, these had perforce to depend on the "software" of psychological warfare against the jihadis, placing emphasis on changing of mindsets and preventing of unity between those disaffected with Indian rule.

In contrast, the United States has thrown into battle in Iraq a (usually wasted) flood of material resources, with far less success than the Indian armed forces have shown in Kashmir, where the jihadis have been beaten to the ground and are now desperately clutching at diplomacy to rescue themselves from the pit they have been pushed into.

This victory has been won without recourse to the helicopters, aircraft, heavy artillery and missile power that the United States throws into the Iraq campaign. The Indian security forces -- principally the army -- have used only sidearms throughout the counter-jihadi operations, aware that the damage done to civilian infrastructure by heavier equipment would create more jihadis than they would take out, apart from the reality that such indiscriminate attacks as aerial bombardment or a helicopter-based volley would usually kill many more innocents than combatants.

The extensive damage done to physical infrastructure in Iraq by Coalition forces has, by its mindless intensity, lost the hearts of the huge majority of the Iraqi population that welcomed the defeat of the Saddamites. Rather than Osama bin Laden, it is the United States and other NATO forces in Iraq that are serving as the recruiting agents for the insurgency, by making clear to a proud (and sometimes vainglorious) people that their country has been occupied by an alien force that has no reserve in destroying their property and the amenities that they enjoyed even during the bitter decade of U.N. sanctions.

As long as Coalition forces operate in populated areas of Iraq rather than relocate to the borders, they will continue to provide human fuel for an insurgency whose one pledge is to eliminate them.

Had the Coalition forces used Indian-style tactics in Iraqi cities, they might have had more success. But judging by the tactics and force posture of those engaged in operations, the primary objective has been less the compression and elimination of the insurgents than force protection. Unlike the Indian army, which accepts an increase in casualties as a consequence of a more effective strategy, the obsession within NATO of keeping casualty lists low has resulted in a strategy of denial of space to Iraqi citizens, who have watched their country get slowly converted into a bigger version of the West Bank and Gaza, where too the IDF sees normal life in the occupied territories as an acceptable sacrifice in its primary effort of keeping its men unharmed.

The steady rise in the deaths of noncombatants by troops jumpy at any sudden human movement has created a vicious circle in which the tactics flowing from such frozen panic themselves create the medium in which the danger to Coalition forces multiplies. Unfortunately, so total is the belief within the U.S. policy establishment of the correctness of its present self-destructive course that any effort at pointing out the contradiction between means and ends gets seen with suspicion or contempt, as has happened to the present writer on several visits to the Pentagon since 2004, when he first began expressing the view that the presence of Coalition forces within the populated areas of Iraq were incompatible with stability.

The new NATO commander, General David Petraeus, is an expert on the Greek and Roman campaigns, knowledge that is of as little value to the chemistry of Iraq as was the former U.S. Administrator of Iraq Paul Bremer's ease of manner in the salons of Paris and Berlin.

Any Arab can testify that, like Texans, the Iraqis are an excitable people, prone to loud voices and gesticulations. These can very easily be misinterpreted as evidence of hostile intent and result in shooting by troops whose effective mission is to return alive, and hopefully in a single piece, to their families. Information from Iraq confirms that the bulk of the "insurgents" that have been killed are ordinary Iraqis, even though they may have possessed a weapon, as indeed, the majority of households in that country did until the Coalition forces gave them the option of throwing away their guns and dying at the hands of raiders or being killed by the NATO forces as a "suspected insurgent" or even a follower of the fabled Sheikh Osama bin Laden and/or the departed Saddam Hussein.

Between the thugs who prey on now defenseless households and jumpy Coalition forces busily engaged in destroying all "insurgent cover" (in other words, houses and places of work), the citizens of Iraq now lead a life that is even worse than under U.N. sanctions, with the numbers of dead (especially the young, the old and the sick) rising steadily while U.S. President George Bush (weekly and these days weakly) declares victory in the battle for democracy in the Middle East.

If purely Iraqi forces cannot establish order in the towns, no other force can, certainly not a NATO force that is using the equipment and mindset of a conventional war to do battle against an unconventional enemy leveraging each mistake. In 2004, this columnist advised the Pentagon's Andrew Marshall to get his troops out of the cities of Iraq or "there would be chaos in two years."

One more year of the present tactics and force levels, and suicide bombers will be spawning in the ruined cities of Iraq as numerous as a swarm of hornets.

Democracy means giving back to the local people control over their own lives. U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad seems to have read a little too much of British imperial history, for he is conducting himself less as an envoy than as the Viceroy of an imperial power, tossing off diktats to be followed, or else. The irony is that the more Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki (who was himself pitchforked into the job because of Coalition dislike of the far more capable Ibraham Al-Jaafari) listens to Khalilzad, the faster will his country descend into a chaos that within a year will become irretrievable.

The British partitioned India to avoid the very Hindu-Muslim carnage that the division caused. This dismal history of a toxic "cure" is being repeated in Iraq.

-(Professor M.D. Nalapat is Director of the School of Geopolitics at Manipal University.)

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