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Wed, 14 Apr 2004

Iraq, a year on

Back on March 18th, last year, I blogged some prognostications about how the invasion of Iraq would go. You can find my hostages to fortune in the blog archives; as with all predictions I got some things wrong, but I'm relieved to note that I got some bits roughly on-target (my updated comments are italicized):

The Iraqi army will surrender. Some units of the Republican Guard will; others won't. ... It could get incredibly ugly if they go for street-fighting through suburbs from which civilians have not been evacuated. (Well, I'm pretty sure that many of the Sunni guerillas who've been shooting at the US forces for the past year include some left-overs from the Ba'ath and the SRG. And the army did surrender.)

The US plans to supply Iraq with food, medicine, and reconstruction aid after the war will prove to be hopelessly inadequate, and hasty improvisation will be required to avert a huge humanitarian catastrophe. This will be represented after the event as a triumph of careful advance planning. (Upwards of 10,000 civilian dead, and water and electricity still out 12 months later, and unemployment peaking at 60%, and a nascent civil war, probably qualifies as a humanitarian disaster whichever way you cut it. The only good news is that the food situation seems not to have gone completely pear-shaped.)

Right now, the "reinforced brigade" of US army troops occupying Kabul is actually close to divisional strength. This actually ties down three divisions -- one on the sharp end, one on R&R having come off duty, and one preparing to go in -- out of a total strength of 11 divisions. If we postulate that the US army can nail down and occupy Iraq post- war with a similar sized force, that ties up 6 of the US army's 11 divisions indefinitely. Oops. This is going to have knock-on effects on Bush's ability to do with crises arising in the next year. Maybe he'll try to work around it by reverting to a Churchillian strategy (doomed to failure, as Group Captain Gray, author of this paper, explains). Or maybe he just trusts Kim Jong-Il to sit still and wait his turn? (Spot on the money, apart from Kim Jong-Il, who seems to be playing his cards cautiously this year.)

By the same token, the White House "forgot" to allocate any money to reconstructing Afghanistan this year, until Congress reminded them to the tune of $300M. Obviously Iraq can pay for itself. So, with the price of oil dropping, they'll open the stop-cocks and drop it still further. Good news for Bush's friends, who've been buying up mothballed oil refineries -- bad news for the House of Saud, who will get to face a pre-revolutionary situation with an empty treasury. Oops, what was that about the US army already being over-committed? (Okay, I called this one wrong. The Iraqi oil industry is sufficiently battered that the stop-cocks haven't opened fully yet and the brunt of the cost is coming out of the US treasury. Still, they're expected to pay for their own reconstruction, with Bremer's rolling program of agressive privatization. The House of Saud, meanwhile, gets a stay of execution as oil prices rise towards an all-time high.)

If Bush had gone about this sensibly, he could borrow Canadian or German or French or Russian troops to handle the post-war occupation. But as it is, the bill for unilateralism is going to come due only when Iraq surrenders -- when he discovers that, having made his bed, he's going to have to sleep in it alone. (And the urge to scream "I TOLD YOU SO" becomes well nigh irresistible ...)

This, incidentally, is why I stopped blogging about the Iraq situation. The potential for a clusterfuck on an international scale was obvious even before the invasion began. The current n-way civil war was predicted with some accuracy by those with more insight into domestic Iraqi factionalism than I (notably Juan Cole, who has made a profession of studying that part of the world). Meanwhile, the US military geared up under Donald Rumsfeld to fight and win the last war all over again, namely to do a re-run of 1991 (in which they fought a brisk land war to liberate a mostly grateful Kuwaiti citizenry), regardless of the fact that no army ever gets to fight the same war twice in a row. What a profound mess.

The mess wasn't made any better by the ideological blinkers and petty malice of the agressors. Insisting on applying a program of Thatcherite free-market free-for-all to a conquered nation has never been done before: on what grounds did they expect success? And refusing to count the windrows of shattered bodies of civilians while declining to recognize the authority of the International Criminal Court is as good as an admission that the bastards wanted their hands free from the outset to commit war crimes without retribution.

If I contemplated the mess for long I'd spring a stomach ulcer. So instead, I'm going to revisit it at roughly one year intervals to say either "I told you so" or "okay, so I was wrong" about my previous prediction, and the rest of the time I'm going to blog about happy fun stuff instead.

And that brings me to my April 2004 to May 2005 projection for Iraq, which can be summed up in one word: Lebanon.

Sweet dreams.

[Discuss Iraq invasion]

posted at: 16:41 | path: /wartime | permanent link to this entry


Is SF About to Go Blind? -- Popular Science article by Greg Mone
Unwirer -- an experiment in weblog mediated collaborative fiction
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