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Second thoughts on shock and awe

March 24th, 2003

Having long feared the adoption of a ‘shock and awe’ strategy in Iraq, I assumed the worst when large-scale bombardment of Baghdad began a few days ago. ‘The worst’, in this context means a strategy designed to terrify the population into submission either by inflicting substantial casualties or knocking out services like electricity and water. In fact, the reports from Baghdad so far suggest that, while massive in scale, the bombardment was tightly focused on targets like government departments and Saddam’s palaces, and that civilian casualties have been limited. This is a good thing, and gives at least some hope that the war will not turn out disastrously badly.

On the other hand, while technologically impressive, this kind of attack does not seem to have generated much shock or awe and nor was it likely to. Everyone knew that the US had the capacity to flatten Saddam’s palaces and assumed they would do so. That included the regime which appears to have evacuated most of the obvious targets in Baghdad itself, although the situation may be different with the Republican Guard perimeter defences.

The strategy of striking at symbolic targets associated with the regime, and of attempting ‘decapitation’ would be an effective one if (as some commentators have assumed) the regime is so much hated that the majority of people would actively support an invasion as soon as it appeared safe to do so. But so far, that does not appear to be the case. No doubt most Iraqis hate Saddam, but there’s little evidence that they have any love for Bush.

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