IT took less than a month for the US-led coalition to achieve military supremacy in Iraq. After 21 days, although political and military leaders decided not to declare victory, it was quite clear that no serious threat could be directed against the troops of 'Operation Iraqi Freedom'. Considering the size of Iraq, the likely presence of chemical weapons and the uncertainties of a regional environment that is certainly not favourable to the US, the positive outcome of the campaign went beyond the best expectations of those who thought and planned it. The military operation in Iraq was a further demonstration of how well sharpened is today the warfighting edge of American and British soldiers. In addition to a clear and overwhelming technological superiority, the human element, the warrior component, played a major role. Marines and GIs rode through the desert and destroyed any Iraqi opposition on their way to Baghdad. Few doubted the final result of the war, none could have predicted such a quick result.
The real problem, however, began when the coalition had to switch from warfighting to stabilizing the country. That became the crucial moment to 'win' the campaign for Iraqis' hearts and minds. Iraqi people, and in general the Arab world, will judge the war on whether, after being liberated from Saddam Hussein's repressive regime, they will enjoy a quality of life significantly better than that they had before coalition troops crossed the Iraqi border. The events that followed the fall of Baghdad were disappointing.
The initial uncertainties of this campaign lasted just a few days. There were a number of issues that represented a serious concern. Would Saddam Hussein use weapons of mass destruction? How would public opinion in the US and the UK respond to the war and how complicated would the international reaction prove for the Bush Administration. In a few days it was clear that Iraq did not intend to use chemical weapons against the coalition. American people, with relatively minor exceptions, gave their leader full support, and, despite some serious tension, France, Germany and Russia ended up accepting the final outcome of the US military campaign. Things could not have turned out any better for Bush and Blair. Finally, troops deployed in Iraq showed evidence of their high-quality combat skill. Even the concerns about overstretching the lines of supply disappeared once it became clear that the pockets of resistance the coalition left behind, did not represent a serious threat to the rear front. Thus it was a success ful campaign.
Once troops entered Baghdad the perception was that soon the war would be over and Iraq could start a new political course. The nightmare for the coalition military and political leadership had been the possibility that Iraq's best military units might surround the capital in a 'last' stronghold and engage coalition troops in a modern version of Stalingrad. A battle for a few inches of terrain, a building, a cross road or a square could have claimed the lives of many soldiers and many more civilians. The wound caused by such a clash would have taken years to heal.
Every possible measure to minimize coalition casualties was taken. Things turned out in a very different way. In a matter of days and then hours after US troops crossed the Red Rings around the Iraqi capital, soldiers entered Baghdad finding none of the tough resistance promised by Saddam. Nobody dared to say too loudly 'mission accomplished', but the general impression was that the war was over.
Yet, once enemy guns were put to silence in such a smooth fashion, the coalition faced the greatest, and, it seems, unexpected challenge: managing the peace. In a few weeks from the beginning of military operations, city after city had lost its electricity, gas, water, food and medicine supply, security became a dangerous issue. Evidence that the situation was precipitating into a state of grave emergency came about when international aid organizations expressed serious concern about a possible humanitarian disaster in Basra. …