October 24, 2005

Bush's Preparations for the Iraq War

Bush planned to go to war against Iraq from before the 2000 election. When he became President, he worked with his closest advisors to try to figure out exactly how to get his war on. 9/11 was a fabulous excuse and they took full advantage of the American tragedy to push their way to war. Yet one thing that was clear, their planning never extended to what the aftermath would be for the Iraqi people. It didn't take long after the invasion for some of the most fateful incidents to happen and these incidents have been the harbingers of our benighted time in Iraq.

The war started on March 20th (just as the inspectors and the IAEA disclosed that the evidence Bush used to justify his war was bogus). The city of Baghdad fell on April 9th and as soon as the city fell, looting broke out because there weren't enough troops to act as a police force in the political vacuum. Then the looting started: on April 11th and 12th, the Baghdad Museum was looted, then all the government buildings were hit except the Oil Ministry which was occupied by US troops and then the high-grade explosives in al Qaqaa were carted off. Unfortunately, these explosives are still being used against our troops and the Iraqi people today.

Bush had been planning for this war for years. His administration had been working day and night on it for months and months. So why were they so unprepared? Perhaps it was because that part of the invasion just didn't matter to them?

But I knew that this would happen because I watched the new reports leading up to the war and saw that the aftermath was always just an afterthought. Here was one article that I saw in February 4, 2003, which proved to me that this gang wasn't even going to try to execute the job right.

Adviser: Humanitarian Crisis In Iraq Could Fast Undercut War Aims

The Bush administration is woefully unprepared for a humanitarian catastrophe of an extent that almost certainly will befall the Iraqi population during and after an anticipated war, according to a former military officer who has informally advised the executive branch over the past month.

"If you're not ready for this, you're not ready to do the war," says retired Air Force Col. Sam Gardiner. "After about three days of reporting on the retreating Iraqi soldiers, the embedded press will begin to report on the children begging for water. And that's the second battle. . . . You have to be prepared for this one or you lose the war."

Gardiner -- a consultant on wargaming and recently a visiting professor in military strategy at the Air War College -- has garnered a generally positive reception from administration officials for his 58-slide briefing on potential humanitarian challenges facing the United States in Iraq. He has briefed key offices in the Pentagon, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and elsewhere, as well as nongovernmental relief organizations.

But it appears the administration has not yet moved to address the full array of impending disasters Gardiner and others have identified. Those range from carefully selecting targets to avoid the unintended loss of civil water supply to providing emergency care for civilian casualties to preventing the death of internally displaced persons and refugees from exposure or starvation.

Critics say the administration has been loath to discuss publicly the Iraqi humanitarian challenges almost certain to face the United States during and after the war, emphasizing instead its hopes for a swift war in its bid to generate domestic and international support for a military approach.

USAID and the Defense Department thus far have assumed the potential humanitarian disaster in Iraq can be remedied mainly after the war is over, using the same basic tools -- like limited airdrops of food packets -- as in the past, Gardiner says. Others say the U.S. government intends to send into Iraq just a few dozen aid workers, managing a limited amount of supplies that could be accommodated at the Umm Qasr port, which the CIA describes as having "limited functionality."

That will not nearly be enough to handle the 100,000 direct war casualties or 400,000 non-battle deaths the United Nations anticipates -- or even half that number if the estimates are regarded as high, Gardiner contends. Should Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein unleash weapons of mass destruction, the humanitarian disaster would far exceed any capability for which the United States has planned, he and others worry.

Gardiner notes that after a regime change, the United States becomes an "occupying power" with responsibility for all casualties, even among the Iraqi military.

Kenneth Bacon, president of Refugees International, anticipates 1 million people could be displaced by another Persian Gulf war, joining 1 million or so already homeless within Iraq. He estimates another 1 to 2 million refugees will flee Iraq for neighboring nations. Turkey and Iran have not yet agreed to accept refugees, although rudimentary camps may be built.

"So the concern is, how do they get food? How do they get shelter?" Bacon told Inside the Pentagon last week, noting there is real risk of exposure, particularly for the Kurdish-populated mountainous region in the north if a war begins in the next month.

