THE GEOPOLITICAL INTELLIGENCE REPORT Facing Realities in Iraq December 30, 2004 1840 GMT By George Friedman On May 17, 2004, Stratfor published a piece entitled "Iraq: New Strategies." In a rare moment of advocacy ( http://www.stratfor.biz/Story.neo?storyId=232011 ), we argued that the war in Iraq had evolved to a point where the United States was unlikely to be able to suppress the insurgency. We argued then that, "The United States must begin by recognizing that it cannot possibly pacify Iraq with the force available or, for that matter, with a larger military force. It can continue to patrol, it can continue to question people, it can continue to take casualties. However, it can never permanently defeat the guerrilla forces in the Sunni triangle using this strategy. It certainly cannot displace the power and authority of the Shiite leadership in the south. Urban warfare and counterinsurgency in the Iraqi environment cannot be successful." We did not and do not agree with the view that the invasion of Iraq was a mistake. It had a clear strategic purpose that it achieved: reshaping the behavior of surrounding regimes, particularly of the Saudis. This helped disrupt the al Qaeda network sufficiently that it has been unable to mount follow-on attacks in the United States and has shifted its attention to the Islamic world, primarily to the Saudis. None of this would have happened without the invasion of Iraq. As frequently happens in warfare, the primary strategic purpose of the war has been forgotten by the Bush administration. Mission creep, the nightmare of all military planners, has taken place. The United States has shifted its focus from coercing neighboring countries into collaborating with the United States against al Qaeda, to building democracy in Iraq. As we put it in May: "The United States must recall its original mission, which was to occupy Iraq in order to prosecute the war against al Qaeda. If that mission is remembered, and the mission creep of reshaping Iraq forgotten, some obvious strategic solutions re-emerge. The first, and most important, is that the United States has no national interest in the nature of Iraqi government or society. Except for not supporting al Qaeda, Iraq's government does not matter." Most comparisons of Iraq to Vietnam are superficial and some are absurd, but one lesson is entirely relevant to Iraq. In Vietnam, the United States attempted to simultaneously re-engineer Vietnamese society and wage a counterinsurgency campaign. That proved impossible. The United States is attempting to do precisely that again in Iraq. It will fail again for the same reason: The goals are inherently contradictory. Creating democracy in Iraq requires that democratic institutions be created. That is an abstract, bloodless way of putting it. The reality is that Iraqis must be recruited to serve in these institutions, from the army and police to social services. Obviously, these people become targets for the guerrillas and the level of intimidation is massive. These officials -- caught between the power of U.S. forces and the guerrillas -- are hardly in a position to engage in nation building. They are happy to survive, if they choose to remain at their posts. Even this is not the central problem. In order to build these institutions, Iraqis will have to be recruited. It is impossible to distinguish between Iraqis committed to the American project, Iraqis who are opportunists and Iraqis who are jihadists sent by guerrilla intelligence services to penetrate the new institutions. Corruption aside, every one of the institutions is full of jihadist agents, who are there to spy and disrupt. This has a direct military consequence. The goal of the Untied States in Vietnam was, and now in Iraq is, to shift the war-fighting burden -- in this case from U.S. forces to the Iraqis. This can never happen. The Iraqi army, like the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, is filled with guerrilla operatives. If the United States mounts joint operations with the Iraqis, the guerrillas will know about it during the planning stages. If the United States fights alone, it will be more effective, but the Iraqi army will never develop. For the United States, it is a question of heads you win, tails I lose. The United States cannot win the intelligence war on the ground level. Its operations to penetrate the guerrillas depend on Iraqis working with the United States and these operations will be quickly compromised. The guerrillas on the other hand cannot be rooted out of the Iraqi military and intelligence organs because they cannot be distinguished from other Iraqis. Some will be captured. Many might be captured. But all of them cannot be captured and therefore no effective allied force can be created in Iraq. This was the center of gravity of the problem in Vietnam, the problem that destroyed Vietnamization. It is the center of gravity of the problem in Iraq. Missed Opportunities There were two points where the problem could have been solved. Had the United States acted vigorously in May and June 2003, there is a chance that the guerrilla force would have been so disrupted it could never have been born. U.S. intelligence, however, failed to recognize the guerrilla threat and Donald Rumsfeld in particular was slow to react. By the summer of 2003, the situation was out of hand. There was a second point where effective action might have been fruitful, which was in the period after the Ramadan offensive of October-November 2003, when Saddam Hussein was captured, and the beginning of the April 2004 offensives in Al Fallujah and the Muqtada al-Sadr rising. Those four months were wasted in diffused action in several areas, rather than in a concerted effort to turn Sunni elders against the guerrillas. It is interesting to note that the attempt to break the Sunni guerrillas in a systematic way did not begin until November 2004, with the attack against Al Fallujah and an attempt to co-opt the Sunni elders. For a while it looked like it might just work. It didn't. