The War Today

The Situation on 31 March 2003

By J.H. Crawford


When I wrote the previous piece, War in Iraq, just a few days ago, many things had not yet become evident, but the picture is now starting to clear. It's not a pretty picture, of course - war never is. The Dutch NRC Handelsblad carried two photographs at the top of page 3 in its 28 March edition. On the left is an American medic tending to a wounded Iraqi. On the right is a photo of a bus machine-gunned by American troops. It was apparently carrying members of the Republican Guard. All but one of those on the bus were killed, apparently without an opportunity to surrender. The foreground is littered with corpses.

The war has gone terribly wrong. So far, the consequences are fairly minor for Bush and Blair; losses on their side are probably still below 100, and the Iraqi casualties, surely far higher, are still much less than in the first week (and also the final week) of the 1991 invasion.

Bush has reason to be concerned, as events did not bear out predictions of local uprisings and easy victory. The ground forces know they're spread thin, with long supply lines through a territory they don't control. They need 15 million gallons of fuel every day, all of which comes up from Kuwait in tankers. Their forces are considerably outnumbered by the Iraqis, and now there's word that young men throughout the Moslem world are volunteering to fight for Iraq. They're apparently crossing in from Syria. A recent suicide attack killed several Americans, with threats from Baghdad of much worse to come.

As always, truth was the first casualty of war, of this war especially, in which Bush is keeping near-total control of news media covering the war from the American side. Bush, however, never reckoned on al-Jazeera to tell the truth. I didn't really realize until Friday night that Bush and Blair have been lying right along about the really big stuff. Basra was never in their hands, and certainly is not now. Most of what you are hearing in the Western press is censored; much of what Bush says is an outright lie. He and his administration prefer secrecy to truth.

Administration leaders, Rumsfeld in particular, have harbored delusions that made it much easier for them to go to war, and to go with only a light force. The greatest delusion was that the Iraqis would welcome American and British troops as they turned against Saddam. This certainly did not occur spontaneously as had apparently been expected. Will it in the future? Can anyone really say?

The Shia in the south were expected to support the USA/UK as soon as "Shock and Awe" started. Rumsfeld and Powell must have neglected to remind Bush that his father had promised these self-same folks protection after the last war. He did not redeem his promise, and Saddam massacred them.

I haven't a clue what's going on in the north except that it looks very dangerous, with a four-handed game in progress: Turkey, Kurdistan, Iraq, USA/UK. There's plenty of opportunity for mischief with so many players who hate each other.

The embogment is now in progress, with a force doubling in "just a few weeks." This also may prove insufficient, depending on the number of Moslems streaming in from neighboring countries to join the jihad.

So, in the midst of this stalemate, I offer George Bush for consideration the following exit strategy:

The USA withdraws from Iraq and announces:

  • The war is won
  • Our troops are coming home
  • Democracy has been brought to the Iraqis
  • Escrowed oil revenues are being used to rebuild Iraq
  • The Brits stayed behind to help out
  • We left Saddam in charge
Bush had better have an exit strategy at least as effective as this.

Some Quotes and Links

You may find the following quotes informative; the links are to my source. In a few cases where confusion might arise, I have added ellipses where paragraphs have been deleted; in other cases not.

Martyrdom seekers flock to Iraq, as signs grow it may become magnet for jihad
by Hamza Hendawi, Associated Press at
30 March 2003

Thousands of Muslims who say they are ready for martyrdom have flocked to Iraq since the U.S.-led war began, a sign that a prolonged stay of U.S. and British forces may turn the country into a magnet for militants seeking a new jihad.

Iraq vice president Taha Yassin Ramadan threatened more, saying suicide bombings would become "routine military policy."

"I came (to) offer my life for the sake of the Arab nation and Iraq," said a Palestinian who would not give his name. "We came as part of a martyrdom project against the Americans."

Dia'a Rashwan, a prominent expert on radical Muslim groups, views an Iraq occupied by the U.S. military as the "perfect" environment for Muslim militants seething over what they see as Washington's war against Islam.

"With so many American troops required to occupy Iraq, they'll be like hostages," he said.

Report: Rumseld Ignored Pentagon Advice on Iraq
(Reuters, reporting on the
7 April 2003 issue of The New Yorker, on sale Monday)

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld repeatedly rejected advice from Pentagon planners that substantially more troops and armor would be needed to fight a war in Iraq, New Yorker Magazine reported.

