Syria an eerie parallel of Iraq, says former Iraq war planner

By Matthew Rusling

WASHINGTON, (PNA/Xinhua) — History could see a re-run in Syria, as the situation in the war-torn country eerily parallels aspects of the U.S. war in Iraq, Ted Spain, a retired U.S. Army Colonel who helped plan the Iraq war, told Xinhua in a recent interview.

The Syria tension began to recede after Russia and the United States brokered a deal this month on a framework to destroy Syria’s chemical arms, postponing a punitive U.S. military strike against Syria for the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack near the Syrian capital which it believed was carried out by the Syrian government.

The dust, however, has not yet settled, as it remains unknown whether the plan will work, and any failure could put the U.S. back to square one — the threat of military action.

Ted Spain, co-author of a newly released book “Breaking Iraq, The Ten Mistakes that Broke Iraq,” said that the current situation in Syria mirrors Iraq in myriad ways.

Like Syria, Iraq had also undergone weapons inspections. But Spain noted he couldn’t imagine the removal of chemical weapons in Syria without putting “boots on the ground,” which the U.S. government vowed it would not do.

Weapons inspectors will need security, as they will be carrying out their task in the middle of a war zone, he said.

Spain categorized U.S. enemies in Iraq into three groups: former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s government army, terrorists from neighboring countries who crossed into Iraq to kill U.S. soldiers, and criminals such as looters that ransacked Baghdad once law and order broke down after the U.S. invasion.

Similarly, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has his government forces, terrorists are fighting among Syrian rebels, and kidnapping for ransom — and for revenge — is big business in the lawless country, he said.

Massive sectarian violence was one of the fallout of the Iraq invasion, which Spain predicted would repeat itself in Syria.

“Many of the murders and many of the dead bodies that we picked up after we took Baghdad were revenge killings,” Spain said. “So even if there was a scenario where the Assad regime was overthrown … then of course not only would the (rebel groups) turn against each other like they did in Iraq, they would turn against us like they did in Iraq.”

Spain believes neither Iraq nor Syria is in the vital national interest of the United States.

“The Iraq war must not have been in the U.S. vital national interest, because we pulled our troops out before the mission was accomplished,” he said. “The president has not convinced the American people — or me — that an attack on Syria is in the U.S. vital national interest.”

Lack of foresight is another similarity, he said.

“We didn’t think through Iraq. The reason my book is called “Breaking Iraq” is that we broke it, so when you break it, you own it,” he said. “When you take down a government, you become that government. Are we ready to do that in Syria?”

While the Obama administration has talked of a “limited strike” without boots on the ground, Spain said that might not happen.

“History shows that you rarely achieve military objectives through air power alone, and that ‘mission creep’ usually leads to boots on the ground,” Spain said. “It is quite scary to think about even the possibility that (the U.S.) would ever try to stand up a government in Syria.”

“Forty-five hundred soldiers died in Iraq and 13 of them were mine. And I have hundreds of others of my soldiers that don’t have all of their arms and legs, (some) don’t have all of their mental faculties … That’s the true cost of war,” he said.