THE BRIAR PATCH?

Kevin Drum points to this WaPo piece which asks the bold question: Is This Hussein’s Counterattack?

The recent string of high-profile attacks on U.S. and allied forces in Iraq has appeared to be so methodical and well crafted that some top U.S. commanders now fear this may be the war Saddam Hussein and his generals planned all along.

Knowing from the 1991 Persian Gulf War that they could not take on the U.S. military with conventional forces, these officers believe, the Baath Party government cached weapons before the Americans invaded this spring and planned to employ guerrilla tactics.

“I believe Saddam Hussein always intended to fight an insurgency should Iraq fall,” said Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr., commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division and the man responsible for combat operations in the lower Sunni Triangle, the most unstable part of Iraq. “That’s why you see so many of these arms caches out there in significant numbers all over the country. They were planning to go ahead and fight an insurgency, should Iraq fall.”

In an interview Wednesday at his headquarters northwest of the capital, Swannack said the speed of the fall of Baghdad in April probably caught Hussein and his followers by surprise and prevented them from launching the insurgence for a few months. That would explain why anti-U.S. violence dropped off noticeably in July and early August but then began to trend upward.

Not everyone in Iraq agrees with that theory. An alternative view is that the current resistance was not planned in advance; rather, Hussein loyalists were in disarray after the invasion and took several months to develop a response. In either case, the insurgents clearly gathered intelligence during that time on the vulnerabilities of the U.S. occupation force.

Kevin is intrigued because he’s suspected this all along:

Everything I’ve read about Saddam Hussein indicates that he’s frequently out of touch with reality, especially in military matters, but it’s quite possible that this time somebody finally pounded some sense into him: there was no way he could win against the U.S. military.

So instead, his troops “melted away” (remember that?) and prepared for the urban fighting that we were so afraid of back in April (remember that too?) but that never materialized. Now we’re finding out just where those troops melted away to.

Vernon Loeb and Thomas Ricks, the authors of the piece, are as good as they come in reporting of defense issues. Still, I’m incredibly skeptical of this theory. It’s quite conceivable that Saddam or his generals realized that they couldn’t take the US on in a direct confrontation and that a guerilla campaign would be the best bet. But why would his soldiers continue to fight for him once he was out of power when they surrendered faster than little French girls in 1991, when Saddam was in full control of the power of the state?

Kevin also notes that the situation described in the piece could be a good thing:

Now, this is obviously bad news in one sense, but I wonder if there’s a sense in which it’s good news: at least we know who the enemy is, and we know their numbers are limited–large, maybe, but still limited.

‘Twould be nice. Indeed, this is a variation on the famous flypaper strategy. But, from what I’ve gathered listening to people who know what they’re talking about on the Iraqi insurgency–most notably Steven Metz of the Strategic Studies Institute–there are many factions involved, with the former regime loyalists (FRLs) being but one. The others include foreign jihadists–al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and other Islamic terrorists who started reconstituting in Iraq after the Taliban regime was deposed in Afghanistan–and “new internationalists”–Iraqis who hated Saddam but who resent the presence of non-Muslim soldiers in their land. This is a complicated problem, since measures necessary to root out FRLs and jihadists will exacerbate tensions among the local populace, likely increasing the number of “new internationalists.”

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, Iraq War
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Steven says:

    This strikes me as too clever by half, not to mention that it is an odd strategy to lose your entire country to a massively superior military, and then hope to drive them out with guerrilla tactics.

  2. JC says:

    Perhaps. But then, given the leaked CIA report, your view of what’s going on in Iraq is markedly different from the extremely pessimistic view held by the CIA station chief – endorsed by Bremer.

    We’re about to cut loose the leaky ship of the IGC in an environment that we – ourselves – can’t control. Not to mention Saddam is still loose. How fast do you think the situation will deteriorate when we leave?

  3. Kevin Drum says:

    I don’t doubt that there are other factions involved in addition to Saddam’s forces. But if the main group involved is several battalions of trained soldiers, that definitely puts a different spin on things.

    As for why, who knows? This is all speculative, but my guess would be that they knew they’d lose, and Saddam was able to convince some of his loyalists that they could eventually win with a guerrilla war, and once it was over they’d all be back on Easy Street.

    Like I said, though, just guessing here.

  4. IceCold says:

    The story’s far from clear, but there’s not much evidence to back up the speculation about Saddam deliberately opting for an insurgency. As Baghdad fell, some Iraqi units attempted to rally, but were overcome by the same things that had caused the regular Army and Republic Guard to melt away: lack of motivation, certainty of defeat and or destruction, bad communications. Of course there’s nothing mutually exclusive about collapse and disarray on the one hand and steps to support an insurgency, on the other. Recall that arms and ordnance — which exist in Iraq in truly astounding quantities — were stashed in every likely and unlikely place during the “conventional” phase as well; that such caches are now used by “resistance” types doesn’t tell us much about earlier planning.

    As to the partially leaked CIA report, if we assume it was accurately portrayed, what it gives is a bleak picture not of Iraq but of US intelligence analysis. The tired bit about “turning points” and virtual deadlines for major progress is trotted out once more, followed by the extremely dubious forecast that Shiites will join in a campaign against the Coalition. Aside from some marginal mischief by Tehran-linked cells, it’s implausible that Shiites would join in attacking the forces that are their shield and sword against the hated Sunnis. Common sense, surveys, and anecdotal reporting all confirm that Shiites fear US premature departure most of all — this community’s going to start risking their lives to attack our troops? Huh? I’m assuming Bremer’s endorsement of this silly-sounding “assessment” served his purposes in getting the OK to goose the process.

    As to the reporting of Tom Ricks, I’m sure it’s dandy, but for me his credibility was forever tarnished by the “quagmire” nonsense he started with his dispatch in March, during the sandstorm. I recall reading his original article online in the middle of the night, and laughing out loud, a reaction amply validated by subsequent events. But it would be unfair to deem his military reporting as any worse than the major-media average.

  5. James Joyner says:

    Reporters report what they see. That often leads to poor coverage, as trees are mistaken for forest. I’m not sure how to prevent that, though.

  6. JC says:

    Well, this certainly isn’t the way to prevent it.

    And as to the CIA report, it specifically states that we’re losing the hearts n’ minds battle for Iraqis. Not just that our intelligence is non-existent. And on that subject I find it rather amusing (funny peculiar, not funny ha ha) that Operation Iron Hammer is being carried out in an environment with a severe intelligence deficit. Meaning that we’re getting tough while we don’t have a clue as to who we should get tough with. Not a very good sign and probably will continue to deteriorate our efforts in the eyes of the Iraqis who already have questions about our abilities.