The following is an archived copy of a message sent to a Discussion List run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.

Views expressed in this archived message are those of the author, not of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.

[Main archive index/search] [List information] [Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]

[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

[casi] Iraqification II

1) Iraq already looks ominously like Vietnam
2) 'Iraqification' key to return of US troops
3) The risks of rapid 'Iraqification'


Iraq already looks ominously like Vietnam

By Gabriel Kolko
[Gabriel Kolko is professor emeritus of history at York University in Canada
and the author of Anatomy of a War, a history of the Vietnam War.]

November 10, 2003

There are great cultural, political and physical differences between Vietnam
and Iraq that cannot be minimised, and the geopolitical situation is
entirely different. But the US has ignored many of the lessons of the
traumatic Vietnam experience and is repeating many of the errors that
produced defeat.

In both places, successive American administrations slighted the advice of
their most knowledgeable intelligence experts. In Vietnam they told
Washington's decision-makers not to tread where France had failed and to
endorse the 1955 Geneva Accords provisos on reunification.

They also warned against underestimating the communists' numbers,
motivation, or their independent relationship to China and the Soviet Union.
But America's leaders have time and again believed what they wanted, not
what their intelligence told them.

The Pentagon in the 1960s had an uncritical faith in its overwhelming
firepower, its modern equipment, mobility, and mastery of the skies. It
still does, and Donald Rumsfeld believes the military has the technology to
"shock and awe" all adversaries. But war in Vietnam, as in Iraq, was highly
decentralised and the number of troops required only increased, even as the
firepower became greater. When they reached half-a-million Americans in
Vietnam, the public turned against the president and defeated his party.

Wars are ultimately won politically or not at all. Leaders in Washington
thought this interpretation of events in Vietnam was bizarre, and they
ignored their experts whenever they frequently reminded them of the limits
of military power.

In both Vietnam and Iraq the public was mobilised on the basis of cynical
falsehoods that ultimately backfired, causing a "credibility gap".

The Tonkin Gulf crisis of August 1964 was manufactured, as the CIA's leading
analyst later admitted in his memoir, because "the administration was
seeking a pretext for a major escalation". Countless lies were told during
the Vietnam War but eventually many of the men who counted most were
themselves unable to separate truth from fiction.

Many US leaders really believed that if the communists won in Vietnam, the
"dominoes" would fall and all South-East Asia would fall under Chinese and
Soviet domination. The Iraq War was justified because Saddam was alleged to
have weapons of mass destruction and ties with al-Qaeda, but no evidence for
either allegation has been found.

There are 130,000 American troops in Iraq now - twice the number Bush
predicted would remain by this month - but, as in Vietnam, their morale is
already low and sinking. Bush's poll ratings have fallen dramatically. He
needs more soldiers in Iraq desperately and foreign nations will not provide

In Vietnam, president Nixon tried to "Vietnamise" the land war and transfer
the burdens of soldiering to Nguyen Van Thieu's huge army. But it was
demoralised and organised to maintain Thieu in power, not win the victory
that had eluded American forces.

"Iraqisation" of the military force required to put down dissidents will not
accomplish what has eluded the Americans, and in both Vietnam and Iraq the
US underestimated the length of time it would have to remain and cultivated
illusions about the strength of its friends.

The Iraqi army was disbanded but now is being partially reconstituted by
utilising Saddam's officers and enlisted men. As in Vietnam, where the
Buddhists opposed the Catholics who comprised the leaders America endorsed,
Iraq is a divided nation regionally and religiously, and Washington has the
unenviable choice between the risks of disorder, which its own lack of
troops make likely, and civil war if it arms Iraqis.

Despite plenty of expert opinion to warn it, the Bush Administration has
scant perception of the complexity of the political problems it confronts in
Iraq. Afghanistan is a reminder of how military success depends ultimately
on politics, and how things go wrong.

Rumsfeld's admission in his confidential memo of October 16 that "we lack
the metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror"
was an indication that key members of the Bush Administration are far less
confident of what they are doing than they were early in 2003.

But as in Vietnam, when defence secretary Robert McNamara ceased to believe
that victory was inevitable, it is too late to reverse course and now the
credibility of America's military power is at stake.

Eventually, domestic politics takes precedence over everything else. It did
in Vietnam and it will in Iraq. By 1968, the polls were turning against the
Democrats and the Tet offensive in February caught President Lyndon Johnson
by surprise because he and his generals refused to believe the CIA's
estimates that there were really 600,000 rather than 300,000 people in the
communist forces. Nixon won because he promised a war-weary public he would
bring peace with honour.

