Baghdad Spring

As we enter spring, U.S. and coalition forces have entered Iraq. Future historians might judge this period the “Baghdad Spring,” when a new season of liberation and freedom came to Iraq. While all the elements of national and coalition power will be critical to achieving this effect, our military will play the initial and sustaining role. As such, U.S. forces will set the tone for the exercise of American power, and enable the reconstruction of Iraq. Now is the time to consider the role the armed services will play in bringing a new era to this long-repressed country.

Liddell Hart, the famous British military historian, once said:“ It is essential to conduct war with constant regard to the peace you desire.” Accordingly, we should constantly keep three questions in mind as our forces liberate Iraq,aware that we will be there for some time.

  • What are our political objectives?
  • What is our military strategy toward those objectives?
  • What are the resulting challenges to our military?

If we understand the interrelated nature of these questions now, there will be no surprises later.

What Are the Political Objectives of This War?

Simply, our political objectives are to remove and restore. Our first priority is to remove the threat of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) to American and global security. Our second priority is to restore Iraq to its people so that the country will exercise a responsible influence on the region. This peace we desire requires us to wage war in a manner that limits casualties on both sides and preserves the critical infrastructure of Iraq. If we can do this, we will create a proper political environment for the reconstruction of Iraq and the improvement of U.S. relations with the region and the world.

What Is Our Military Strategy?

We are waging an out-in-out military strategy. In other words, we are utilizing an unorthodox“ pincer movement” whereby an outside-in attack occurs simultaneously with an inside-out attack. In many ways it is the hybrid of the first Gulf War’s outside-in plan and, more recently, Afghanistan’s inside-out concept. The synergistic combination of the two attacks leads, hopefully, to the relatively controlled implosion of the Hussein regime.

The outside-in campaign is characterized by military force applied from outside the Iraqi borders. First, it starts leadership“ decapitation” strikes, which will take place until the regime’s capacity to control its forces have been completely destroyed. Second, this campaign features the “shock and awe” delivery of aerial munitions in accurate and repeating fashion until command and control mechanisms, anti-aircraft sites, and any other means of inflicting harm on our troops are destroyed. The effect will also convince Iraqi leaders and troops not to resist.

The key component to this outside-in attack, however, is conventional military forces securing the country, as they converge on Baghdad. This process includes Marines seizing the oil fields and port of Basra in the south and the Army controlling Western Iraq and airlifting/trucking troops to the Northern Kurdish region. This physical presence is absolutely imperative to America’s political goals to remove the WMD and restore Iraq.

Regarding priority number one — remove the WMD — Mobile Exploitation Teams (METs) are accompanying the conventional forces as they liberate the country. The METs are small teams of intelligence and science experts designed to quickly visit some 1400 potential WMD sites throughout the country. Their mobile labs enable them to determine if a site is contaminated or if WMD has ever been there. Regarding priority number two — restore Iraq — Disaster Assistance Response Teams (DARTs) also accompany our troops. Their job is to assess quickly the initial humanitarian need. These first assessments will lead to the immediate humanitarian relief of suffering Iraqis and will also serve as the basis for rebuilding Iraq. This effort will assure Iraqis that Americans come as liberators not occupiers, engendering the good will necessary to cooperate in the reconstruction of Iraq.

These teams require the physical security of massive, conventional forces to do their job right. As with the Iraqi people, who need to see that they are safe and no longer under the threat of the secret police, these teams need protection to do their critical work. Both sets of teams are unprecedented in the history of warfare and illustrate the simple notion that war and the peace we desire is a concurrent process.

The outside-in attack, however, is but one side of the out-in-out strategy. The inside-out attack features unconventional, or special operations, forces and a psychological operations campaign. Before the first attacks, special operations forces were already in Iraq. They were in Kurdish territory, coordinating with Kurdish forces. They were in Iraq proper, monitoring Iraqi military traffic and standing ready to seize key terrain, such as bridges and dams, for the advance of the conventional forces. They were also there early to guide accurate bombing, find the regime’s SCUDs and to look for the mobile biological laboratories. Since the attack they are doing the same but they have also seized key airfields deep in Western Iraq. And not unlike Afghanistan, they are there now to provide the possibility for the face-to-face surrender of local commanders before the arrival of conventional forces.

