April 8, 2003 | WebMemo on Iraq
Numerous gloomy predictions have been made by pundits, journalists and religious leaders about the conduct and effects of a U.S.-led war against Iraq. Critics said that war would devastate Iraq's infrastructure, making it impossible to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. They speculated that Iraqi residents would scorn American and British troops as invaders, not welcome them as liberators. They predicted a humanitarian crisis, with widespread shortages of food, water and medical care. And they warned that American forces would kill massive numbers of civilians, either intentionally or unintentionally.
In the end, they've argued that the fight to liberate Iraq is an unjust war waged with unjust means to accomplish ambiguous ends.
Each of the anti-war predictions, however, has so far proven false. Indeed, it is difficult to recall any previous modern war being fought with such a sustained effort to protect civilians from combat and to minimize the harmful effects of war on their daily lives. This has come about because of intensive military planning, scrupulous attention to military targets, careful coordination among Coalition forces and unprecedented cooperation between the U.S. government, military and non-governmental relief organizations.
A Case Study in Protecting Civilians in War Time
Military historians already are pointing to the success of the Iraqi Freedom campaign as a likely object of study in war colleges: its use of air power, the mobility of its ground forces, its success in urban combat, etc. Underlying and shaping these military accomplishments, however, is the Western moral tradition. Perhaps more than any other single factor, the Christian "just war" tradition has defined the scope and style of Coalition engagement. At the heart of that tradition is the obligation to use all reasonable means to protect innocent lives from the ravages of war.
Those concerned about the requirements for fighting a just war should reflect on some of the most significant lessons of engagement from Operation Iraqi Freedom:
A Study in Contrasts
The contrast between the conduct of the U.S.-led military and that of Saddam Hussein could not be more stark. It has been widely reported that the Iraqi military is violating the moral norms of combat, including: using women and children as human shields; placing military equipment in schools, playgrounds and mosques; executing family members for refusing to offer their sons for suicide attacks; dressing as civilians to ambush Coalition forces; feigning surrenders to open fire on Coalition troops; and mistreating and possibly executing POWs.
The Iraqi tactics represent a violation of the 1949 Geneva Convention, to which it is a signatory, and are serious war crimes. Their use of civilians as human shields and agents in suicide missions puts all civilians at risk: By tearing down the visible differences between soldiers and noncombatants, the Iraqis are violating one of the most basic moral principles in wartime: Civilians must not become targets of military action.
Nevertheless, the U.S.-led coalition has not responded in kind. It continues to uphold the Geneva Convention in its conduct of the war. American and British military forces have focused intently on Iraqi military targets, held their fire in the face of unwilling "human shields," rescued Iraqi civilians from enemy fire and made possible a massive program of humanitarian assistance. Military historians may soon identify Operation Iraqi Freedom as the most justly fought war in the history of modern warfare.