Tuesday, July 08, 2003

What you need for a guerilla war

Both Oxblog and Phil Carter raise the prospect of a full-blown guerilla war in Iraq between US forces and the Ba'athists. Let's examine what would be required to successfully prosecute a guerilla war.

  • Money to buy arms, supplies and provide salaries and compensation to your soldier's families. Every guerilla force requires money. Sometimes this is raised from outside support, at other times from "revolutionary taxes" or exactions on the populace. The Ba'ath may still have large sums of money left over to fund a campaign against US forces, but they have no new source of income as of yet. It is probably in order to devalue the existing Ba'athist stash of local money that US forces have issued new currency. Foreign currency, which is required to buy guns, will be a long term problem because oil production is in American hands. Even the Palestinian Authority requires a steady supply of explosives to keep operating, and that is why they continue to dig tunnels from the Gaza strip to Egypt or run guns on small boats. No money, no supplies, no real guerilla warfare.
  • A secure rear area in which to train. Military skills are perishable unless constantly renewed. From marksmanship to patrol skills to physical training. The classic guerilla force uses inaccessible areas for base areas. In cases where the enemy can penetrate all areas, they resort to sanctuaries such as those provided by North Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia during the Indochina war. In the case of the West Bank, the UN refugee camps perform the function of a sanctuary. Without these, the bombmaking factories, explosive schools, firing ranges, etc, cannot exist. No rear area, no training. No training, no effective guerilla force. The bulk of the opposition to US forces are based in the Sunni triangle. It is a limited area. There may be some prospect of sanctuary in Ba'athist Syria, but it is doubtful whether the US would tolerate it, or simply welcome it as a cassus belli against Damascus.
  • A political organization. Every guerilla war requires a "national front" to advance a political program. Saddam Hussein has no prospect of creating a national front which includes Kurds and Shi'ites. The best he can do is advocate an independent Sunni area, but it would be nothing without the oil reserves in Kurdistan and around the Shi'ite area. Here,  the US is streets ahead of Saddam. They are establishing government bodies in all areas. These government bodies will be loathe to surrender their power to some shadow organization dominated by Saddam's heirs.
  • International support. No guerilla war has ever succeeded without significant international support. Not the Tamils, nor the NVA, nor the Algerians. When international support is absent, the guerilla movement fails. Ask the Biafrans.
  • A Democrat administration in Washington. No amplification on this point is necessary. But it is really on this last point that Saddam's hopes hinge. He may lack money, a rear area, a national front and international support. But if he projects his "guerilla war" in the New York Times, a Democrat may be elected in 2004, and if that Democrat is Howard Dean, US forces will be withdrawn on a timetable from Iraq, the Ba'ath will be restored to power and a vast sum in compensation paid to them. The subsequent massacres of the Kurds and Shi'ites will be deplored and ignored.

From a strictly military perspective, I would say that the Ba'ath had no chance of winning. From a political perspective, I would say they had a 30% chance of victory.