Bush declared on October 28 that "we're not leaving" Iraq soon, but his
party and political advisers are likely to have the last word as US
casualties mount and his poll ratings continue to decline.

Vietnam proved that the American public has limited patience. That is still

The real lessons of Vietnam have yet to be learned.

Gabriel Kolko is professor emeritus of history at York University in Canada
and the author of Anatomy of a War, a history of the Vietnam War.



'Iraqification' key to return of US troops

Pentagon shrugs off Vietnam-era connotations of term to churn out hastily
trained local forces

Suzanne Goldenberg in Washington
Saturday November 8, 2003
The Guardian

The Bush administration, unnerved by the bloodiest week since April for US
forces in Iraq, has launched a public relations offensive to convince
Americans it can achieve two seemingly conflicting goals: bring stability to
Iraq, while bringing the troops back home.
Behind the strategy is "Iraqification", an unfortunate term for the
administration because of echoes of Richard Nixon's "Vietnamisation" in the
early 1970s.

But those connotations were cast aside this week when the administration
pressed ahead with speeding up the timetable for handing over security to
the recruits from the Iraqi police to allow the Pentagon to reduce the
number of US troops in country.

The strategy has raised concerns that it gives the appearance of Washington
preparing to "cut and run" from Iraq.

On Wednesday the vice-chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General Peter
Pace, said US forces would be reduced to 100,000 by next May from the
current levels of 130,000. They could be down to 50,000 by 2005.

Meanwhile, the administration has sped up the transfer of power, bringing
forward the deadline for drafting the new constitution, and pencilling in a
date for elections in 18 months' time.

Increasingly, it seems, this is an administration in a hurry.

But President George Bush has little choice. The congressional budget office
warned it will be impossible to sustain present force levels beyond next
spring without imposing longer tours of duty on the troops.

That is politically dangerous for Mr Bush in an election year, so officials
have been promoting the idea that Iraqis are poised to shoulder the burden
of America's guerrilla war, even to the extent of manufacturing data about
the numbers of locally trained police.

The strategy has caused widespread alarm, not least because it suggests to
the world that Washington is ready to "cut and run", and to the Iraqi
resistance that US forces can be driven out by stepping up attacks.

"When the United States announces a schedule for training and deploying
Iraqi security officers, then announces the acceleration of that schedule,
then accelerates it again, it sends a signal of desperation, not certitude,"
the Republican senator and Vietnam veteran John McCain told a Washington
thinktank this week.


Within political circles, there is little dispute with the notion of
Iraqification as the eventual goal of the occupation. Instead, there is
concern about whether Iraqi forces - poorly trained and poorly equipped -
are adequately prepared to take over security.

There are also fears that the occupation authority's obsession with churning
out new Iraqi recruits has led to a lowering of standards. In some districts
of Baghdad, local militias graduate after five days of training.

Of equal concern for the Pentagon are suspicions that some of its recruits
are in fact agents of Saddam Hussein, and that the occupation authority was
so focused on increasing the numbers in its new police forces that it forgot
about vetting procedures.

Those lapses could cripple efforts to build credible Iraqi security forces,
some analysts say. "It would be wrong if, in trying to avoid conflict, we
put Iraqis out there to draw fire like a bunch of canaries in the mine,"
said Daniel Gouré, a military expert at Virginia's Lexington Institute. "The
question is not to put the Iraqis out there so that we can get shot at less,
but what is the right combination of Iraqi and American forces?"

It is also far from clear just who these Iraqi forces are. Somehow, during
the past fortnight, the numbers of trained Iraqi police personnel appear to
have more than doubled.

On Thursday the US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, claimed more than
118,000 Iraqis had been trained for police work. Pentagon officials now
casually describe the poorly trained and ill-equipped force as the second
largest contributor to the coalition forces in Iraq, far exceeding the
number of British troops.

But military analysts say the figure is wishful thinking given that it takes
at least 12 weeks to train a police officer to an international standard.
The Pentagon has also conceded it has not been entirely open about the
numbers when discussing levels of Iraqi forces.

"I think people are a little bit surprised that it has gone up fairly
significantly here in a fairly short period of time," General Richard Myers,
the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, told reporters at the Pentagon on

He said only 60,000 Iraqis had been fully trained and equipped to serve as
security personnel. The remainder of the much-cited figure of 180,000
included unarmed guards at oil pipelines.

"Let's say you've just armed them with a radio where they can report
intrusion, where somebody else, a competent force, can come in and deal with
the situation. That is a very valuable thing, we think," Gen Myers said.

