Mon, Apr 12, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Iraq mess blamed on US' zeal

BLUNDERS Experts in international relations say that had the US heeded pre-war advice to assemble a larger force, many problems could have been prevented


Iraqi Shiite worshippers flagellate themselves yesterday in the holy Muslim city of Karbala for the ``Arbaeen,'' the 40th day after the commemoration of the death of Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, who is widely revered among Shiites and whose tomb is in Karbala's city center.


The deadly insurgency in Iraq is a direct result of tactical missteps by the US during the rush to war a year ago and in the months afterward, some critics say.

US President George W. Bush could have spared himself major headaches if he had heeded the advice of experts who urged him to assemble a larger force, including Muslim soldiers from Turkey and other countries, to go into Iraq. He also should have avoided the assumption that Iraqis would embrace US soldiers as liberators after the ouster of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.

A healthier regard for Arab perceptions could have helped, said Nayef Samhat, a government and international relations expert at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky

"The invasion was clearly unprovoked and can be easily seen by many in the Arab-Islamic world as nothing more than the reinvention of imperialism," Samhat said.

"The images, too, are quite similar to those of Israeli military actions against Palestinians.

"Arabs will see the similarity," Samhat said, "and associate the two quite easily."

Other US shortcomings, such as failing to work effectively with important Muslim clerics and the inability to halt looting during the fall of Baghdad, have worsened the difficult task of occupying a foreign country.

"Most Iraqis had many reasons to hate Saddam Hussein and we removed him. But that did not automatically make them love us," said Duke University professor Ole Holsti.

"It is at least reasonable to believe that a more orderly and less chaotic transition to a post-Saddam era would have reduced the kinds of frustration that probably underlies at least some of the current problems," Holsti said.

In hindsight, experts say they believe they have been proved right: The military operation in Iraq should have been an international effort from the start, much like it was in Afghanistan, which eventually was taken over by NATO. And, they note, the US should not have dismantled the 200,000-member Iraqi army once Saddam fell.

"If that army had been kept intact, it would have been a trained military force to maintain order," said Pepperdine University political scientist Dan Caldwell.

But more important, many critics believe, Bush should have listened to former Army chief of staff General Eric Shinseki, who said a postwar occupying force in Iraq would have to number in the hundreds of thousands.

Such a force, Shinseki said, is needed to maintain security and calm ethnic tensions in the immediate aftermath of the fall of a government.

The Bush administration settled on a force of about 150,000, expecting it would be augmented by eventual support from other countries.

Reinforcements did not arrive right away or in massive numbers. So when looting broke out, there were not enough soldiers on hand to bring the situation under control.

At the time, Shinseki's troop estimate was called "wildly off the mark" by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.

"It turns out Wolfowitz was wildly wrong," said Joseph Nye, a former assistant defense secretary who is dean of Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.

"If they had put in more troops, they would have prevented the looting and the situation from deteriorating," Nye said.

Throughout the year since Saddam fell, the US has struggled to build better ties with moderate Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, who had demanded a swift return to Iraqi sovereignty. As the insurgency pulsed through Iraq last week, fueled by militias of a more radical Shiite cleric, the more moderate al-Sistani sat silent.

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