President Bush has signaled his intention to aid the people of Iraq even as he attacks and disarms Saddam's regime.

"As we and our coalition partners are doing in Afghanistan, we will bring to the Iraqi people food and medicines and supplies -- and freedom," Bush said in his Jan. 28 State of the Union address.

Bacon is relatively sanguine about the administration's plans and preparations. He says the relief community is urging the Bush team to "be destructive as you need to be to win, but no more destructive than you need to be," keeping an eye toward what will be needed for Iraqi reconstruction after the war.

But, Gardiner told ITP in a Feb. 4 interview, Bush "can't be backed up. The military is not prepared to deal with his promises."

Thus far the U.S. military has deployed a single hospital ship with 1,000 beds and one medical battalion. Iraqi hospitals have 27,000 beds and most of those are filled to capacity right now, Gardiner said.

"If you accept your responsibility as an occupying power -- which is to take over for the medical needs of the occupied civilian population -- and if there are, by anybody's estimate, the kinds of civilian casualties you would expect, then we are ill-prepared to deal with the casualties that the United States will face," Gardiner said.

He notes that the challenge is infinitely more complex in Iraq than Afghanistan because Iraq has a much more interdependent infrastructure for food, water, medicine, electricity and transportation, upon which the civil population relies.

Addressing the problem begins with military targeting that is careful to avoid unwanted consequences for the civilian population, says the retired officer. Much as the military plans for "parallel warfare" against a wide target set, Gardiner sees a need for a humanitarian strategy that plays out in parallel with attacks on Iraq.

After the U.S.-led war against Iraq in 1991, attacks on the electrical system caused outages that, in turn, shut down the water supply to a large number of civilians, causing unintended deaths in the population.

Seeking to avoid disruption to fragile components of Iraq's civil infrastructure and food distribution system in a possible new war, Gardiner advises excluding these from military targeting, led by U.S. Central Command:

  • Electrical system -- That includes electrical plants, transformers and transmission lines. Gardiner strongly recommends against employing the carbon filaments used in Iraq in 1991 and in Serbia in 1999 to temporarily disable transmission lines. It took Serbia six months to correct repeated outages from the fibers blowing back onto the lines after the bombing campaign ended. Although the carbon fibers were adopted as a sensitive means of minimizing destruction, Gardiner says power for the civil population usually can be restored in a matter of days after limited direct-bombing attacks on the facilities themselves.
  • >
  • Water system -- Gardiner would like military planners to exclude from targeting water plants and tanker trucks that bring water from village to village. Caution: "Water [truck] tankers look like targets," Gardiner says. "On radar, they look like a Scud. We bombed fire engines during the last war. We will bomb water tankers if we don't find a way not to."
  • Sewage -- Preserving this infrastructure is essential for avoiding the rapid spread of disease, he says.
  • Flour and food distribution centers -- Sixty percent of the Iraqi population relies on the U.N. "Oil-for-Food" program in order to eat. These centers should be excluded from both direct attack and computer attack, he says.
  • Local courthouses -- The property ownership documents resident in these buildings will prove vital in reconstructing a post-war Iraq, according to Gardiner.

He also says chlorine production facilities -- which are regarded as dual-use for civil water treatment and potentially weapons of mass destruction -- could be disrupted but should not be destroyed. International relief organizations estimate that perhaps as many as 1 million Iraqi children have died since 1991 because of bad drinking water, mostly due to the limited availability of chlorine.

After about one month without chlorine, water treatment facilities will require new deliveries to ensure safe drinking supplies, Gardiner says.

To ensure that any damage to the various civil infrastructure systems can be repaired rapidly, Gardiner recommends U.S. officials be more innovative than they have in the past. Iraqi reconstruction could be facilitated more quickly and easily if electricity and water workers remain in place, rather than flee in fear for their lives, he said.

The United States should tell the 1,500 or so Iraqi workers who operate the nation's water plants in the corridor between Basrah and Baghdad -- a likely region of heavy U.S. attacks -- that they will not be targeted if they remain at their jobs, Gardiner says. Moreover, the United States should offer to double their salaries for six months after the war ends -- if they stay in place, Gardiner suggests.

