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US warned it faces ' third Gulf war' in Iraq

By Charles Clover in Baghdad

Published: July 27 : (Financial Times: UK) Five US soldiers were killed over the weekend in a spate of attacks by Iraqi militants, as a new study warned that the US may soon find itself in the midst of "a third Gulf war against the Iraqi people".

On Saturday, three soldiers were killed in a grenade attack while guarding a children's hospital in the city of Baquba and a fourth was killed in an attack on a convoy west of Baghdad. On Sunday, the fifth was killed by a grenade attack south of Baghdad near the city of Hilla.

Forty-nine coalition troops have been killed by militants in Iraq since the beginning of May, and attacks average 10 to 20 a day throughout the country. General John Abizaid, the new commander of Centcom, on July 16 became the first senior US official to acknowledge that what the coalition faces in Iraq is a "classical guerrilla campaign".

A study on guerrilla warfare in Iraq by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington think-tank, blames bad planning by the US administration and the low priority given to "conflict termination" and nation-building strategies by the Pentagon.

CSIS military specialist Anthony Cordesman says the US has not learned the lessons of past conflicts, that "even the best military victories cannot win the peace".

He writes: "Unless this situation changes soon, and radically, the United States may end up fighting a third Gulf war against the Iraqi people . . . It is far from clear that the United States can win this kind of asymmetric war."

The study is likely to be a further blow to the US administration, already facing mounting criticism for chaotic reconstruction efforts in the country.

Mr Cordesman offers a grim assessment of the future of the Iraqi conflict: "The most likely case still seems to be a mixed and poorly co-ordinated US nation-building effort that does just enough to put Iraq on a better political and economic path, but does so in a climate of constant low-level security threats and serious Iraqi ethnic and sectarian tensions."

The Pentagon's policymakers saw the Clinton administration's focus on nation-building as a waste of resources, the report says.

US policymakers say the Iraq war ended too suddenly for an effective postwar strategy to be launched. Mr Cordesman credits the coalition with avoiding many of the worst-case postwar scenarios, such as massive refugee crisis and wholesale destruction of energy infrastructure.

But Mr Cordesman offers a detailed critique of the planning and analysis that went into the war - 26 "avoidable problems" ranging from failure to introduce a police force to assuming that toppling Saddam Hussein would have won "hearts and minds". In confused and angry scenes in the Shia holy city of Kerbala on Sunday US troops opened fire as Iraqis protested over marines killing a man the day before, Reuters reportsfrom Kerbala.

An officer said his men returned fire in self-defence but did not know if anyone was hit. He said the man shot dead on Saturday was carrying a weapon.

Doctors showed Reuters the body of a second man they said was shot dead on Sunday.

Copyright: Financial Times


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