Nationalism: the Iraqi backbone

Nationalism: the Iraqi backbone

More from Scott Rosenberg…

“The cakewalk that some seemed to expect before and immediately after the start of hostilities has now become what surely everyone should have expected it to be — a real war against an enemy that has at least some staying power.

The notion that the Iraqi forces would all just somehow roll over never made much sense. In fact, it seems that there haven’t been nearly the massive defections and surrenders that the U.S. command plainly hoped for and expected. Here’s a little nugget from the Monday Times that I didn’t see much covered elsewhere. Remember that triumphant report a few days ago that the commander of an entire Iraqi division near Basra had surrendered? Michael Gordon reports that, Sunday, “American officials … discovered that the ‘commander’ was actually a junior officer masquerading as a higher-up in an attempt to win better treatment.” It’s stuff like this puts us on warning that every piece of information we are now getting about this war, from any source, is subject to revision and reversal. Reader beware. (Viewer, beware even more.)

Comparisons to the 1991 Gulf War may have lulled Americans into thinking that all campaigns against Iraq can be wrapped up in four days — and Saddam’s army was stronger then. But there’s one absolutely crucial difference: in 1991 we were fighting to oust Saddam’s troops from Kuwait, where they probably understood they should never have been in the first place. This time the Iraqis are fighting for their homeland.

Yes, their homeland is ruled by a brutal dictator, and yes, I don’t doubt that many if not most Iraqis would be happy to see Saddam gone. But there’s a difference between wishing that your government had a better leader and welcoming the influx of hundreds of thousands of heavily armed soldiers from halfway around the world, backed by an air force that is bombing your cities round the clock. This sort of thing tends to bring out the nationalist streak.

I can’t know, from this distance, whether the Iraqis who are fighting back today are doing so solely because Saddam’s secret police have guns to their heads — or because they believe that, on some level, they are fighting for their homes as well as for their president’s hide. It’s certainly still possible that the entire Iraqi command structure could collapse. For the sake of everyone in the field, I hope that happens, the sooner the better. But the longer the Iraqis hold out and the stronger they fight back, the greater must grow our suspicion that U.S. decision-makers were operating from some highly dubious, overconfident assumptions.

You do sometimes have to shake your head and wonder what planet American intelligence is derived from. Gordon writes, “There was no disguising the fact that the attacks [in the south] by the fedayeen” — militia fighters in civilian clothes driving SUVs and toting machine guns and grenade launchers — “were a setback and a surprise.” Surprise? What sand does your head have to be buried in not to anticipate, in 2003, that your massive Western army invading a Muslim Arab country was likely to find itself under assault from such guerrilla forces?”
[Scott Rosenberg’s Links & Comment]