The War After the War

U.S. Army Documents Warn of Occupation Hazards

While the occupation of Iraq "will probably be characterized by an initial honeymoon period during which the United States will reap the benefits of ridding the population of a brutal dictator," the report doesn't expect that to last too long, as "most Iraqis and most other Arabs will probably assume that the United States intervened in Iraq for its own reasons and not to liberate the population." Indeed, many of the report's principal points stand in contrast to what the planning officer characterizes as the Bush team's "rosy view of how quick and easy this will be." Among those points: "The administration of an Iraqi occupation will be complicated by deep religious, ethnic and tribal differences which dominate Iraqi society."

Noting that "Iraqi political values and institutions are rooted in a tortured history that must be understood before it is possible to consider the rehabilitation of Iraqi society," the report encapsulates the history of several hundred years of recurrent violence and instability owing to tribal, religious, and occupation-related tensions. "The establishment of democracy or even some sort of rough pluralism in Iraq, where it has never really existed previously, will be a staggering challenge for any occupation force" seeking to change a political system "where anti-democratic traditions are deeply ingrained." Indeed, the report adds, "it is also reasonable to expect considerable resistance to efforts at even pluralism."

As for returning exiles, "it is doubtful that the Iraqi population would welcome the leadership of the various exile groups after Saddam's defeat. . . . Iraqi citizens who have suffered under Saddam could well resent Iraqis coming from outside the country following a war and claiming a disproportionate amount of power." And even if some form of democracy does eventually emerge, Uncle Sam shouldn't expect kisses. "U.S. policymakers sometimes assume that a democratic government will be friendly to U.S. policies in the Middle East. This cannot," the report states, "be assumed in the case of Iraq."

After a victory in Iraq, the transition from soldier to cop may be harrowing for the U.S. military.
illustration: Roberto Parada
After a victory in Iraq, the transition from soldier to cop may be harrowing for the U.S. military.

Especially, the report says, if the U.S. isn't well attuned to internal Iraqi concerns. Although the war has been framed in large part as a mission of "disarmament," the report notes that the Iraqi army is one of the "few national institutions that stresses national unity," and that to "tear [it] apart in the war's aftermath could lead to the destruction of one of the only forces for unity within the society," as well as result in demobilized soldiers' joining tribal militias. And it's a given that the U.S. "will further need to seek indigenous forces to aid in law and order functions and help prepare for a post-occupation Iraq," an "inevitable part of rehabilitating" the country.

But "by developing local allies, the United States makes itself at least partially responsible for the behavior of those allies. Hence a pro-U.S. force that attacks any other Iraqi force for private resources threatens to involve the United States in the complex web of sectarian, tribal or clan warfare." In that case, the world might see something not unlike the Israeli occupation of Lebanon, where the actions of an occupying force's proxies create tensions between the occupier and other native groups.

That, in turn, could prompt terrorists to "generate strategies to alienate Iraqis who are initially neutral toward a U.S. occupation." While any acts of terror against U.S. troops would "undoubtedly require a forceful American response," actions like that "seldom win friends among the local citizenry, [and] individuals alienated from the U.S. occupation could well have their hostility deepened or increased by these acts." It would take only a handful of terrorists, the report says, "to attack U.S. forces in the hope that they can incite an action-reaction cycle that will enhance their cause and increase their numbers."

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