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IRAQ: A Cake Walk This Isn’t

Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON, Mar 26 2003 (IPS) - ”They will be greeted with sweets and flowers,” Kanan Makiya, a leader of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), the predominantly exile opposition group favoured by Pentagon hawks, confidently told journalists just a few days before the U.S.-led invasion got under way last Wednesday.

Makiya was predicting how U.S. troops would be received as they advanced from Kuwait to Baghdad where, hoped U.S. planners, the regime of President Saddam Hussein would have cracked under the pressure of Washington’s ”shock and awe” bombing tactics and targeted attacks against command facilities within just a few days of the war’s start.

”They will be greeted with sweets and flowers,” Kanan Makiya, a leader of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), the predominantly exile opposition group favoured by Pentagon hawks, confidently told journalists just a few days before the U.S.-led invasion got under way last Wednesday.

Makiya was predicting how U.S. troops would be received as they advanced from Kuwait to Baghdad where, hoped U.S. planners, the regime of President Saddam Hussein would have cracked under the pressure of Washington’s ”shock and awe” bombing tactics and targeted attacks against command facilities within just a few days of the war’s start.

But now in their sixth day on Iraqi soil, U.S. forces have yet to see much in the way of sweets or flowers, while resistance by regular Iraqi army troops and ‘fedayeen’ militias in the mainly Shi’ite southern part of the country has been unexpectedly tenacious.

While U.S. military commanders continue to insist they are moving toward Baghdad on schedule, despite the military resistance and violent sandstorms that clearly slowed their advance Tuesday, concern is growing here over the basic assumptions of war planners – that the Iraqi public would greet the U.S.-led campaign as a ”liberation”, not an invasion.

”What is not going well, although the administration won’t admit it, is that the Americans aren’t being greeted with open arms as they had anticipated, and certainly hoped,” said ret. Marine Corps General Bernard Trainor of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City.

While reports that civilians in the southern city of Basra may have taken up arms against the army and pro-Saddam militias gave war backers something to cheer Tuesday, the general atmosphere in the U.S. capital has been glum since Sunday, when Iraqi forces captured five U.S. soldiers in the south and apparently killed at least half a dozen more.

Those setbacks, as well as serious fighting on the approach to Nasiriya and the downing of an Apache helicopter and capture of its U.S. pilots, have contributed to a sense that this military campaign will be anything but the ”cakewalk” that its neo-conservative and right-wing advocates had advertised.

”Diminished Expectations in Iraq” was the headline of the lead ‘New York Times’ editorial Tuesday, while all of the major newspapers, and even some of the more red-blooded, chest-pounding television talk show networks, featured stories that suggested the administration of President George W. Bush may have been over-confident about the ease with which victory would be achieved.

”A public accustomed to continuous updates and instant analysis watched in real time as the bad news came in and the mood of reporters – and the tone taken by their employers – seemed to change overnight,” another Times article said, suggesting that the U.S. viewing and reading public could be in for a roller-coaster ride of emotions over the coming days and weeks.

The Times’ observations were reinforced dramatically Tuesday when the Pew Research Center for People and the Press released a five-day survey that found a plunge in the percentage of the public who say the war is going ”very well” – from a peak of 71 percent on Friday, the second full day of the war, to only 38 percent on Monday.

While roughly 70 percent say they still believe Bush was right to launch the attack, support among Democrats has fallen off sharply, according to the poll.

Indeed, the prevailing feeling in Washington was so glum Tuesday that some commentators were already seeking scapegoats.

Retired Army officers have begun arguing that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his neo-conservative advisers were relying far too heavily on ”shock-and-awe” air power and far too little on ground troops, who will eventually have to go into major cities like Baghdad to dismantle the regime.

In that respect, the Pentagon’s strategy was designed to disprove the ”Powell Doctrine”, named for Secretary of State, Vietnam veteran, and former head of the Armed Forces Joint Chiefs, Colin Powell, with whom the Pentagon hawks have clashed repeatedly since Bush took over. His strategy called for Washington to use overwhelming force in any military conflict.

Significantly, Powell and his deputy Richard Armacost are the only senior members of the president’s national-security apparatus who have combat experience.

”Rumsfeld,” wrote Ralph Peters, a retired officer and arch-hawk, in the ‘Washington Post’, ”was out to prove a point. In his vision of the future – one shaped by technocrats and the defence industry – ground forces can be cut drastically in order to free funding for advanced technologies. To that end, Rumsfeld has moved to frustrate the Army’s efforts to field medium-weight brigades that can be deployed swiftly to a crisis, which would have been invaluable in this conflict.”

At the same time, war boosters outside the administration but closely linked to the Pentagon hawks were also casting blame for the setbacks or singling out the media for misleading the public.

At a forum at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Danielle Pletka, an AEI vice president for foreign policy studies, said the Shi’ite population in the south had failed to rise up to greet the invading army because the troops were not accompanied by the INC. AEI and its friends in the Pentagon have long argued that the administration should recognise a provisional Iraqi government before invading.

”A lot of the surprise (that there has been resistance)” said AEI’s Michael Ledeen, ”is due to the ignorance of the (media) commentators”. Saddam has imported al-Qaeda and Hezbollah fighting forces into Iraq, and has also attached political commissars to army units to ensure that soldiers fight, he added.

At the same forum, former Central Intelligence Agency director James Woolsey said the Turkish Parliament was to blame for not permitting Washington to open a second, northern front from Turkey’s territory. ”Those responsible should have a lot to answer for in the days ahead,” he said.

The chairman of AEI and Rumsfeld’s Defense Policy Board, Richard Perle, who introduced Makiya at last week’s press luncheon, insisted Tuesday that the war was going according to plan and that Iraqi resistance was neither ”cohesive nor organised”.

U.S. and British troops were not being greeted as liberators, he said, ”because we have chosen not to go into the cities” in the interests of getting to Baghdad swiftly.

 
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IRAQ: A Cake Walk This Isn’t

Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON, Mar 25 2003 (IPS) - ”They will be greeted with sweets and flowers,” Kanan Makiya, a leader of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), the predominantly exile opposition group favoured by Pentagon hawks, confidently told journalists just a few days before the U.S.-led invasion got under way last Wednesday.
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