"shock and awe"or "cock and bull"?

John O'Neill johnfergaloneill at eircom.net
Mon Mar 31 17:02:12 MST 2003

The recriminations have started among the Allies
By Deaglán de Bréadún

  It's been a while since we heard the phrase "shock and awe". In
retrospect, some of the harsher critics would say it should have been "cock
and bull". Deaglán de Bréadún reports from Doha

That's going too far but, given that the Coalition initially proclaimed its
intention to minimise civilian casualties, was there ever a strong
likelihood that damage caused mainly to buildings would intimidate the Iraqi
regime and its supporters into submission?

The official intention remains to preserve civilians from harm as much as
possible, but the death toll of ordinary Iraqis is mounting. Despite their
protestations, one wonders how many believe the Allies when they seek to
imply that the two Baghdad marketplace disasters last week may have been
caused by the Iraqis themselves.

But it would be a serious mistake to interpret the setbacks of the campaign
so far as a harbinger of inevitable defeat for the Coalition. The Allies
still have military superiority in most respects and it would be foolish to
dismiss their prospects of victory at this early stage.

And yet, doubts are beginning to grow and the recriminations have started
already. Given that he is the most high-profile protagonist on the Coalition
side, it is perhaps inevitable that much of the blame should fall on Donald

The big talking point here at the Coalition Media Centre in the Qatari
capital has been the latest report of a disagreement between the US Defence
Secretary and the Allied military commander, General Tommy Franks.

Today's issue of the New Yorker magazine contains a report by the respected
investigative journalist Seymour Hersh that, following Ankara's refusal to
permit Coalition troops to enter the north of Iraq from Turkish territory,
General Franks urged that the invasion be delayed until an alternative route
was found. The article states that the US Defence Secretary ignored this
recommendation, overruled senior commanders who wanted a bigger invasion (or
liberation, as Allied propagandists would call it) force and underestimated
the level of Iraqi resistance.

The Pentagon declined to comment on the report and, at yesterday's daily
briefing here in Doha, General Franks rejected the claim that he had
recommended a delay in launching "Operation Iraqi Freedom". It is reported
elsewhere that some of Mr Rumsfeld's critics contend that he mistakenly left
key units at home or at bases in Germany, resulting in an invasion force
which was too small and too vulnerable.

Reinforcements are now on the way but, more than once yesterday, General
Franks insisted that orders to deploy to this region had been issued to
troops prior to the start of hostilities, the implication being that extra
forces were part of the strategy all along.

It befits the senior military commander to maintain that everything is going
essentially according to plan, but critics remain convinced that events have
developed in a way that has generated a certain amount of "shock", whatever
about "awe", on the Coalition side. A place has already been found in the
annals for the comment by the US army's senior ground commander, Lt-Gen
William Wallace, who said: "The enemy we're fighting is different from the
one we'd war-gamed against."

So far, we have not seen the delighted crowds waving banners and throwing
flowers that one would expect if the Iraqi people really saw the Coalition
forces as liberators. Basra, a Shi'ite Muslim stronghold, is not yet in the
hands of the Allies and television reports of British forces raiding homes
in the area recalls unhappy memories of similar footage from Northern
Ireland in the early 1970s.

On the map of Iraq displayed at US military briefings here in Doha, Baghdad
is marked with huge letters and a large white star on a blue background.
Other cities and towns are depicted in much smaller letters. This, of
course, reflects the importance of the objective of seizing the capital.
Latest indications from Mr Rumsfeld are that Baghdad will be "isolated"
before it is taken.

This implies a siege of some duration. Given the impatience of public
opinion in the West, the contingency plan presumably envisages a short
siege, during which the Iraqi capital would continue to be very heavily
bombed. But the evidence of previous sieges in history and the news emerging
about public attitudes in Baghdad indicates that, far from breaking the will
of the inhabitants or disposing them to welcome Coalition forces, the
bombing is generating hostility and a determination to stand firm.

Although Saddam Hussein has been accurately portrayed as a very cruel and
repressive dictator, that is not the full picture. He would not have lasted
as long as he has without other incentives as well as fear to motivate his
supporters. The interaction of Arab nationalism with tribal and religious
factors as well as Saddam's careful use of patronage down through the years
have all contributed to the creation of a core of support for the regime
which is mainly located in Baghdad and may well be stronger than Allied
planners and politicians realise.

At yesterday's briefing, General Franks was asked how he would react if
foreign military forces arrived outside his home town of Midland, Texas. He
replied that the system of government where he comes from was nothing like
the one in Iraq.

Nevertheless the question raised two pertinent issues: (i) that people
generally tend to fight for their own turf against invaders, however benign
the invaders claim to be; and (ii) that Midland, Texas, where George W. Bush
also hails from, may not necessarily be the best environment for cultivating
an understanding of Iraqi nationalism.

© The Irish Times

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