It is, however, the psychological operations (“psyops”) component of the inside-out attack that will prove essential to military success. To paraphrase General Vandegrift, who commanded the Marines at Guadalcanal during World War II: enemy troops rarely give up because they are overrun, they give up because their commander has made the decision to give up. For some time prior to the commencement of hostilities, the United States was conducting a psychological“ bombardment” of Iraqi forces. Using cell phones, e-mails, leaflets and radio broadcasts, this campaign sought a twofold purpose: to convince Iraqi leaders at all levels that surrendering is best, and to tell them how to do it.

What Are the Challenges Our Miltary Will Face?

As our military implements this out-in-out strategy to remove WMD and to restore Iraq, it can expect to confront the following challenges, in somewhat linear fashion: Resistance, Reprisals, Refugees and Reconstruction.


The big question is which regime forces will fight, as the majority will not. Most likely to fight are those units most loyal to Saddam Hussein; i.e., the Republican Guard, the Special Republican Guard and the Special Security Organization. Neutralizing these forces will take longer than originally thought, but they will be defeated in relatively short order. It is uncertain, however, whether or not these regime loyalists will use chemical artillery shells, or where, if they do. If WMD is used at all, it will be outside of Baghdad itself in desperation. That possibility is much smaller as our troops approach a force that has little to no ability to coordinate its actions. Isolated Iraqi commanders will be less likely to use WMD if the orders to do so do not reach them or, especially, if they have been “reached” indirectly by the “psyop” measures described above or directly by special operation forces. Still, the reality of a WMD attack will not disappear until all Iraqi forces have surrendered.

The other possibility of “resistance” will come from the inevitable separation of Turkish and Kurdish forces by U.S. troops. The Turks will attempt to find a way into Northern Iraq because they want the oil (in Mosul and Kirkuk) and because they fear anything that might enable a Kurdish state. The Kurds have sworn to fight the Turks if they should enter Kurdish territory. To act as honest broker and prevent unnecessary bloodshed, our conventional forces must have a presence in Mosul, Kirkuk and the Kurdish territory.

Prisoners of war are the final component of the resistance phase. Unfortunately, U.S. troops will have to watch out for false surrenders where our troops are lured into ambush. Providing for thousands of honorable prisoners of war, however, has the potential to limit American military capabilities (drawing down forces to guard the prisoners) and even mobility.


Revenge will come quick to those who participated in the Hussein regime. The immediate aftermath of the war might also provide opportunity for revenge acts among clans and even between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims. U.S. forces cannot allow these crimes to take place. The prevention of reprisals, and our reaction to those that do occur, will set the tone for the rest of the liberation. This prevention and response must create the impression of justice and impartiality.


This war will produce significant refugees. The return of refugees will impact how our military conducts its post-hostility operations. Although the DARTs will be essential in coordinating the return of refugees, the military must do everything possible to enable the DARTs so that some kind of normalcy can begin.


This phase is the longest and most difficult, officially beginning once hostilities cease (although the DARTs will have already made great strides in this direction). The success of the reconstruction phase will determine whether the United States truly restores Iraq to its people. The military’s primary contribution during this time is to provide a secure environment in which other U.S. agencies and international organizations can begin the process of state-building.

State-building is the process of institutionalizing long-term, rule-of-law, structures such that decent government can take place. Among other things, this process includes working closely with the Iraqi people to begin: the humanitarian relief effort and provide for public health; the rebuilding of critical infrastructure destroyed during the war; the creation of a viable police force; the disarmament of the military; the introduction of judicial, financial and educational reform; the protection of the environment; and, not least, the establishment of religious tolerance. Done right, the reconstruction phase will witness our military helping to create the sustainable structures that Iraq needs to reclaim its rich cultural heritage and secure its place in the 21st century global community.

As of now, the U.S. Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance will oversee this process. This office is located in the Pentagon but will report, in the field, to the soon appointed military-governor of Iraq, General Tommy Franks. In a region where perception equals reality, the inevitable impression will be that the American military is in charge of civilian affairs. If a Baghdad Spring is to bloom, we must send the right signal from the beginning. The President should appoint an esteemed civilian, not of the Defense Department, to be in charge of Iraq’s reconstruction.


The United States is fighting this war in Iraq to remove the WMD threat to the world and to restore Iraq to its people as a positive influence in the region. We are using an out-in-out military strategy, fighting outside-in and inside-out to force the controlled implosion of the Hussein regime. As we execute this military strategy, our troops will have to deal with resistance, reprisals, refugees and reconstruction if we are to achieve the peace we desire. If this Baghdad Spring is successful, not only will we bring new hope to Iraq, we will create a political environment in which American diplomacy, public and international, can re-engage the region and the world. Pray that it will be so.