Surprises in the war on Iraq
The significant surprise in the war in Iraq, at the strategic level, must be seen in Turkey's behavior. Also surprising was the silence of Turkey's military. First the Turks focused on squeezing aid money from Washington and afterward they allowed only the flyover of American planes. The extent of the surprise was evidenced by the fact that the Americans waited until the last minute.
There is no such thing as a war without surprises, and it is doubtful that any war develops exactly as it had been planned in the rooms of the General Staff. This is known, or should be known, to experienced generals, though not the modern media that create exaggerated expectations and are angry afterward when these are not fulfilled. Usually, a surprise is considered a negative event, but there are also good surprises, and this too has happened in the current war.
On the diplomatic front, France has afforded no surprises. Even when the United Nations inspections were under way in Iraq, the French interfered with them. The significant surprise, at the strategic level, must be seen in Turkey's behavior. Also surprising was the silence of Turkey's military. First the Turks focused on squeezing aid money from Washington and afterward they allowed only the flyover of American planes. The extent of the surprise was evidenced by the fact that the Americans waited until the last minute.
The Turkish stance led to the loss of time in the conduct of the war. The opening of a second front against Saddam Hussein as well as an advance from northern Baghdad had to be postponed. This allowed Saddam to maneuver his forces better during the first two weeks of the war and bring troops down from the north to close gaps on the front, south of Baghdad.
The relations between the United States and Turkey will be a topic of discussion after the war. Some of Turkey's most enthusiastic supporters in Washington, such as former ambassador to Turkey Mark Parris, say that former president Bill Clinton's declaration to the Turkish parliament that Turkey is a strategic partner of the United States has been cracked.
Another big surprise has to do with the confidence that the Iraqi people would greet the American forces with cries of joy. Other intelligence services, including Israeli intelligence, related differently to this matter. The assessment in Israel was that the Iraqi people would not rush to surrender and that it would take time for it to adjust to the new reality.
There is also one significant positive surprise, one that is remarkable on the background of Turkey's position. This is the sincere cooperation by King Abdullah of Jordan with the United States and Britain. The sides are maintaining a low profile, but the result will be evident in the general economic aid Jordan will be granted in the future. King Abdullah has acted in his country's interests better than his father, King Hussein, did in the Gulf War.
In the tactical realm, there have been several notable surprises. The role played by Saddam's various militias and the Ba'ath Party in the defense of cities like Basra and Nasiriyah is one of them. To this must be added the terror attacks. These have endangered the coalition forces' supply lines. They have necessitated sending in additional forces and the conduct of fighting in inhabited areas. Another tactical surprise is that the Iraqi army did not collapse immediately. Only after two weeks of fighting are the first signs of cracking evident. The Iraqi military command is continuing to function and is taking risks in its moves. This does not mean that its operational decisions are correct.
A beneficial operational surprise is the decision, contrary to what happened in the Gulf War, to give high priority to control of western Iraq. This is the decision that affects the possibility of Israel intervening directly in the war after it was hurt in the Gulf War by the missiles that were launched from there. The maneuver that led to the concentration of most of the divisions of the Republican Guard south of Baghdad, within the striking range of American aircrafts, also looks like a successful move at this time. If the success of this moves continues to the end, not only will the road to Baghdad open, but also one of Saddam's power bases will be seriously damaged. This is the summary of this stage of the war, when the battle has not yet reached its most important goals - Baghdad and the capture of Saddam Hussein.