Don't blame our troubles in Iraq on the Gulf War.

Don't blame our troubles in Iraq on the Gulf War.

Don't blame our troubles in Iraq on the Gulf War.

Watching the war.
March 27 2003 4:04 PM

Shia Folly

(Continued from Page 2)

I don't know whether Saddam Hussein has much to do with al-Qaida. I've said for months that U.S. claims of such a connection are weak. But there's plenty of evidence that Saddam's loyalists are using Iraqi civilians as human shields. And it's time the world recognized that tactic as a cousin of terrorism.

The most recent U.N. treaty on terrorism defines it as an "act intended to cause death or serious bodily injury to a civilian, or to any other person not taking an active part in the hostilities in a situation of armed conflict, when the purpose of such act, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population, or to compel a Government or an international organization to do or to abstain from doing any act." That's a good definition of what happened on Sept. 11, 2001. But it's also a good definition of what's happening in Iraq. Saddam's soldiers are intentionally putting civilians at risk of death or serious bodily injury for the purpose of compelling the U.S. and British government to stop fighting.

In international law, terrorism and the use of human shields are closely related. Article 51 of Protocol 1 to the Geneva Convention establishes rules for the protection of civilians. Paragraph 2 of that article addresses terrorism: "The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack. Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited." Paragraph seven of the same article addresses human shields: "The presence or movements of the civilian population or individual civilians shall not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations, in particular in attempts to shield military objectives from attacks or to shield, favor or impede military operations."

The killers of Sept. 11 exploited the fact that they were willing to shed the blood of civilians and we weren't. The killers of Basra, An Nasiriyah, and Baghdad are exploiting the same difference. While ruthlessness in attack is worse than ruthlessness in defense, the logic of asymmetry binds them together. I don't know whether Saddam's henchmen should go to The Hague for sponsoring terrorism. But they certainly ought to go there for using human shields.

9 a.m.: Pause for a moment to contemplate the wonderful transformation of warfare that seems to be unfolding before our eyes.

In the last 24 hours, we've all seen pictures of Iraqi soldiers surrendering without firing a shot. We've heard on-air eyewitness accounts of white sheets thrown over Iraqi tanks to signal soldiers' intention not to fight. We've seen no reports of a highway of death or of massive bombing on the scale of the Kosovo war. The humanitarian catastrophe predicted by anti-war politicians and protesters isn't happening.

This morning's Washington Post carries an intriguing report on the underlying military strategy.

According to a senior Bush administration official, surrender negotiations were underway yesterday between U.S. officials and a number of Iraqi unit commanders. "What they're trying to do right now is to punish the regime and give forces a chance to capitulate," this insider said. "It's a selective use of force to see if you can separate the people from the regime." … Another defense official agreed with that description of the war plan, saying that the first day of strikes—which also have targeted some headquarters buildings of the Republican Guard, some of Hussein's most loyal troops—have been intended "to see if we can try to tip things, first."

Maybe this strategy will fail. If it does, we'll have to go back to the usual strategy of killing people until the other side gives up.

But if it succeeds, consider the ways in which it will change the nature of warfare. Today's technology enables us to hit targets more precisely and from greater distances. It allows us to put fewer soldiers in the field, where they're vulnerable to conventional as well as chemical or biological weapons. It gives us the ability to communicate more quickly and widely with the population of a target country, making clear that we're after their dictator, not them. We don't have to roll tanks into their towns to show them our firepower. They know about it from television, radio, or their neighbors. We can win by "tipping," not crushing. We spent centuries developing the ability to kill people. Now we're developing the ability not to. Regime change is no longer a euphemism.