Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Success is it's own reward

It is my belief that the current "war" on terror is a spectacular misjudgement. It's not just that this "war" is ineffective in combatting terrorism although this is bad enough. I believe it's far worse than that. I am convinced that many of the policies and actions which come out of this "war" are dangerously counter-productive. Today's news provides a perfect bloody example to illustrate my point.

Last week, I wrote about a US-Iraqi assault on Talafar. The intention of the assault was to kill or capture the insurgents who had been based in the city. On Thursday 22nd September, the Iraqi general nominally in charge of the operation declared that the it had been successully concluded and that security forces were in full control of the city. There was very little media coverage of the assault so the information available was almost exclusively from military sources. As such, I concluded that it was impossible to confirm or deny the success of the operation, or even comment on the way it had been conducted, in any meaningful way.

My fear is that the US miltary, along with the Iraqi security forces under its command, continues to adopt the heavy handed military tactics of attrition which were so prevalent and so futile during the Indochinese conflict. The search and destroy tactics, the "clearing" of population centres, and the scorched earth policy were all hugely counter-productive strategies. To fight an insurgency, the one battle which is far more important than all other considerations is the battle for hearts and minds. The Vietnam War was lost in large part due to the US government's failure to understand this. Unfortunately I'm not convinced that the current US administration has understood Vietnam's painful lessons.

Today in Talafar, a female suicide bomber has killed at least seven people. She targeted a group of people who were queuing outside an Iraqi army recruitment centre. Is there any way in which the assault on Talafar can still be considered a success? It's hard to see how.

We'll probably never know why this woman chose to commit this brutal act. There will be no investigation into what motivated her to target new recruits to the Iraqi army, no analysis of the events which led to the deaths of at least seven defenseless Iraqis. Was she a terrorist before the assault on Talafar or did a heavy handed military assault on her city drive her to commit this extremist act? If I was being facetious I'd say it must be the latter, the military operation cleared all existing insurgents from the city after all. In truth, it's impossible to be certain. It could be that during the operation a family member, a younger sister perhaps, became another uncounted statistic in the unfortunate collateral damage of modern war. Perhaps her home was destroyed during the operation. Perhaps she witnessed something so horrific during the attack that suicide bombing looked like the only option which could provide revenge justice and peace. On the other hand, it might be this woman was a terrorist before the assault, that the thought of people voting was an anathema to her. As I said, we'll never know for certain. I do know which explanation I find more plausible and I suspect most reasonable people would agree.

I am certain of one thing though: we are not winning the war in Iraq. The evidence is there for all to see. We need a leader who can first admit that fact, and then start to do something about it.

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