Fixing the water system will require large-scale industrial repairs, an approach to which the U.S. military and USAID are not generally accustomed, Gardiner says. For example, achieving universal access to safe drinking water within 90 days would require:

  • A generally reliable electrical system;
  • Supply of chemicals for water purification;
  • Equipment spares and repair;
  • Emergency tanker and purification systems;
  • Some new equipment;
  • Return and training of personnel; and
  • A water quality monitoring system.

Although Iraq's roads are much more developed than Afghanistan's, Gardiner anticipates that the war and subsequent U.S. occupation of the nation will strain Iraq's transportation infrastructure. Targeting roads and bridges during the war could seriously impede the delivery of humanitarian aid, an issue faced in Afghanistan (ITP, Jan. 9, p1).

Compounding the problem are reports that the Defense Intelligence Agency has concluded Iraq may have put biological weapons laboratories on trains. "So you would expect that the target will be trains," Gardiner said.

Targeting becomes even more challenging considering the anticipated movement of millions of displaced Iraqi civilians -- perhaps along the very same corridors in which bombing is taking place. Fear of chemical weapons runs high among Kurds in northern Iraq, an estimated 5,000 of whom perished in such an Iraqi attack in Halabja in March 1988.

Saddam also reportedly used brutal conventional attacks to suppress a rebellion in southern Iraq after the 1991 war.

Massive exoduses are thus expected to fan out from a number of population centers. These refugees themselves may well come under Iraqi revenge attacks, along the lines of those seen in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s.

"What that means for the U.S. military is that you have to provide security for the 'big red arrows'" on maps showing the movement of refugees, Gardiner says. The idea is to guide flows of people away from active military targets -- and away from unexploded ordnance and land mines.

"It is the strategic equivalent of the battalion commander [saying], 'Lieutenant, get those civilians off the road!'"

In crafting the war plan, he advises the military to focus not only on capturing key political and military strongholds in Iraq, but to also identify areas that might serve as relative safe havens for displaced persons.

Gardiner calls these objective locations "first-freed, fast-secured" cities. The U.S. military would have to disarm civilians as they flow into these areas so revenge killings could be minimized.

"The idea is that part of the Army's ground combat operations should be to free and secure some cities first as a way to begin the humanitarian part, even as part of the process of going in to the main targets," he said.

Totally protecting these selected areas from Iraqi attack may not be feasible, which is why Gardiner says he hesitates to call them "safe havens."

"Living in that area, we've experienced wars and we've experienced being targeted by the Iraqi government," said Dr. Ali Othman Badri Sindi, an Iraqi Kurdish physician interviewed Feb. 3 by ITP. "And there are no reasons for us to exclude this possibility during the expected war."

Sindi was among a group of doctors from the two major political Kurdish political parties visiting the United States this week to urgently appeal for humanitarian aid (see related article).

Once war begins, Iraq can be expected to cut off electricity in the north and south, as well as food and medicine deliveries in the Oil-for-Food program, Gardiner notes.

On a "regular basis," Iraqi Kurds are seeing shortages and delays in the delivery of food and medicine from Baghdad, Sindi said. "So if a war happens, we expect that this supply will be cut and we will face some other shortages."

He urges the Bush administration to work with Kurdish leaders to "find other ways to go beyond the bureaucracy, to be prepared. As far as we know, they are planning something in secret. But we have not been informed officially what is their plan, so we are just afraid that they might not be ready enough or planning enough."

Gardiner contends a humanitarian failure may offer critics of the Bush administration a basis upon which to fault the United States for giving short shrift to the views of the rest of the international community on crafting Iraq policy.

"The United States doesn't want this to be a defeat after how difficult it was to get to the war," Gardiner said. "There are some U.N. agencies [that] will find pleasure in the United States looking bad in that part of the conflict. Because we haven't used the U.N. agencies right, we have kept them out of the planning process."