But Mr McCain and others remain unconvinced. "When in the course of days we
increase by thousands our estimates of the numbers of Iraqis trained, it
sounds like somebody is cooking the books," he said.

"When we do this as our forces are coming under increasing attack, we
suggest to our friends and allies that our ultimate goal in Iraq is leaving
as soon as possible - not meeting our strategic objective."


The risks of rapid 'Iraqification'
A transfer of policing duties to Iraqis could reduce US casualties, but
moving too quickly may fail to quell the violence.

By Peter Grier and Faye Bowers | Staff writers of The Christian Science

WASHINGTON - The way to solve the security problem in Iraq, says the White
House, is to transfer responsibility for keeping the peace to Iraqis
themselves as soon as possible.

It's a strategy with obvious advantages. Iraqis might be better than
Americans at tracking down Iraqi insurgents. At the very least, US
casualties might go down.

But there are risks to Iraqification as well - particularly if the process
is rushed. Simply switching US patrols for Iraqi ones is unlikely to cause
guerrilla units to stop fighting. Despite hopeful talk about quickly pushing
native police onto the street, security training takes time if done right
and does not necessarily produce elite units.

It may be difficult to keep old Baathists out of new forces. Reports
indicate that the US may back creation of a paramilitary open to former
Iraqi intelligence personnel. Ensuring that such a service is not penetrated
by insurgents could prove especially trying.

"We've got a tough row to hoe here, and I don't know how we are going to get
out of it," says ex-CIA director Adm. Stansfield Turner.

>From Washington the idea of quieting Iraq via quick creation of Iraqi forces
seems logical. In recent weeks, US officials have talked constantly about
the need to hurry up and get newly trained Iraqi conscripts on the beat.

Since the US took Baghdad "we've gone from zero to 100,000 Iraqis providing
security in that country, and our plan calls for us to go over 200,000 by
next year," said Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in a broadcast
interview last Sunday.

The Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) has itself pushed for more muscle to deal
with the escalating insurgent attacks. According to the Washington Post, a
recent letter from the IGC to President Bush begged for more authority to
pursue insurgents as they see fit.

Iraqis "are more able than others to handle this matter," writes Jalal
Talabani, current council president.

But some officials and consultants who have visited Iraq recently to work on
security matters say that the US hope for quick "iraqification" may well be

The regimen for producing members of Iraq's new civil defense corps is
short, and getting shorter, some say.

"These are guys with one week of training," says a former intelligence
officer who spent decades in the region and recently rotated through
Baghdad. "They work with US troops. They're not the Army. You can't beef
that up."

The plan to hand over most internal security responsibility by next summer
is unrealistic, says this source. Calling back units of the Hussein-era
Iraqi Army might work, if they are carefully vetted and given carefully
chosen assignments.

"You could put them on the border with Iran. That might work," says the ex-
intelligence agent.

Training for the new Iraqi police is longer than one week, but it remains
far short of the rigor US police departments employ. And even many big
cities in the US have problems with police brutality, faked evidence, and
other abuses of authority.

The haste to get police on the job is matched by the haste with which the US
is pursuing political development in Iraq, notes Edward Peck, a former chief
of mission in Baghdad and deputy director of the White House Task Force on
Terrorism during the Reagan administration.

Secretary of State Colin Powell originally gave a deadline of six months to
write a new Iraqi constitution.

"It took 13 colonies about five years to write [the US constitution], and
the European [Union] is grappling terribly trying to get a constitution
together," says Mr. Peck.

According to The Washington Post, the US administrator of Iraq, Paul Bremer,
has tentatively decided to support the call of the Iraqi Governing Council
for a paramilitary force made up of former members of Iraq's intelligence
services, plus members of political party militias.

Such a force might provide the IGC with a potent weapon to track down former
members of the regime and stop attacks. But it might also bring back into
favor some of the more unsavory members of the Hussein regime, as vetting in
this case would be particularly difficult.

"We have the US getting rid of Saddam and his terrible, brutal secret police
and now we're bringing them back," says Peck.

Furthermore, insurgents would likely to continue to attack Iraqi police, and
even nongovernmental organizations such as the Red Cross, which they see as
simply doing the bidding of the US. "There is that perception that many NGOs
 are nothing but puppets for the US," says Ayad Al-Qazzaz, an Iraqi native
who is teaches at California State University at Sacramento.

Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.
To unsubscribe, visit
To contact the list manager, email
All postings are archived on CASI's website:

[Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]