I was near the end of my journey. I had traveled 300 kilometers northward until south of Mosul. I had traveled westward to the Jordanian border along the desert highway that goes through Ramadi and via Ghorib to Faluja along the secondary road that heads towards the southwest.
I had gone south to Kerbala and further south to Najaf and Qufa and the road that goes via al Hila to Babylon. And I had traveled the road that leads through the munitions dump that blew up at Zafrana to Ktesifon near Mad’in where the Iraqi nuclear complex of Tammuz is located.
I had been around all the various quarters of Baghdad, in the center and the outlying neighborhoods. During all these trips, on the developed highway system and on the secondary roads that lead to Baghdad and to the distance of 200 kilometers south, 300 hundred kilometers north and nearly 600 west, I counted no more than 200 destroyed military vehicles. One third of them were tanks, a third were armored combat BMP vehicles.
Something didn’t seem right to me. Where were the divisions of the Republican Guard that the American army had destroyed, the ones they said were moving down towards Baghdad from the north? Most of the vehicles were in the near radius of about 50 kilometers around Baghdad; sometimes the circle of destruction was closer. There was a company of BMPs and tanks not far from al Ghorib on the main road to Faluja and Ramadi. Two such companies were on the fast road that goes north toward Mosul; to the south, at the exit to Mahmadiya, there was another valley of slaughter. Here and there among the date palm groves was another destroyed truck, a few artillery pieces. But not the quantities I thought there would be.
Inside Baghdad itself, the picture was similar. There were few military vehicles. There were hardly any tanks and very few armored personnel vehicles. During the entire period I was going around Baghdad I did not see more than five or six anti-aircraft batteries of guns scattered here and there in the open fields between houses. In all my roaming I found only one battery of SAM-6 missiles with a destroyed control trailer near the ziggurat at Agarguf. Where was the Iraqi army? Had there been a war?
I was often chilled by what the Israeli military experts were concluding from the American victory. Yes, there had been an American victory, but there hadn’t been a war. If there was an Iraqi army – it had not fought, and whatever fought was easily destroyed. But not in quantity. What I did see along the roadsides in relatively large quantities were missiles. Many scores of missiles on launchers and on trucks. Especially along the wide road north to Mosul and the road south to Najaf, kerbala and Basra. The hits, when they occurred, were very precise. Sometimes a tank was hit and had burned up between two palm trees without the trees being harmed. There was no doubt that the American killing technology is deadly, or as Mitch said: “I hope that the Americans keep this technology to themselves and it doesn’t trickle out to any terror organization. It’s scary, the pinpoint accuracy that can be reached.”
But had there been a war here?
I will go back to Herodotus: I don’t know whether this is true and if what they told me was correct but this is what I saw and this is what I heard and this is what I am telling. The Americans had few losses before the toppling of the Saddam monument on April 8. Less than 150, half of them from friendly fire. The rest were mostly from ambushes and confrontations with light weapons. They did not encounter real resistance. As they advanced towards Baghdad with hardly any battles, no one blew up the bridges over the Tigris and the Euphrates and after one battle in which hundreds of Iraqis were killed at the airport and the Americans had almost no casualties, Baghdad surrendered and the war was over.
There was no large tank battle in this war. Until I arrived in Iraq I though it was the Apaches that had won the war. But where was the material they had destroyed?
In a conversation I had with Israeli journalist Ron Ben-Yishai, who came down to Baghdad from the north during the war, he said that the divisions had remained in military bases hidden under camouflage nets. Like in Kosovo. Maybe. In Kosovo, NATO planes attacked every target, real or imagined. There was a gap between Rumsfeld’s declaration at a certain stage of the war that the divisions had ceased to exist and the final collapse. What does “they ceased to exist” mean? Had they ever really existed or was it all bluff?