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's jihadists had become too strong and too well organized. Whatever inroads were made among the Sunni elders was blocked by al-Zarqawi's ability to carry out reprisals. The Sunnis were locked into place. The U.S. military is now carrying out an impossible mission. It is trying to suppress a well-organized guerrilla force using primarily U.S. troops whose intelligence about the enemy is severely limited by language and cultural barriers that cannot be solved by recruiting Iraqis to serve as intelligence aides. The United States either operates blind or compromises its security. Unless the Iraqi guerrillas are not only throwing all of their strength into this offensive, but also using up their strength in a non-renewable fashion, the Jan. 30 elections will not be the end of the guerrilla war. There will be a lull in guerrilla operations -- guerrillas have to rest, recruit and resupply like anyone else -- but after a few months, another offensive will be launched. There is, therefore, no possibility that the Sunni guerrilla movement will be suppressed unless there is a dramatic change in the political landscape of the Sunni community. There is one bit of good fortune that arises out of another of Rumsfeld's failures. His failure to listen to Gen. Erik Shinseki's warnings about the size of the force that would be needed in Iraq after the war meant that the U.S. force structure was never expanded appropriately. In most instances, this is a terrible failing. However, in this case, it has an unexpectedly positive consequence. We do not doubt for a moment that Rumsfeld would throw in more forces if he had them. They would not solve the problem in any way and would add additional targets for the guerrillas. But Rumsfeld doesn't have the needed forces, so he can't send them in. Facing the Facts The issue facing the Bush administration is simple. It can continue to fight the war as it has, hoping that a miracle will bring successes in 2005 that didn't happen in 2004. Alternatively, it can accept the reality that the guerrilla force is now self-sustaining and sufficiently large not to flicker out and face the fact that a U.S. conventional force of less than 150,000 is not likely to suppress the guerrillas. More to the point, it can recognize these facts: 1. The United States cannot re-engineer Iraq because the guerrillas will infiltrate every institution it creates. 2. That the United States by itself lacks the intelligence capabilities to fight an effective counterinsurgency. 3. That exposing U.S. forces to security responsibilities in this environment generates casualties without bringing the United States closer to the goal. 4. That the strain on the U.S. force is undermining its ability to react to opportunities and threats in the rest of the region. And that, therefore, this phase of the Iraq campaign must be halted as soon as possible. This does not mean strategic defeat -- unless the strategic goal is the current inflated one of creating a democratic Iraq. Under the original strategic goal of changing the behavior of other countries in the region, the United States has already obtained strategic success. Indeed, to the extent that the United States is being drained and exhausted in Iraq, the strategic goal is actually being undermined. We assert two principles: 1. The internal governance -- or non-governance -- of Iraq is neither a fundamental American national interest nor is it something that can be shaped by the United States even if it were a national interest. 2. The United States does require a major presence in Iraq because of that country's strategic position in the region. It is altogether possible for the United States to accept the first principle yet pursue the second. The geography of Iraq -- the distribution of the population -- is such that the United States can maintain a major presence in Iraq without, for the most part, being based in the populated regions and therefore without being responsible for the security of Iraq -- let alone responsible its form of government. The withdrawal of U.S. forces west and south of the Euphrates and in an arc north to the Turkish border and into Kurdistan would provide the United States with the same leverage in the region, without the unsustainable cost of the guerrilla war. The Saudis, Syrians and Iranians would still have U.S. forces on their borders, this time not diluted by a hopeless pacification program. Something like this will have to happen. After the January elections, there will be a Shiite government in Baghdad. There will be, in all likelihood, civil war between Sunnis and Shia. The United States cannot stop it and cannot be trapped in the middle of it. It needs to withdraw. Certainly, it would have been nice for the United States if it had been able to dominate Iraq thoroughly. Somewhere between "the U.S. blew it" and "there was never a chance" that possibility is gone. It would have been nice if the United States had never tried to control the situation, because now the U.S. is going to have to accept a defeat, which will destabilize the region psychologically for a while. But what is is, and the facts speak for themselves. We are not Walter Cronkite, and we are not saying that the war is lost. The war is with the jihadists around the world; Iraq was just one campaign, and the occupation of the Sunnis was just one phase of that campaign. That phase has been lost. The administration has allowed that phase to become the war as a whole in the public mind. That was a very bad move, but the administration is just going to have to bite the bullet and do the hard, painful and embarrassing work of cutting losses and getting on with the war. If Bush has trouble doing this, he should conjure up Lyndon Johnson's ghost, wandering restlessly in the White House, and imagine how Johnson would have been remembered if he had told Robert McNamara to get lost in 1966. (c) 2004 Strategic Forecasting, Inc. 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