March 25, 2003

A Chilly Reception from the

A Chilly Reception from the Shi'a in the South?

I am a bit concerned that certain observers are being a tad sanguine about the progress of the campaign (though I want to be careful not to overdramatize the difficulties and am still highly optimistic regarding ultimate coalition success). The key issue currently is that U.S. planners may have overestimated the support the oppressed Shi'a in the south would provide incoming coalition forces. The conventional wisdom in the Beltway was that the Shi'a, long under the brutal yoke of Saddam's predominately Sunni government, would rejoice when forces arrived whose objective was the overthrow of Saddam. The problem, however, is that it appears that many Shi'as assumed that U.S. forces would basically rush up to Baghdad and unseat Saddam and, voila, Saddam gone. Not to mention, Iraqi Shi'a-Sunni relations are a bit more nuanced than commonly appreciated. Regardless, resistance along the way has provoked significant firefights and allied bombing that appears to have reduced much of the good will in that part of the country because of civilian deaths and detiorating humanitarian conditions. Such, of course, are the unpredictabilities of even the best laid war plans.

So what's the key issue right now tactically? Retired Marine Corps General Bernard Trainor has a pretty good take on it:

Question: When we talked just before the war started, you were concerned about the size of the U.S. forces, that they might be too thin. Are the problems in the south attributable to the fact that we don't have enough forces there now?

Trainor: "It's certainly part of it. The military planners assumed that we would have the support of the locals and therefore we did not have to worry about our long, 300-mile supply line. But now we do because we don't have the locals. And the fact that the Iraqis have been able to contest us successfully has probably stiffened the resolve of some of the units which otherwise might have surrendered.

We don't have sufficient depth and weight to make up for that. We probably have enough to do the job--at least I hope we have enough to do the job--unless things really get nasty in downtown Baghdad. But we really don't have enough to complete the security of the entire area until we get more units ashore, and it's going to take at least a couple of more weeks to get the First Armored Division and the First Cavalry Division and the Fourth [Mechanized] Infantry Division. The Fourth Mechanized originally was supposed to go into Turkey, and now its equipment is being rerouted. So the troops are getting stretched rather thin and they are getting a little tired also. I still feel that the unease I expressed the last time we spoke still exists and I have greater grounds for it this time than just the speculation and suppositions I had the last time."

Another reason there is so much anger at Ankara in Washington right now.

Posted by Gregory at March 25, 2003 12:11 AM
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