TCS Daily

Winning the Battle of Democratic Iraq

By Carroll Andrew - October 13, 2004 12:00 AM

Conventionally speaking, there are two ways to successfully end an offensive war. You can kill the enemy to the last man, or you can convince the highest-ranking enemy survivor to surrender. It is difficult to imagine the current war in Iraq ending according to either victory criteria.

Killing the enemy to the last man is almost always an alternative of questionable utility. Enemies fight harder when facing total extinction. The collateral effects of a campaign to kill the enemy to the last man may actually help create new enemy fighters. These kinds of factors generally make forcing surrender the more attractive option -- for both sides.

Obtaining a meaningful surrender from a terrorist insurgency, however, is a difficult task. There may not exist a single highest-ranking leader capable of offering a legitimate, final surrender. Terrorists do not use strictly hierarchical command and control structures. If a leader is killed, units "under" him can fight on, without re-establishing a formal chain of command. If an entire cell is routed, others assume its function without orders from above.

How, then, does civilized society defeat a decentralized infrastructure of violence? The key lies in accepting two principles. The first principle is traditional military/historical wisdom. War is never a string of uninterrupted successes. You cannot obsess over battles that have been lost; you learn from them and move on. The second principle is that non-conventional warfare requires non-conventional demarcation of battles. In conventional warfare, battles are defined primarily by location. Protracted conflict in the same place may properly be considered a single battle -- the Battle of the Atlantic in World War II, for instance. In the war on terror, with its blurring of lines between military and political objectives, continuing conflict in the same location may properly be considered a string of different battles, if the political and social backdrop changes in a significant way.

If you think that the second principle is just post-modern doublespeak, think again. Consciously or not, these principles have guided the Iraqi insurgency to the successes they have enjoyed so far. The insurgents conceded defeat in the initial, conventional military battle -- the Battle of Baathist Iraq -- without conceding that defeat on the conventional battlefield equaled defeat in the war. While coalition forces were winning the Battle of Baathist Iraq, the insurgents were thinking one step ahead. They were preparing for the next battle, the Battle of Transitional Iraq. The coalition, focused only on winning the first battle, did not adequately prepare for the second. The insurgency was able to achieve some success, establishing effective control over the "no-go zones" in cities like Fallujah and Samarra.

To move towards victory in Iraq, the coalition must adapt to the fact that Iraqi insurgents have achieved at least a draw in the Battle of Transitional Iraq. Fortunately, the Battle of Transitional Iraq is nearing its end. As a democratic Iraqi government replaces the interim government, the fundamental nature of battle will change again, as drastically as it did when the Baathist government collapsed. A new battle is about to begin -- the Battle of Democratic Iraq.

In the Battle of Democratic Iraq, the coalition can use the (largely untapped) advantage it has as the civilized side in this conflict. Civilized societies build states. Shadowy networks of terrorists and insurgents do not. Terrorists have to play in structures designed by the civilized world. Those who build states have every right -- and every responsibility -- to build structures that give peaceful majorities maximum advantage.

To date, both sides have accepted that there is a single, indivisible state-structure called "Iraq" that is the winner-take all final prize. The coalition assumed, mistakenly, that effective control of all territory within Iraq's borders would quickly follow the destruction of the recognized government within those borders. Now, based partly on the assumption that they will always have a legally recognized right to move freely about Iraq, the insurgents believe that they can gain control of all of Iraq by starting at the no-go zones and working outward. Both sides have assumed that Iraq's current borders, like a mountain or a river, are a permanent, unchanging feature of this conflict. They are not. They are man-made, and what man can make, man can change.

In particular, the new Iraqi government is not compelled to preserve Iraq's old structure of 18 equal provinces simply out of tradition -- or worse, out of misguided respect for outdated colonial borders. In his September visit to the United States, Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi claimed that 14 to 15 of Iraq's provinces are completely safe. The Belmont Club blog has documented that insurgent activity is minimal in no less than 12 of Iraq's 18 provinces. The provinces where things are relatively peaceful should go ahead and form a democratic government. They can then administer the no-go zones within the remaining provinces as unorganized territories within Iraq. The new democratic Iraqi government is free, of course, to regulate the borders of the unorganized territories in any way it sees fit.

In the Battle of Democratic Iraq, the Iraqi government should fundamentally alter the relation of the no-go zones to the rest of the country. At the moment, the no-go zones serve only to keep people out. Restrictions on unorganized territory border-crossings, on the other hand, will apply to both directions. If not everyone is free to enter a no-go zone, then not everyone is free to leave. If necessary, the government of Iraq can plan to physically wall the no-go zones off from the rest of the country, allowing access only through a few, well-guarded checkpoints. If the government of India can build a wall along its nearly 2,000 mile long border with Pakistan, or the government of Brazil can consider walling off lawless areas of Rio de Janeiro, the government of Iraq can consider walling off lawless areas of Iraq.

The unorganized territories should be declared ineligible for reconstruction money, although a certain portion of reconstruction funds can be allocated to places in Iraq willing to accept émigrés from an unorganized territory. Of course, no money from Iraq's new oil industry should be shared with the unorganized territories.

The plan for internally reorganizing Iraq should be announced with enough advance to allow non-militants in the areas that will become unorganized territories time to ponder their situation. They should be made very aware that they are passing up more than just their right to participate in a single election. Those unable to govern themselves locally will have no voice at the national level, and no one will be rushing to the aid of areas that squander their opportunity to join the world of civilized governance. If the no-go zones refuse to buy into a democratic Iraqi system now, an unorganized territory wanting to rejoin the Iraqi state later will have to prove itself, first by organizing some sort of civil government, then by initiating peaceful overtures. The rest of Iraq will then decide whether or not it wishes to accept an unorganized territory as a full partner.

In the meantime, Iraq's democratic government should make it clear that the post-Baathist confederation of no-go zones has reached its high-water mark. Breaching the security perimeter of an unorganized territory will be regarded as an act of war. Aggressive activity originating in an unorganized territory will be subject to massive retaliation. Beyond these, militant leadership in the unorganized territories refusing to join the new Iraq will have two options for the future. They can wait around and be deposed by local residents who want to join a peaceful country ruled by law, or they can accept the formal leadership of an unorganized territory and, eventually, offer its surrender.

The author is a TCS contributor.


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