The Republican Guard divisions were not destroyed. They were not destroyed because they did not fight. But perhaps this is because there never were any such divisions. There was something very unexplained and very unclear about this war. The Iraqi air force had not really existed since 1991. A large part of the land army was destroyed in that same war. Iraq’s long-range missile capabilities had been used up then and not much was left of them – at the end of the first Gulf War Israel was getting hit by missiles with concrete warheads. It is doubtful that Saddam’s Iraq ever had long-range chemical capabilities. It never had nuclear weapons because Israel destroyed its French nuclear reactor in 1991 and the Americans bombed its Russian reactor.
To date, two months after Baghdad fell into American hands, the Americans have not found evidence of chemical or biological weapons of mass destruction. Despite their loud scolding of the UN inspection agency headed by Hans Blix to the effect that the UN was not looking properly and they would not hand over to them the information in their possession because it would leak to the Iraqis. They did not hand over this information because they did not have any. Otherwise, how is it possible to explain that the Americans have not found anything after their glorious military victory and the total occupation of Iraq?
This could put the American army in an embarrassing light – both the army and its intelligence organizations. And of course the Americans’ friends – the Israeli Mossad. Or perhaps the Israelis were playing the same game as the Americans, using scare-mongering to extort budgets for Arrow batteries, (dubious) gas mask development and waste millions on superfluous assessments?
If they thought there was a threat – their intelligence services are not worth much. If they knew what the facts show – it was all misleading and deception.
It could be that they simply did not know. That they hadn’t a clue and when they saw the plain facts they chose not to believe them.
Shiaa & Sadam
Saddam was an empty shell. A scary balloon that the Americans and the Israelis took the trouble to fill with poison gases and weapons of mass destruction. And Saddam could not say that he didn’t have any. Because then Kuwait, not to mention Iran, would have eaten him alive. And his own people, too. Saddam did not want the inspectors to search because he did not want them to find out he didn’t have anything. He played poker against the Americans and hoped that the Europeans, who knew he had nothing, would save him. But the same policy of vagueness that Israel has been holding for years and not admitting that it has nuclear weapons and with which Saddam tried to play is what allowed the Americans to get out the material it had been storing in emergency warehouses in Kuwait since the end of the first Gulf War in 1991 and embark on a cynical war and occupy Iraq with its reserves of oil, to threaten Iran and Syria and to no longer have to rely on Saudi Arabia, which is falling out of the circle of American influence and into that of fundamentalist Islam.
It is not that Saddam was not dangerous. He was dangerous because of the way he fired up the Arab world. In many respects Saddam, corrupt and devoid of ideals, had become a hero no less important than the Nasser of the 1950s and the 1960s. As the Jordanian Palestinian Ibrahim said – Saddam was the only person who said no to America and Israel.
But Saddam, like many of the absurdities of this war, is the person because of whom it was so easy for the Americans to get control during the first stages of the occupation of Iraq, because he had provided every family with flour, sugar, rice and tea for half a year, beginning in January. There is no shortage of fuel in Iraq, and that was the only ministry that was not bombed by the Americans and started functioning again ten days after the occupation. Saddam also built a splendid highway system that links all of Iraq and distributed lands and convenient grants for building homes. There was nothing lacking in Iraq and a month of plunder has enriched anyone who lacked – most of the looting was from government buildings that will be rebuilt with money from the Americans, the European community and the United Nations.
The story of Iraq is strange. Perhaps it is not very different from Pinochet’s revolution against Allende in Chile in the 1960s. Then, the CIA helped murder a governing president and installed a dictator in the name of economic interests. If there had been any doubt with respect to the American war aims, it evaporated after the weeks of my journey.
I could be that I am wrong. This is what I saw, this is what I was told and this is what I am writing. It could be that alarming and amazing things will be found in this country that has area of almost half a million square kilometers, is about 800 kilometers long between Turkey in the north to Kuwait in the south and about 700 kilometers wide from east to west at its most distant points between Iran to the east, Syria and Jordan to the west. I did not see the whole country. I traveled as much as I traveled, I spoke as much as I spoke and I looked the whole time. I did not have intelligence services at my disposal or aerial photographs and I did not see documents, but the results of the war could not be hidden.
bye bye Sadam
I have no idea what happened in Basra and Nasariya, but if the partial reports of the journalists who were embedded with the British and American forces in the south – and even though most of the fighting was there – they also expected that the war would be around Baghdad. Everyone was talking about what was going to happen around Baghdad. The fact is that apart from a few encounters around Baghdad – there too there was no war. And in the other places there were no journalists. The Pentagon spread a fuzzy and befuddling blanket over what happened and this fuzziness continues today, two months after the end of the war.
