US Has Lost War for Hearts and Minds in Iraq
Guy Dinmore and Alex Barker of the Financial Times report that some military analysts believe that the US has lost the wider war for hearts and minds in Iraq, and that the complex Sunni Muslim insurgency is defeating efforts by the relatively small US military force in Iraq to defeat it. The authors refer specifically to Ahmed Hashim of the Naval War College, Rhode Island, who has advised the US military on counter-insurgency. The authors say that Hashem
‘ described an “Islamo-nationalist fusion”, a binding together of minority Sunnis now out of power and fearing their identity to be under threat. Their infrastructure is the mosques. Tribal elements play a role, as well as Islamist extremists from outside Iraq. Insurgents are growing more proficient and their tactics and techniques more lethal. They lack military resources but they have one key element that the US does not: time. ‘
Dinmore and Barker add:
Andrew Krepinevich, a veteran military analyst and formerly of the Pentagon, says that the insurgency, being primarily urban, has a “lower probability of success” than rural campaigns, as in China, Vietnam and Laos. But their focus will be to defeat the will of the US, he told the FT. ‘
Krepinevich is making the wrong analogy. From the point of view of social history, contemporary Iraq is not like China, Vietnam and Laos. It is like Iran in the 1970s. An urban insurgency/ revolution can in fact win, and win quite decisively, as the urban crowds won out over the shah. The shah tried everything to put down the urban crowds. He had them spied on. He had them shot at. Nothing worked. The urban crowds just got bigger and bigger.
The guerrillas in Iraq are hoping to provoke big, frequent demonstrations by the urban crowd. If elections are not held in January, or if they are widely felt to be unfair or stage-managed– and if US troops overstay their welcome, we could well see the big crowds start coming out. The big threat for the US is if dissatisfaction with the situation and with the US presence becomes generalized in both the Shiite and the Sunni communities. If Grand Ayatollah Sistani and Sunni cleric Hareth al-Dhari both call for the crowds to come out, you could have hundreds of thousands in the streets.
Big, frequent urban demonstrations, in Mosul, Baghdad, Najaf, Basra, etc., would be a trump card. The US and the UK would just have to leave. You can’t take the crowds out and shoot them. If you do shoot at the demonstrators, you just grow the crowds the next time. The shah made this mistake with Black Friday (Sept. 8, 1978), when his troops fired into the crowd. It just infuriated everyone.
This worst case scenario will very possibly come to pass if 1) the US troops overstay their welcome and continue to act heavy-handedly (a repeat of April’s twin sieges of Fallujah and Najaf would be fatal), if 2) the January elections are postponed or perceived as deeply flawed, and if 3) both Sunni and Shiite leaders beyond the small circle of the guerrillas call for massive demonstrations.
I’d give 50/50 odds of this kind of urban crowd revolution happening in Iraq sometime in the next two years. It would be a huge disaster if the US were tossed out of Iraq by such a phenomenon. Leaving voluntarily and in a phased manner would be far more preferable.