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On March 20, 2003, the U.S. troops launched Operation Iraqi Freedom
On March 20, 2003, the U.S. troops launched Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) with allied support.

The offensive was a model blitzkrieg. Baghdad was seized on April 9, and the OIF's military phase was over with the capture of Saddam Hussein's home city Tikrit on April 15. But the war did not end then. As subsequent events have shown the rout of the Iraqi armed forces and the regime's overthrow was merely a start of a lengthy conflict.

A quotation from Sun Tzu in the title of this article is the best advice to the U.S. troops in Iraq, albeit somewhat belated.

Events in Iraq can be assessed from different angles. Tactically, Washington is bogged down in protracted guerrilla warfare, which has already cost the coalition more than 4,000 lives (in official data), and, in different estimates from 1,000 to 3,000 lives of "employees of private military companies," or simply mercenaries.

It is also difficult to assess Iraqi civilian casualties. The lowest estimate is approaching 90,000 but from 200,000 to 220,000 lives is a more realistic figure (it was about 0.8% of Iraq's total population of over 26 million in 2006).

The war's financial aspect deserves special mention. Joseph Stiglitz, Noble Prize winner and former World Bank chief economist, believes that all in all the United States will have spent $3 trillion on this war; the rest of the world will have lost the same amount. But losses of some mean profits for others, and while the U.S. government is spending money on the war, some companies are making profits on this money as well as on growing oil prices.

The end of this conflict is not in sight. Intensive mine warfare is being waged on Iraqi roads. Not a single allied convoy passes without an explosion. Road mining has assumed such a scale that the U.S. Air Force is using its strategic B-1B bombers for remote mine clearance. Weapons and ammunition are freely crossing Iraq's lengthy and difficult-to-control borders, while the continued occupation is increasing the mobilization potential of the guerrilla movement.

The United States has achieved some of its goals - Saddam Hussein's regime has collapsed and Iraqi oil deposits are controlled by American companies. To repeat, high oil prices are bringing them handsome profits, and are being further pushed up by regional destabilization.

American troops have become part of the local landscape, but now their presence is a must. If the Yankees go home, destabilization may become irreversible, and Iran will quickly seize a split country inflamed by a civil war.

To understand the strategic results of this five-year war, we should recall what goals were pursued by those who started it (apart from "the introduction of democracy" and "a search for weapons of mass destruction.") At this point, this will have to be guesswork for lack of information.

There are reasons to assume that the United States wanted to establish political and military control over the region, which would allow it to conduct any operation there. Syria or Iran would be the most likely targets. It is not clear in what situation Washington could use force against these countries, but it has now acquired a very convenient bridgehead. Considering U.S. Air Force bases in the region and freely moving U.S. carrier-based strike groups in the Persian Gulf, the Mediterranean, Red and Arabian seas, the Iraqi theatre will allow the United States to launch a large-scale military operation in a brief span of time.

It is hard to predict Iraq's future, but it is possible to name several scenarios. It is most unlikely that Washington will try to achieve tough "reconciliation" by suppressing the resistance movement. First, the guerrillas can only be defeated by politicians and military men who have enough will (if not ferocity) for this purpose. There are very few of them left in the countries who are usually listed as "enemies of democracy." Second, the United States simply does not want stabilization in Iraq, and will keep a "sustained conflict."

It is more likely to conduct the war with Iraqi hands, like it did in South Vietnam. To reduce its own losses and release forces for more important missions, it may shift the main burden of the war to the newly-established Iraqi forces.

In the 1970s, Vietnamization led to Saigon's quick downfall and Hanoi's victory. Considering a de facto civil war in Iraq, this may only cause more chaos and result in its complete or partial annexation by Iran.

The United States is aware of this risk but the war's unpopularity may compel the next president or his successor to withdraw troops from Iraq.

In order to avoid such consequences, Washington may decide to follow a third scenario - start a war against Iran. Iran's occupation is not likely to be the aim, because guerrilla warfare in Iraq would pale into insignificance compared to what would unfold in Iran. However, if Washington destroys or does heavy damage to Iran's armed forces, infrastructure and industry in an intensive air attack, it may make Iran's claims to regional leadership unrealistic for a long time to come.

It is impossible to predict how long the Iraq War will last, but it is already clear that there were no grounds to hope that Saddam Hussein's downfall will make the region a safer place. The collapse of the bipolar world in the early 1990s has not enhanced global security. It is not likely to grow now that new conflicts are flaring up in different regions.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.


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