Published on Friday, June 13, 2003 by the Guardian/UK
Resistance to occupation is growing
US and British Troops are Being Sucked Into an Iraqi Quagmire
by Richard Norton-Taylor and Rory McCarthy in Baghdad
While attention has focused on the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, growing evidence that the war is far from over has been overlooked. Fighting with real weapons is on the increase.
A sudden upsurge in violence in the past couple of weeks has killed at least 10 American soldiers and wounded more than 25 in a series of attacks against checkpoints and military convoys. Iraqi fighters yesterday brought down an Apache helicopter in the west of the country.
The most experienced combat units from the 3rd Infantry, deployed away from home since September, have now been sent in to deal with Falluja, a town at the center of a steadily growing resistance in the Sunni Muslim heartland just west of Baghdad.
Hostile residents are not shy of threatening more attacks, insisting they are not Saddam loyalists but angry at the US military occupation. Aggressive house searches and the killing by US troops of 18 protesters in a demonstration last month have provoked fury. Soldiers on the ground say the attacks they are facing, mostly from rocket-propelled grenades and mortars, are disciplined and skilled, not the random shootings of angry civilians. American generals admit that though the attacks may be locally organized there is no evidence yet of a reformed Ba'ath party centrally coordinating the assaults.
Their response has been to saturate problem areas with large numbers of combat troops. Even senior officers admit now that security in Iraq, more than two months after the fall of the regime, will get worse before it gets better.
America's generals, happy to boast about the rapid defeat of Saddam's regime, now admit the war is far from over. In Baghdad yesterday Lieutenant General David McKiernan, commander of US ground forces in Iraq, said his troops would be needed for a long time to come, that Baghdad and a large swathe of northern and western Iraq is only a "semi-permissive" environment, and that "subversive forces" are still active. Should all this be so surprising?
The US and Britain said they came to liberate Iraq and protect its people. The failure to understand how Iraqis would respond may be rooted in arrogance. It is also a colossal failure in intelligence which may prove to be at least as important as the inability to find any of Iraq's banned weapons. The commander of British forces in the war, Air Marshal Brian Burridge, admitted as much in remarkably frank evidence to MPs this week. Asked about the problems of "policing" Iraq, and the number of forces needed to do the job, he replied: "I'm not sure we understand yet."
Burridge confirmed that British military commanders were expecting - on the basis of intelligence - that the Iraqi army would offer to help US and UK troops maintain law and order after the invasion. This hopelessly naive advice came from the CIA. Judging by what Britain's commanders say, MI6 appeared to have done nothing to disabuse them. Iraqi distrust of the foreign invaders seems to have come as a complete surprise.
British forces, charged with securing Basra and the southern oilfields, had an easier task than US forces in the rest of the country. Yet this did not prevent British commanders from contrasting their approach with that of the Americans. The new chief of defense staff, General Sir Michael Walker, reminded the Commons defense committee that British forces have been conducting operations "around the world since world war two".
However, such prowess did not encourage British commanders to volunteer to send troops from southern Iraq to help the Americans elsewhere. They are seriously concerned about overstretch and, as important, about getting bogged down deeper in the quagmire.
The US admits it had to revise drastically the number of troops it needed within weeks of the fall of Baghdad, as looting, armed robberies, rapes, kidnapping, and carjackings multiplied. The arrival of the US army's 1st Armored Division was brought forward, the departure of the 3rd Infantry Division, which led the invasion from Kuwait, delayed. US troops are now being sucked into Iraq much deeper than they imagined, or were told.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003