America’s Win in Iraq: A Pyrrhic Victory?

James Dunn


The apparent collapse of Saddam Hussein’s notorious regime was good news but  hardly deserved the triumphalist response it got from some supporters of this war. It represents only a modest beginning to what is going to be a daunting task. Bringing about the downfall of the Baathist regime is undeniably a significant achievement, but it was the inevitable outcome of a massively unequal struggle between America’s powerful military and the much weaker Iraqi forces.  This operation of questionable legality does not deserve the applause it has been getting from the media.


While we can now be relieved that the dangers facing our troops have been reduced, there is not a lot to be triumphant about. The results of the invasion of Iraq are quite grim. Thousands of Iraqis, if we include thousands of young conscripts, have been killed, thousands more left with serious injuries, and massive destruction has been inflicted on Iraq’s cities. Thanks to an apparent lack of preparation, anarchy has descended on most cities following the breakdown of civil infrastructures. To prepare for this was evidently neglected by the attacking forces, who should be held responsible for the subsequent breakdown of civil order.


According to ICR and UN reports Iraq has descended into chaos. This raises questions about the US decapitation campaign, which left no leaders to surrender and to call on their bureaucrats to continue operating essential civil services. It also constitutes a disregard for the international rule of law, according to which even tyrants are entitled to a fair trial. Saddam, like Milosevic, should have been brought before an international tribunal, or at least an independent Iraq court, but instead the Americans appear to have resorted to a modern version of a Wild West lynching. 


The war itself is surely almost over, but that word liberation must ring hollow to the tens of thousands who have lost relatives and friends, or had their homes destroyed or ransacked and are now faced with anarchy. With the dictator’s hometown, Tikrit, yet to surrender, there is obviously some mopping-up ahead. The jubilant welcome captured by the media was heart-warming, but it was rather thin, with most of the demonstrators seemed deeply suspicious of US intentions, and anxious for them to get out of Iraq as soon as possible. Although most Iraqis  may welcome the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, few relish even the temporary rule by the country widely regarded as hostile to Islam.


In the light of the hazards ahead, it is a bit premature to celebrate.  The conduct of this war has not helped the standing of the participants, outside the nations involved in the Coalition. It was launched in defiance of the Security Council, with the successes of the UN weapon inspection teams being disregarded on the grounds that they had failed to unearth weapons of mass destruction. And now, after three weeks of war and occupation of much of Iraq,  such weapons have yet to be discovered. In short, the raison d’etre for this destructive military assault in disregard of the Security Council has yet to be proved. If some are discovered the fact that the Iraqis did not use them as a desperate defence measure dismisses as absurd Washington’s claim that it was in danger of an Iraqi attack of some sort.


The Coalition’s military triumph is a matter of relief rather than rejoicing. No army in Iraq’s circumstances, with its command structure crumbling around it, could have withstood America’s crushing military superiority. Even the feared Republican Guard, without air defence to shield them from the intense air attacks, collapsed. So crushing was the Coalition assault that the Iraqis failed to organise the expected urban resistance. Perhaps this failure was the consequence of US ‘decapitation’ operations, which left much of the Iraqi army effectively leaderless.


Now the Coalition is facing the hard part, and with that Dr. Strangelove character, Donald Rumsfeld, running the show one cannot but be deeply concerned. His dismissive reaction to International Red Cross and UN reports that Iraq was sliding into chaos was not an encouraging beginning. Americans will need to recognise the urgency of the humanitarian situation and respond to it,  if they are to win Iraqi hearts and minds. If not the transitional administration will be considered a hostile occupation.  The Coalition partners need to be forced to confront the fact that they started this war as an act of aggression, whatever its merits, and are directly responsible for the casualties, the material devastation, and for the massive civic breakdown. So far their main achievement has merely been an impressive demonstration of military muscle. But the damaged city centres serve to remind Iraqis of the invasion’s brutal nature. In the circumstances it is hardly surprising that most Iraqis simply don’t want Americans around for any length of time. Their liberator image will not endure in the present chaotic conditions, and the Americans will find themselves unwelcome intruders in this historic centre of Arab culture.


I feel that Australia’s acceptance of a role, however minor, in the US-controlled transitional administration is yet another impetuous and unwise move. The UN should have been given the key role, as most Europeans, including Tony Blair, were apparently urging. Just how Washington’s transitional authority will shape up is yet to be tested. It would be comforting if Colin Powell were in charge, but he has obviously been shunted aside. The “occupation” will be run by General Jay Garner, whose early statements are hardly enlightening, with ultimate control being exercised by Rumsfeld. Because of Garner’s well-known pro-Israel bias he will start with a credibility problem. The apparent choice of Ahmad Chalabi as the Iraqi leader is also contentious. Chalabi had not been in Iraq since 1958, and is encumbered with a murky past, involving illegal dealings in Jordan, for which he was sentenced in absentia to 22 years imprisonment. Our Prime Minister’s quick endorsement of these arranged is another lamentable in his extraordinary deference to the most aggressive, and arrogant US administration for more than half a century. Saddam may have gone, but he leaves behind him a devastated, divided and demoralised nation, whose future is in the worrying hands of this Administration.