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Iraq/U.S.: Strategic Study Faults Handling Of Post-Saddam Iraq

A prestigious British think tank, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London, says Washington and its allies should draw lessons from the mistakes that have been made in managing Iraq since the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime. In its authoritative annual yearbook, "The Military Balance," the IISS says the actual invasion of Iraq was a success, but that the occupation afterward was flawed. The study says the "hearts and minds" of the people is the territory that must be won.

Prague, 20 October 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The initial military success of the United States and its allies in invading Iraq last year is clear. But the task of winning the trust and affection of the Iraqi people has proven much more elusive.

So concludes a report just issued in London by a leading British research organization, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).

In its yearly review of the capabilities of the world's armed forces, the IISS says that "Operation Iraqi Freedom," as the invasion was called, started with "fast and successful" fighting.
"They underestimated the centrality of the [Hussein] regime, meaning that if you take that [regime] out, and also take the army out, and take the Ba'ath Party out, then there is no state left, and I think they totally underestimated that."

But it says that since then, the operation has provided some hard lessons that the United States should learn.

In an introduction to the study, senior IISS analyst Christopher Langton writes that once the initial battle had been won, the postconflict phase demanded priority be given to winning a different sort of territory, namely the hearts and minds of the population. He says forging contacts with the local people requires a lot of manpower as well as skills which go beyond those of the average military man.

But the U.S. preparations in this regard were not adequate. Commenting on the IISS study and its findings, analyst Marc Finaud, of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy in Switzerland, says: "Although there was initially in Iraq a sense of relief and satisfaction to see the end of the Saddam Hussein regime, then there were very high expectations from the Iraqi population that this would be immediately followed by an improvement in living conditions, in the security conditions."

In fact, that improvement did not materialize, an anti-coalition insurgency began to take hold, living conditions began to plummet, violence escalated, and the coalition forces became associated in the public mind with these problems.

Finaud says the coalition was given the impossible task of restoring the normal living conditions, the public services, and utilities, without the help of international organizations, which are more equipped for this kind of work.

And on the political front, the United States was faced with the same difficulties.

"The complexity of the process to put in place a new government and [hold] elections has led to this impression of chaos which we can see," Finaud said.

Another analyst, Edwin Bakker of the Netherlands Institute of International Relations, says Washington did not realize the extent to which the overthrow of the Hussein regime would fracture life in the country.

"They underestimated the centrality of the [Hussein] regime, meaning that if you take that [regime] out, and also take the army out, and take the Ba'ath Party out, then there is no state left, and I think they totally underestimated that," Bakker said.

Bakker said at least part of the blame for this must rest with emigre groups upon which the United States relied for much of its information. These groups, Bakker said, gave Washington a distorted picture of Iraq.

"In a way, one can also blame part of the Iraqi foreign-based dissident groups who were to eager, I guess, to topple the regime, in order for them to be able to return to Iraq and have a say in the future," Bakker said.

In the IISS report, Langton wrote that the Iraq campaign has shown that the use of partially trained reservists, or reservists with the wrong skills, is no substitute for fully trained soldiers.

This was a reference to the scandal that has blown up about the improper treatment of Iraqi detainees by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghurayb jail in Baghdad. Some of them were reservists who claim they were not adequately trained.

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