... the weekly said Rumsfeld insisted at least six times in the run-up to the conflict that the proposed number of ground troops be sharply reduced and got his way.

"He thought he knew better. He was the decision- maker at every turn," the article quoted an unidentified senior Pentagon planner as saying. "This is the mess Rummy put himself in because he didn't want a heavy footprint on the ground."

It also said Rumsfeld had overruled advice from war commander Gen. Tommy Franks to delay the invasion until troops denied access through Turkey could be brought in by another route and miscalculated the level of Iraqi resistance.

"They've got no resources. He was so focused on proving his point -- that the Iraqis were going to fall apart," the article, by veteran journalist Seymour Hersh, cited an unnamed former high-level intelligence official as saying.

Hersh... quoted the former intelligence official as saying the war was now a stalemate.

Much of the supply of Tomahawk cruise missiles has been expended, aircraft carriers were going to run out of precision guided bombs and there were serious maintenance problems with tanks, armored vehicles and other equipment, the article said.

"The only hope is that they can hold out until reinforcements arrive," the former official said.

Iran and Syria hit back over Rumsfeld threat
30 March 2003

Former defence minister Doug Henderson, a leading Labour backbench opponent of the war, said: "All I can see is a major escalation, with all the risks of involving Syria, Iran and Turkey, or a ceasefire and a withdrawal and I think a ceasefire and withdrawal is by far the better way forward."

Practice to Deceive: Chaos in the Middle East is not the Bush hawks' nightmare scenario - it's their plan.
By Joshua Micah Marshall
The Washington Monthly
April 2003 issue

Long article about Bush's long-range plans for the oil states. I cannot pass judgement on the accuracy of this analysis, but if there's truth to it, the situation is even worse than I thought. Better make time to read this in its entirety.

Let's Send Rumsfeld and His Hawks to War Instead
by Robin Cook
Sunday Mirror in Common Dreams
30 March 2003

It is OK for Bush to say the war will go on for as long as it takes. He is sitting pretty in the comfort of Camp David protected by scores of security men to keep him safe.

It is easy to show you are resolute when you are not one of the poor guys stuck in a sandstorm peering around for snipers.

This week British forces have shown bravery under attack and determination in atrocious weather conditions. They are too disciplined to say it, but they must have asked each other how British forces ended up exposed by the mistakes of US politicians.

We were told the Iraqi army would be so joyful to be attacked that it would not fight. A close colleague of US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld predicted the march to Baghdad would be "a cakewalk".

We were told Saddam's troops would surrender. A few days before the war Vice-President Dick Cheney predicted that the Republican Guard would lay down their weapons.

The argument between Blair and Bush over whether the UN will be in charge of the reconstruction of Iraq is about more than international legitimacy. It is about whether the Iraqi people can have confidence that their country is being run for the benefit of themselves or for the benefit of the US.

US soldiers in Iraq asked to pray for Bush
ABC News
30 March 2003
Quoted in its entirety

They may be the ones facing danger on the battlefield, but US soldiers in Iraq are being asked to pray for President George W Bush.

Thousands of marines have been given a pamphlet called "A Christian's Duty," a mini prayer book which includes a tear-out section to be mailed to the White House pledging the soldier who sends it in has been praying for Bush.

"I have committed to pray for you, your family, your staff and our troops during this time of uncertainty and tumult. May God's peace be your guide," says the pledge, according to a journalist embedded with coalition forces.

The pamphlet, produced by a group called In Touch Ministries, offers a daily prayer to be made for the US president, a born-again Christian who likes to invoke his God in speeches.

Sunday's is "Pray that the President and his advisers will seek God and his wisdom daily and not rely on their own understanding".

Monday's reads "Pray that the President and his advisers will be strong and courageous to do what is right regardless of critics".

Winning the Hearts and Minds of Americans
The Battle for Democracy in Our Homeland editorial
31 March 2003

George W. Bush is at the epicenter of the moral, ethical, and criminal corruption of this administration. If Clinton was hounded into impeachment over oral sex, how can Bush escape unscathed for betraying a nation and the world?

How did we get to the point that we have a media that daily bombards us with Orwellian dispatches and images that are crafted in the Pentagon and White House offices of disinformation?

War on Iraq: Marines Rage at Trigger Happy Yanks
British blame heavy-handed U.S tactics for civilian deaths
James Lyons In Umm Qasr
Sunday Mail
March 2003

A SENIOR British officer yesterday blamed heavy-handed American troops for the deaths of innocent Iraqis.