And there could be another interpretation – the Americans went to war without assessing what would happen afterwards, because after the war the borders of the American empire touch India via Pakistan, China via Afghanistan and Russia via the central Asian republics. The American empire has long and sensitive borders with rising and suspicious powers.
When I returned to Israel I met Ofer Shelah a leading pulicist. I told him what I had seen and what I had not seen and he said that he was now writing a book on the Israeli army and in conversations he had held with military officers, it appeared to him that they too had not internalized what had happened in this war. They had not grasped that the Americans had indeed not waged a war like wars in the past. They did not try at all to destroy the Iraqi army. They went to the head. To the control system, on the assumption that if they cut off the head – the rest would not function. Shelah said that the army, like any army, was opposed to this method. They wanted a classical war, but the American civilian establishment, Cheney and Rumsfeld, forced their opinion on the army. He also said that that the failure of the encirclement through Turkey would have held up American plans for half a years in the past and this time, because of the civilians, the Americans could relinquish the northern front and then say that were several main divisions north of Baghdad but they’re out of the game and launch the war from the south.
Ofer Shelah also thought that the reading of this non-war by the Israeli side relied on a dearth of information. But there is also something even more important – throughout he 20th century most countries and most armies have refrained from going for lopping off the head – the general staffs, the governments and the leaders, even though they had the means to do so. A kind of game of “if you hit my head, I’ll hit yours.”
The Americans began to employ the method of going for the head vis-à-vis Ghadaffi in the 1990s. This is not classical warfare but the assumption that if you get the head the body does not function is a clear and simple assumption. Lions and also most of the large predators lunge for the head. Paralyzing the head will lead to the paralysis of the beast, which an attack on some other body part cannot ensure.
At the beginning of the war I was tempted to believe that the Americans think like Israelis and were trying to kill Saddam as a tactic of personal assassination. However, if what Ofer Shelah says is right – and he, like Mitch Protero, says that the information can be found absolutely in the open on the official American Internet sites because the Ameircans don’t hide anything – than this is the main thing that is different about this war. And this is also what explains the paucity of tanks, armored personnel carriers and other damaged and abandoned materiel that I saw. The Americans did not win the war from the air; they won because they did not play according to the rules of classical warfare they followed during the 19th and 20th centuries. The beginning of the millennium is the return to the warfare in which the killing of the king brings the victory, only the king does not need to be on the battlefield as in the past. The cruise missiles and the smart bombs can find him anywhere. Even five fortified stories underground.
Is this moral?
Is it more moral to kill 20,000 people in order to win?
It depends in what range. Saddam and the Arabs were defeated in an embarrassing way. The middle east that clung to myths of the heroic battle and “the mother of all wars” lost to the Americans who used the technique of the 13th century assassins – infiltrating the ruler’s tent and killing him and thus winning a war without a battle. This was the weapon of the weak in his war against the strong and respected. The Americans, being the strongest of all, don’t need to be particular about matters of respect and honor. Is it true that they do not need to be particular about matters of honor? After the easy victory comes the unclear stage of controlling the country and running the empire. Have the Ameircans thought about the empire that has come into being from the United States through Europe, Central Asia and the Mediterranean, with the pockets of Syria and Iran and its borders touching India, China and Russia? Even if they have not thought about it, the personal threat to every ruler in each of the empires is not to be scoffed at.
These are exactly the techniques Mitch spoke about, disturbed by the idea that they might fall into non-American hands. Until then America will control the world. Even if in the countries it is running the middle eastern chaos of pursuit, bloody death and revenge continues for at least an entire century.