Ambitious to start with a 3000 word post? Maybe, but this and the one above it have absorbed most of my spare time for the past week and a half. They'll be in the next issue of AAP, the magazine of the Melbourne Uni Political Interest Society.
In 1999, LSE professor Mary Kaldor published a book entitled ‘New and Old Wars’. In it she argued that where ‘old wars’ were state-centric and fought between clearly defined armed forces, ‘new wars’ will be driven by globalisation and involve a range of actors competing for power amidst the wreckage of failed states. Iraq today exhibits all the traits of such a ‘new war’; it is afflicted by a kaleidoscope of violent groups who can operate because of the power vacuum left by the old regime’s collapse and popular hostility towards the occupying forces. This explains the
Until mid-2004 the official
Calls for more foreign troops, ‘internationalisation’ of the foreign presence or pressure on Syria and Iran as perceived insurgent sponsors have faded, as it becomes increasingly clear that the nature of the problem has been misconceived. The insurgency is less an organisation than a social movement, defined by opposition to the US presence and drawing recruits from across Iraqi society and beyond: former regime elements, foreign volunteers, home-grown extremists, ex-soldiers, private militias, transnational terrorists, criminals, unemployed youths, sympathisers scattered throughout government and Coalition institutions. While their precise motivations may vary – the prospect of losing power in a US-shaped new order, blame attached to the
Historical guerilla movements relied by necessity on a centralised command structure and on logistical support from outside sponsors or the civilian population; these were weak points that could be targeted by counterinsurgency efforts. In ‘new wars’, by contrast, a combination of state failure and globalisation diffuses the means of inflicting violence throughout society. Arms stockpiles left by Saddam’s regime make weapons readily available, and former regime officials use funds accumulated while in power to bankroll any group which fights the Americans. The breakdown in law enforcement and border control allows insurgents to bolster their resources through theft, looting and smuggling, to move easily around the country and to dominate local communities. Twenty-four hour media coverage enables isolated cells to identify vulnerable targets, determine which tactics and weapons are most effective and coordinate attacks with other groups; it also aids psychological warfare by bombarding Iraqi and international audiences with constant images of violence, peppered with especially horrendous incidents such as major bombings or televised hostage executions. The internet provides a communication, propaganda and recruitment system that is impossible to shut down, and gives anyone with a computer and telephone line access to technical knowledge ranging from bomb-making to urban warfare tactics. Rampant unemployment and criminality provides a vast pool of potential volunteers, and creates an environment in which citizens are under pressure to assist insurgents out of fear, opportunism or clan and ethnic loyalties. The process of rebuilding government institutions and the Coalition’s dependence on local translators and intelligence sources allows extensive penetration by insurgent sympathisers, facilitating sabotage and blackmail, providing targeting data and compromising counterinsurgency operations.
Widespread hostility towards the occupying forces both drives the insurgency and creates an environment in which it can flourish. Notwithstanding the impression gained from western media coverage, US troops are the main object of insurgent violence. Targeting patterns have been consistent for over two years: measured by the month, attacks on Iraqi civilians have comprised less than 5%, those on the new Iraqi security forces between 5% and 15%, those on Coalition forces between 75% and 90%. One reason that the training of new Iraqi security forces has been prioritised is the negative feedback generated by American troops: civilians refuse to cooperate with them or provide intelligence, hide insurgents and weapons caches and feed the enemy information about their movements. While this antagonism has its roots in natural distrust of an invading force, it has flowered from events after the invasion. The devolution of law enforcement on the
This accumulating hostility has been exploited by insurgents. Omnipresent violence forces the
Ultimately it is this willingness on the insurgents’ part to inflict wanton destruction that has confounded Coalition military efforts. Historically, guerillas sought to control the institutions and social fabric of the nation-state: the protagonists of ‘new wars’ seek to destroy them, to make way for alternative social orders based on narrower identities like race and religion, or simply to benefit from the chaos. In
The blame for this state of affairs rests squarely with the now-defunct CPA and the
The only Iraqis involved in all these decisions were long-time exiles like Ahmed Chalabi, men who appeared to be US stooges and whose policy advice often proved faulty: they infamously assured their Pentagon patrons that US troops would be greeted as liberators, while Chalabi was a driving force behind the de-Ba’athification policies. The political movements and parties that emerged upon Saddam’s fall were initially given no voice, and their subsequent inclusion looked like cooptation into a hollow political process rushed through to combat the growing insurgency. Certainly the emphasis given to constitutional drafting, political horse-trading and other democratic forms while the country remained in ruins and under siege did not inspire confidence in the new regime. The CPA made no efforts to articulate a clear vision for
In short the Americans behaved like conquerors, with no regard for the needs or sensitivities of a population that had suffered greatly from previous
Where to now for
Conversely, pouring in more foreign troops is not the solution. There are currently almost 160,000 Coalition troops in
Economically the picture is not much brighter.