Jewish World Review March 24, 2003 / 20 Adar II, 5763

David Warren

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Shock & awe


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | "Ameriki! Ameriki!" -- that's what the young men were yelling in Safwan, Friday, as U.S. and British soldiers secured the oil town near the Kuwait border. We shall be hearing the word much more in the days ahead, as the population centres fall; mostly, I expect, to surrenders. The one impediment in many towns, will be finding someone with the authority to surrender, so as not to risk lives walking in.

As one learns from Iraqis both outside and in their country, the celebration will be on the surface, fuelled by relief; with mixed feelings deeper down. Imagine yourself to be an Iraqi, and watching TV. Much though you hate Saddam, it is painful to watch your own forlorn countrymen, emerging from the sand dunes in thirst, waving teeshirts & surrendering by the hundred. You wince at the screen to see the bombs come down, perhaps in old and beloved neighbourhoods. But it will soon be over.

"The War of the Resolution of the Seventeen Resolutions after the Twelve Year Rush to War", a.k.a. Gulf War II, continued, with a display of some promised "shock and awe" over Baghdad and several lesser cities. The terms were used aptly by the Pentagon, in their promises to journalists over previous weeks. There was more than a hint of the Ringling Bros. about them, notwithstanding the scale: an immense son et lumiere showing what the U.S. can do, and leaving a number of imposing ruins when the smoke clears and the fires gutter out.

That it was meant to be watched was evident from the Pentagon, which announced the performance a half-hour before the bombers arrived from England and elsewhere, so everyone could watch. I took it for the most expensive psy-op in history.

The whole idea is to scare people -- specifically the people still offering to fight on the other side, though unfortunately innocent civilians get scared, too. But within the maelstrom, only a few more surgical hits, done with extra updraft.

For many of the targets would have been unoccupied -- such obvious buildings as Saddam's main presidential complex, a couple more of his showy palaces, and ministry buildings from which witnesses were watching files and staff removing themselves during the 48 hours of President Bush's ultimatum. A pattern of these blackened but mostly symbolic ruins was thus inscribed across the middle of the city.

Some of the hits were on live targets however: On Republican Guard positions, chiefly around the city's perimeter. A command post with a hundred men might suddenly not be there. Help in spotting and tagging such shifting targets is already coming from within the city, as allied fifth columnists chat directly with the invaders, sometimes through such banal media as cellphones.

So far as I know, the attacks left Baghdad's electrical and public communications grids, including telephones, still mostly working -- an indication of the precision of the strikes. There is even a blogger still filing reports in English from within the city, who calls himself Salam Pax.

This is the second media-visible war of the 21st-century, fought with this new generation of tools. And though we may have more wars of the low-tech variety, in the frontier regions of the Third World; or wars like the continuing, old-fashioned, Soviet-style Russian pulverization of Chechnya -- the peace marchers will never be interested in them. All such carnage will continue with the implied blessings of the U.N., since only the U.S. ever asked for the authority to go to war. (It is unlikely ever to ask again.)

The ability to fight very consequential wars while inflicting fewer civilian casualties than in contemporaneous road accidents could not have come at a more convenient time; for there may be several more like this to be fought, before regimes like Saddam's become unsustainable.

As I insist, the Baghdad shock-and-awe was less significant in military terms than in psychological. Surrenders have been asked for, and not yet received. The message is, "You saw what two Baghdad targets looked like the first night. You saw a dozen the night after. Here is what 100 targets looks like. Would you really like to see 3,000?"

The problem, in the increasing unlikelihood that it is Saddam watching on the other side, is that his answer would be, "Yes, I would very much like to see that." At the outset of the war he is reported to have observed, "How many Iraqis will the Americans be willing to kill to conquer Iraq?" He wants casualties, and he wants the allies fighting in the rubble.

But as I am more and more convinced, it is not Saddam making the decisions; even if they're alive neither he nor his sons can reach their commanders, and the U.S. has been monitoring almost no military communications along the lines they have not knocked out. They need someone to survive, in a position to deliver a plausible surrender, after all the surgical strikes on leadership targets. Alternatively, U.S., British, and Australian troops will just have to walk in.

Real military, as opposed to psychological, progress was being made all around the country yesterday. The 35-kilometre steel column of the ground advance is now almost half-way to Baghdad, entirely by-passing all defended towns. They would seem to be encountering more wild camels than Iraqi soldiers, along the way.

Special forces have secured most of the country's usable remote airstrips, and troops are now being inserted through all these new "holes". Oilfields have been secured in the south, and west, oil and gas fields in the north, with lively action near Mosul and Kirkuk on the edges of the Kurdish region. We're waiting for the surrender of Basra, whose ports are now under allied control; a noose will then tighten around Baghdad. Those ports will soon be landing the massive relief cargoes that are waiting offshore.

And the surrenders are coming in as expected; some resistance, but nowhere sustained. Saddam, or his successors, have been so far unable to trigger any of the major humanitarian disasters that were feared, thanks partly to special forces actions not yet publicized. Special teams were waiting from the outset to swoop in on suspected biological and chemical sites; and according to one Iraqi source, they may have secured a main dam on the Tigris River.

The best news is the news itself, which seems to be reaching through Iraq by TV, radio, and chatter. It would seem that the Iraqi people are remarkably well informed, and trust in the accuracy of the allied air strikes. That has had one marvellous effect: No panic tides of refugees; at least, not yet.

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JWR contributor David Warren is a Columnist for the Ottawa Citizen. Comment by clicking here.

03/21/02: To Baghdad!
03/19/02: Hostage crisis
03/17/02: Bush, the "UN's cowboy," is really the "un cowboy" --- a softie
03/17/02: United? Nations?
03/12/02: Blair goes wobbly
03/10/02: Ready aye ready
03/06/02: Logic of war
02/10/02: Play up, play up
01/30/02: No ambiguity
12/05/02: A farce
11/13/02: A game of chess
10/30/02: Material breach
10/21/02: Armed & dangerous
09/11/02: The enemy within
08/21/02: Bush v. world
08/06/02: Has Sharon gone 'wobbly'?
07/24/02: Evil Sharon
06/19/02: The end is nigh
06/17/02: Those darn American imperialists!

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