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Last night as I gazed up at the stars, I had a startling visitor show up: Future Man.

I decided to take advantage of his knowledge of our future (his past) and find out how the Iraq war would turn out.  Not so good.  

The major hostilities are over, in the sense that there won't be any more "classic battles" between two "regular" armies.  The bad news is the war will drag on for a total of 14 years, with the last American troops leaving Iraq in 2017.

For some unknown reason, Future Man was in a hurry, but he left me with a torn-out page from the history books of the future.  

Tensions between the Iraqis and the American Government existed because of the conflicting movements for independence and colonization, aggravated by the feelings of betrayal on the part of Chalabi, who had been brought to the country by the American military.

Hostilities started on March 15, 2003 when an American soldier shot a Iraqi soldier who was crossing a bridge into Iraqi-occupied territory in Baghdad, an incident historians now consider to be the start of the war. U.S. President George Bush later told reporters "that the insurgents had attacked Baghdad" in justifying war on the Iraqis. The Battle of Baghdad (2003) that followed caused two thousand casualties for Iraqis and two hundred and fifty for the Americans.

The administration of U.S. President Bush subsequently declared Al-Sadr to be an "outlaw bandit", and no formal declaration of war was ever issued. Two reasons have been given for this:

* One is that calling the war the Iraqi Insurrection made it appear to be a rebellion against a lawful government.
* The other was to enable the American government to avoid liability to claims by veterans of the action.

A large American military force (126,000 soldiers) was needed to conquer the country, and would be regularly engaged in war against Iraqi forces for another decade. Also, non-Baathist Iraqis were recruited by the United States Army.

Estimates of the Iraqi forces vary between 80,000 and 100,000, with tens of thousands of auxiliaries. Lack of weapons and munitions was a significant impediment to the Iraqis. U.S. troop strength was 40,000 at the start of hostilities and peaked at 126,000 two years later. Typically only 60 percent of American troops were combat troops. With a field strength ranging from 24,000 to 44,000, this force was able to defeat an opponent many times its size.

The goal, or end-state, sought by the Iraqi Republic was a sovereign, independent, socially stable Iraqi led by the Shi'ite oligarchy. Local chieftains, landowners, and businessmen were the sheikhs who controlled local politics. The war was strongest when Shi'ites, sheikhs, and Sunnis were unified in opposition to annexation. The Sunnis, who provided the bulk of guerilla manpower, had interests different from their Shi'ite leaders and the sheikhs of their villages. Coupled with the ethnic and geographic fragmentation, unity was a daunting task. The challenge for Al-Sadr and his generals was to sustain unified Iraqi public opposition; this was the revolutionaries strategic center of gravity.

The Iraqi operational center of gravity was the ability to sustain its force of 100,000 irregulars in the field. The Iraqi general al-Zarqawi described the Iraqis' war aim as, "not to vanquish the US Army but to inflict on them constant losses." They sought to initially use conventional (later guerilla) tactics and an increasing toll of US casualties to contribute to Bush's defeat in the 2004 presidential election. Their hope was that as President the avowedly anti-imperialist John Kerry would withdraw from Iraq. They pursued this short-term goal with guerilla tactics better suited to a protracted struggle. While targeting Bush motivated the revolutionaries in the short term, his victory demoralized them and convinced many undecided Iraqis that the United States would not depart precipitately.

In 2004, Al-Sadr shifted from conventional to guerrilla warfare, a means of operation which better suited their disadvantaged situation and made American occupation of Iraq all the more difficult over the next few years. In fact, during just the first four months of the guerrilla war, the Americans lost nearly 500 men who were either killed or wounded. The Iraqi militias began staging bloody ambushes and raids. Most infamous were the guerrilla victories at Falujah and Tal Afar. At first, it even seemed as if the Iraqis would fight the Americans to a stalemate and force them to withdraw. This was even considered by President Bush at the beginning of the phase [ed note - got to be an error].

The shift to guerrilla warfare, however, only angered the Americans into acting more ruthlessly than before. They began taking no prisoners, burning whole villages, and routinely shooting surrendering Iraqi soldiers. Much worse were the concentration camps that civilians were forced into, after being suspected of being guerrilla sympathizers. Thousands of civilians died in these camps. In nearly all cases, the civilians suffered much worse than the actual guerrillas.

The death of Al-Zarqawi dealt a severe blow to the Iraqi cause, but not as much as the Americans had hoped. The less competent General Abu Hamza al-Muhajer succeeded him, but surrendered shortly after.

Command then fell to the highly regarded General Abdullah al-Rashid al-Baghdadi, who originally had taken a defensive stance against the Americans, now launched all out offensives against the American-held towns in the Sunni triangle. Though his victories were small, they were a testament that the war was not yet over.

In response, General Abizaid performed tactics that countered al-Sadr\'s guerilla strategy perfectly. Forcing civilians to live in hamlets, interrogating suspected guerillas (and regular civilian alike), and his execution of scorched earth campaigns took a heavy toll on the Iraqi revolutionaries.

