*For anyone who hasn’t been near news this morning, the US military has taken several key sites in downtown Baghdad in a dramatic show of force. Taking and pacifying a city of 5 million will take some time, but apparently the Iraqi military has collapsed to the point where the US can just walk into any major government building it likes. They are talking of 15,000 staying downtown to do whatever it takes “to change the government.” This thrust comes only a day after the British Desert Rats moved similarly into Basra, meeting only sporadic resistance (three British troops died in the resistance). We finally got to see grainy videophone images of Basra Shiites celebrating yesterday, something that I, at least, expected rather earlier in the war. US troops also secured the Shiite shrine city of Karbala, killing 400 Republican Guards. Lt. Col. Bill Bennett said that the city was “like a carnival” in the aftermath, with thousands of cheering, smiling residents. Asharq al-Awsat reports from Karbala that the US troops carefully avoided firing on the shrines of Imam Husayn and of Abbas, even though the Fedayee Saddam fired on them from those sites.
*In the Shiite city of Samawah, the US at last report had still not established control, but a Shiite rebellion broke out, taking control of the secret police headquarters. Also in the town of Rifa`i there was a peaceful Shiite uprising , with local people belonging to the tribes of ash-Shuwaylat and ar-Rikab taking control of the city when the main Baathist officials had fled. The US had been cultivating tribal leaders and had expected such uprisings earlier, but better late than never. For some reason neither of these popular movements was being reported in the main Western media that I followed on Sunday.
* When I talked about the war to a University of Michigan classroom the night it was scheduled to begin, I was asked whether this war might not be rather different from Afghanistan in involving larger US losses and risking Iraqi use of weapons of mass destruction. I admitted those possibilities, but suggested that US superiority is such that I would be very surprised if we were still fighting on April 15. I pointed out that Iraqi assets were limited, including 2200 tanks, 2000 artillery pieces, and a similar number of armored vehicles; and that without air cover, they were doomed to see all of them attrited over a fairly short period of time, at which point they would lack the wherewithal to resist a coalition advance. For everyone’s sake, I hope I was right. As I write these words, it looks as though it is all over but the mopping up and the taking of Kirkuk and Mosul in the north.
*What I worry about in the aftermath, especially in the Sunni urban areas in the middle of the country, is suicide bombings and other nonconventional harrying of our troops by Fedayee Saddam and by jihadi volunteers. It seems unlikely that such operations could be militarily important, but they could be politically important and must be guarded against. Worse, it is a long term potential problem if, as Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz pledged today, a US military administration of Iraq will last for longer than 6 months. US officials are cocky about all this, according to Time, saying that if terrorists come to Iraq it will be easier to kill them there than anywhere else. Maybe right now. But if 18 months from now the poor Shiites in al-Thawrah township are really infuriated about US govt policies in Iraq and feel they have been stiffed, and if the Lebanese Hizbullah can infiltrate them and stir them up against the US, I don’t actually think it will be easy for the Pentagon to deal with the sort of resulting urban guerrilla threats that could emerge. If the Bush administration has any sense, it will get out of direct administration of Iraq before such a scenario could unfold.
*Another more immediate problem is the establishment of public order. There are reports of extensive looting in Basra, and Baghdad could well fall into such a state as well. Troops are not police, and poor people in such situations will often see if they can steal their way into the middle class. We need to avoid a Panama-city type situation (such as developed when the US captured Noriega) to avoid a PR black eye. It should be remembered that the US overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan has not led to notable law and order in that country. In fact recent reports are of a “crime wave” that is preventing international aid organizations from operating there. Since many Afghans are one UN food shipment away from starvation, that is a dire situation. The US has obligations to Afghanistan not only by dint of its pledges but also by international law (the 4th Geneva Accords), and they are quite frankly not being met. I remember Wolfowitz coming on television during the Afghanistan war and making all those pledges about the country’s future, which he has not followed through on, and so I have to be a little skeptical that he is really going to succeed in turning Iraq into paradise. Not to mention that both the rise of the jihadis in Afghanistan and the building up of Saddam by the US in the 1980s were in some part his responsibility in the first place. How ironic, that his far rightwing agenda should now be so strongly benefiting from having to fix its own past egregious mistakes.
*There are reports that the coalition has flown Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmad Chalabi to southern Iraq, along with about 1,000 INC fighters. These latter are expected to help clean up the lingering resistance in the south from Saddam partisans and to form the nucleus of a new Iraqi national army. Presumably they can also be called on to begin providing some security in the Shiite cities of the south.