Even nongovernmental relief organizations may have a stake in publicizing a humanitarian crisis, if the United States allows it to get out of hand, he says.

"The non-government organizations and private volunteer organizations have always been advocates for victims," Gardiner said. "They get funding from crisis situations. So they will leverage the victimization of the people of Iraq against the United States."

Two weeks ago, Iraq cut off all movement into the Kurdistan region for two days, Gardiner said. Last week, he said, Iraq evacuated families from a 12-mile zone along the border. These two events may portend Iraq's plans for to isolate the Kurdish population from aid during the war, and have heightened fears among Kurds that they may come under renewed Iraqi attack.

"For energy, we are dependent on the Iraqi side," Sindi said. "Electricity is needed for everything and one of those things is the water, and the water projects, and pumping water to the households."

He explained that "under the supervision of the United Nations, Iraq is providing a small portion of electricity for a few hours per day for some of the big [Kurdish] cities. Also the Iraqi government is providing oil and fuel to all the region," but "not adequately" and at higher prices than in the rest of Iraq, Sindi said. "But still it is the only way that we are getting" those commodities.

As "the situation is moving toward a possible war -- and we are considered [by the Iraqi regime] to be allies to any United States government planning -- the amount of the fuel has decreased and people are expecting that it will be cut totally," Sindi said.

"If the U.S. goes to war against Iraq, it is important that we take all appropriate measures to mitigate the impact of conflict on the Iraqi people," Bacon and the chairman of Refugees International, James Kimsey, said in a letter to Bush last November.

"A critical aspect of this effort is to ensure that Iraqi refugees will be able to find asylum in neighboring countries, as is their right under international law," reads the missive. "We urge your administration to use quiet, yet vigorous and principled diplomacy, to see that Iraq's neighbors fulfill their legal obligations and provide temporary safe haven to Iraqi civilians in need. Securing open borders commitments before a possible conflict will make it easier to plan for the effective delivery of humanitarian aid to refugees during and after any conflict and save thousands of lives."

Leading up to Secretary of State Colin Powell's presentation yesterday to the U.N. Security Council on the Iraqi threat, Bush has made clear that U.S. forces are prepared to enforce U.N. resolutions on disarming Saddam, even if a "coalition of the willing" must do so without wider international backing.

"Let there be no misunderstanding: If Saddam Hussein does not fully disarm, for the safety of our people and for the peace of the world, we will lead a coalition to disarm him," Bush said in his address to Congress last week.

"The United States military will be prepared to do whatever the president orders and do it well," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said of the possibility of war against Iraq on PBS' "NewsHour With Jim Lehrer" last September. "There's just no question about it."

Gardiner hopes what he regards as insufficient preparation for a humanitarian disaster will not jeopardize the administration's broader strategic objectives.

"The danger is the United States will search for ways to spin the story and not solve the problem," Gardiner warned. "The United States is not ready to fight Iraq. That's the bottom line."

-- Elaine M. Grossman

And Lt. Colonel Sam Gardiner, when asked why he didn't just tell Bush about the problem, said that Bush had already dealt with the issue to the extent he was going to: Umm, let me be honest. I briefed some people in the administration before the war. One of the officials said to me (a very high official), "We've already had an hour with the President on the humanitarian system. We're done talking about that." You see, if we had been prepared to deal with the humanitarian crisis, it would have delayed the war and as I detected, nobody was interested in that.

Yes, they had months and months to prepare for war, but spent almost no time to prepare for the aftermath. And our troops and the Iraqi people are paying for his neglect.

Posted by Mary at October 24, 2005 12:30 AM | Iraq | Technorati links |

The Bush administration and his friends who were beating the drums for war ignored pretty much everything when it came to considering the consequences of the invasion. Bush just didn't care, because, as you pointed out, he was hellbent on invasion from the beginning.

Posted by: The Haikuist at October 24, 2005 11:17 AM

It reveals so much that they referred to it as a "humanitarian system", and they spent a whole hour on it. Arguably the biggest blunder of this entire war was Abu Ghraib. System failure.

Posted by: thehim at October 24, 2005 08:02 PM