Gen. Erik Shinseki probably thought he was delivering a kind of kindergarten lesson one of the awful commonplaces of warfare. It will require many more men, and much more effort to win the post-war in Iraq, he advised Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, than it took to win the war itself.
Although Shinseki’s message was conventional military wisdom derived from centuries of experience, Rumsfeld, a man who arrogance was only outmatched by his willful ignorance, rejected the General’s advice, and when Shinseki persisted in offering it, Rumsfeld fired him.
We know to our national sorrow how that worked out.
The overmatched American occupation forces had nowhere near enough troops (or Pentagon-directed political will) to stop looting and disorder, much less to secure vast amounts of Iraqi military weapons abandoned in dumps around the country.
We couldn’t disarm independent Shi’ite, Sunni or Kurdish militias, nor could we bring them under any civil control, and we haven’t yet given the Iraqi government a stable upper hand against the Iranian-armed, trained and directed militias which control much of the country.
Repeating what I saw in Bosnia, Afghanistan and the Iraq of a dozen years ago, what is being called the post-war in Mosul and northern Iraq has left large swathes of territory living much more in a state of war than anything like peace.
What is unique about Mosul, according to experienced managers of the United Nation’s Post-War Division, the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement is the level of destruction. Satellite photographs show a city, once home to between one and half and 2 million people, in ruins, major landmarks like hotels and hospitals all but disappeared, the historic 840 year old al-Nuri Mosque reduced to piles of debris.
It is generally believed that the Mosque was destroyed by fighters from the Islamic State. Good circumstantial evidence is how many explosive booby-traps IS is known to have left behind hidden in the ruin of West Mosul’s Old City and elsewhere.
Again, according to the UN experts, this makes the uniquely devastated areas of Mosul uniquely dangerous.
They guesstimate it will take years, maybe decades to de-mine the area, with a cost in the many hundreds of millions of dollars.
Who will pay? Who will do the work of de-weaponizing the battleground city? Who will govern it while this dangerous work goes forward and in times to come. And how much of a semblance of peace and law and order will these post-war forces have to do their work in?
Tony Cheng is a respected veteran of global television reporting. Based in Bangkok, Thailand, Tony has reported for the BBC and Al Jazeera English, as well as CCTN, the Chinese Government’s English-language news service for whom he has recently been covering the front lines of the battle for Mosul in Iraq.