Some Americans, notably John Kerry, Russ Feingold and other members of the American Anti-Imperialist League, strongly objected to the annexation of Iraq. Other Americans mistakenly thought that the Iraqis wanted to become part of the United States. Anti-imperialist movements claimed that the United States had betrayed its lofty goals of the Persian Gulf War by becoming a colonial power, merely replacing Britain in Iraq.

During the war 4,324 American soldiers died, only 1,000-1,500 of which were due to actual combat; the remainder died of disease. 2,818 were wounded. There were also 2,000 casualties that the Iraqi police forces suffered during the war, over a thousand of which were fatalities. Iraqi military deaths are estimated at 20,000 with 16,000 actually counted, while civilian deaths numbered between 250,000 and 1,000,000 Iraqis.

U.S. attacks into the countryside often included scorched earth campaigns where entire villages were burned and destroyed, torture (water cure) and the concentration of civilians into "protected zones" (concentration camps). Many of the civilian casualties resulted from disease and famine. Reports of the execution of U.S. soldiers taken prisoner by the Iraqis led to savage reprisals by American forces. Many American officers and soldiers called war a "Haji killing business".

From almost the beginning of the war, soldiers wrote home describing, and usually bragging about, atrocities committed against Iraqis, soldiers and civilians alike. Increasingly, such personal letters, or portions of them, reached a national audience as anti-imperialist bloggers across the nation reproduced them.

Once these accounts were widely reproduced, the Defense Department was forced to demand that Secretary Rumsfeld investigate their authenticity.

Private Lynndie England of the 372nd regiment resisted such pressure. She insisted that Brg. General Karpinski had ordered that all prisoners be tortured. General Myers was obliged to order the Iraqi sector commander, General Kimmitt, to look into the charge. England confronted Kimmett's aide with a corroborating witness, Private Graner, who confessed to torturing two prisoners after Karpinski ordered, "Kill them! Damn it, Kill them!" Kimmett sent his aide's report on to Myers with no comment. Kimmett ordered England court-martialed "for writing and conniving at the publication of an article which... contains willful falsehoods concerning herself and a false charge against General Karpinski." The judge advocate in Baghdad convinced Kimmett that such a trial could open a Pandora's box, as "facts would develop implicating many others."

General Kimmett sent the England case to Washington writing: "After mature deliberation, I doubt the wisdom of court-martial in this case, as it would give the insurgent authorities a knowledge of what was taking place and they would assert positively that our troops had practiced inhumanities, whether the charge should be proven or not, as they would use it as an excuse to defend their own barbarities;" and Kimmett went on, justifying the war crimes, "and it is not thought that her charge is very grievous under the circumstances then existing, as it was very early in the war, and the patience of our soldiers was under great strain."

Towards the end of 2004, General Myers attempted to repair his battered image. He began to work to win new friends among the journalists in Baghdad and bestowed favors on any journalist who gave him favorable press.

To counter the bad press back in America, General Myers stated that insurgents tortured American prisoners in "fiendish fashion", some of whom were buried alive, or worse, up their necks in anthills to be slowly devoured. Others were castrated, had the removed parts stuffed into their mouths, and were then left to suffocate or bleed to death.

Journalist Jill Carroll, whose release was forced by American cavalry pursuing Al-Sadr into the mountains, insisted that she had received "considerable treatment" and that she was no more starved than were her captors. Kimmett responded to these two articles by ordering the "capture" of the journalist, and that she be "investigated", therefore questioning their loyalty.

When F.A. Blake of the International Red Cross arrived at Muqtada Al-Sadr's request, General Abizaid kept him confined to Baghdad, where Abizaid's staff explained all of the Iraqis' violations of civilized warfare. Blake managed to slip away from an escort and venture into the field. Blake never made it past American lines, but even within American lines he saw burned out villages and "horribly mutilated bodies, with stomachs slit open and occasionally decapitated." Blake waited to return to San Francisco, where he told one reporter that "American soldiers are determined to kill every Iraqi in sight."

During the U.S. occupation, English was declared the official language, although the languages of the Iraqi people were Arabic, Kurdish, Turkoman and other native languages. The English requirement barred many from political office and ensured a dependency on American administrators.

In the fall of 2004, General Tommy Franks, who was still loyal to Donald Rumsfeld, said to Fox News:

"When I first started in against these rebels, I believed that Al-Sadr's troops represented only a faction. I did not like to believe that the whole population of the Sunni triangle--the native population that is--was opposed to us and our offers of aid and good government. But after having come this far, after having occupied several towns and cities in succession, and having been brought much into contact with both insurgents and terrorists, I have been reluctantly compelled to believe that the Iraqi masses are loyal to Al-Sadr and the government which he heads."

As Future Man fled into the night, he mumbled something about "history repeating"...

Pax

Originally posted to Soj on Sat Nov 18, 2006 at 07:54 AM PST.

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