The astonishing outburst came as 42 Royal Marine Commando followed US troops into the devastated port of Umm Qasr.

In the first major split between coalition forces the officer, who asked not to be named, said locals were very wary when the Marines took over from their allies.

The officer said: "The US answered anything with a salvo of tank rounds or a major bombing.

"They were in their vehicles roaring down the road every time an angry shot rang out.

"They killed a lot of civilians as well."

The Marines have swapped their bullet-proof helmets for green berets as they attempt to build bridges with the people of Umm Qasr.

Army of suicide bombers marches to Iraq
Telegraph (Calcutta)
31 March 2003

Worried about their relations with Washington, some Arab countries appear to want to try to stop their citizens travelling to Iraq, but Baghdad today said more than 4,000 Arabs were ready to "martyr" themselves had already arrived.

An Iraqi army officer killed four US soldiers in a suicide bombing at a military checkpoint in central Iraq yesterday, the first such incident of the war that Iraq vowed to repeat -- and said foreign volunteers were flocking in to help.

Chanting "suicide attacks lead to freedom," about 150,000 Moroccans today poured through the streets of Rabat in the latest protest in the Muslim world against the war in Iraq. But for angry Muslims elsewhere, marching was not enough. [This is Morocco, one of the West's closest Moslem allies.]

Shabaan, a labourer, agreed: "We are Muslims, it is our duty to go and fight if someone tries to occupy Muslim land.

"If you ask any Egyptian in the street they will tell you they want to go and fight, we are all ready, there are millions of people who think the same way."

US Marines turn fire on civilians at the bridge of death
Times (London)
30 March 2003

Is this the road to a lasting peace? The original, long piece is about war, up close and very ugly.

THE light was a strange yellowy grey and the wind was coming up, the beginnings of a sandstorm. The silence felt almost eerie after a night of shooting so intense it hurt the eardrums and shattered the nerves. My footsteps felt heavy on the hot, dusty asphalt as I walked slowly towards the bridge at Nasiriya. A horrific scene lay ahead.

Some 15 vehicles, including a minivan and a couple of trucks, blocked the road. They were riddled with bullet holes. Some had caught fire and turned into piles of black twisted metal. Others were still burning.

Amid the wreckage I counted 12 dead civilians, lying in the road or in nearby ditches. All had been trying to leave this southern town overnight, probably for fear of being killed by US helicopter attacks and heavy artillery.

Their mistake had been to flee over a bridge that is crucial to the coalition's supply lines and to run into a group of shell-shocked young American marines with orders to shoot anything that moved.

One man's body was still in flames. It gave out a hissing sound. Tucked away in his breast pocket, thick wads of banknotes were turning to ashes. His savings, perhaps.

Down the road, a little girl, no older than five and dressed in a pretty orange and gold dress, lay dead in a ditch next to the body of a man who may have been her father. Half his head was missing.

Nearby, in a battered old Volga, peppered with ammunition holes, an Iraqi woman - perhaps the girl's mother - was dead, slumped in the back seat. A US Abrams tank nicknamed Ghetto Fabulous drove past the bodies.

This was not the only family who had taken what they thought was a last chance for safety. A father, baby girl and boy lay in a shallow grave. On the bridge itself a dead Iraqi civilian lay next to the carcass of a donkey.

As I walked away, Lieutenant Matt Martin, whose third child, Isabella, was born while he was on board ship en route to the Gulf, appeared beside me.

"Did you see all that?" he asked, his eyes filled with tears. "Did you see that little baby girl? I carried her body and buried it as best I could but I had no time. It really gets to me to see children being killed like this, but we had no choice."

Martin's distress was in contrast to the bitter satisfaction of some of his fellow marines as they surveyed the scene. "The Iraqis are sick people and we are the chemotherapy," said Corporal Ryan Dupre. "I am starting to hate this country. Wait till I get hold of a friggin' Iraqi. No, I won't get hold of one. I'll just kill him."


Suddenly, some of the young men who had crossed into Iraq with me reminded me now of their fathers' generation, the trigger-happy grunts of Vietnam. Covered in the mud from the violent storms, they were drained and dangerously aggressive.



Text ©2003 J.Crawford. This text may be freely reproduced provided that the entire text is reproduced without change and that is cited as the source.

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