The Gulf War of 2003 was a war Saddam Hussein was ill-equipped to wage. His once-powerful armed forces, originally supplied with weapons by the former Soviet Union and France, had not been able to make good the losses suffered in 1991. His most modern tanks were 15 years old, many were museum pieces. His airforce was too small and antiquated to be risked in combat.
To heighten the disadvantage under which Saddam's army fought, he appeared to have devised no logical plan of defence. Iraq is a difficult country to attack, since it possesses strong natural defences, broad expanses of desert on the west, mountains to the east and wide rivers in the centre, barring the way to the centres of population.
Attack is particularly difficult from the south, the coalition's point of entry, for the frontier with Kuwait and on the Gulf is very narrow and the distance to be covered to the capital is several hundred miles.
Logic suggested that, once an invasion was threatened, the southern sector should have been heavily mined, the port facilities sabotaged and, above all, the bridges over the Tigris and Euphrates prepared for demolition.
None of these measures seems to have been taken. There was little troop strength in the south and little effort made to use natural obstacles to delay the invaders' advance. Resistance was organized at the most obvious points, such as road intersections, which could be easily outflanked.
Moreover, the organized forces available to Saddam were not employed or deployed in a rational way. In orthodox military planning, the best troops, the six divisions of the Republican Guard, would have been used to oppose the invading force, with the second line, the so-called regular army, committed to reinforce it where action was joined.
The third line, consisting of the paramilitary Fedayeen and Baath militia, would have operated only as a harassing force.
In practice, the deployment was exactly the other way around. The Republican Guard was kept out of the opening battle in positions around Baghdad. Some divisions of the regular army appear to have opposed the invasion in the south, but quickly melted away, the soldiers apparently divesting themselves of uniforms and weapons and taking refuge at home.
Only paramilitaries put up strong resistance, which they were unequipped to do. They fought because, individually, they were loyal to the Baathist system, but also out of fear of revenge at the hands of the population.
Once the coalition troops reached Baghdad, the Republican Guard entered the battle and were rapidly overcome.
In commenting on the war as it developed, I found myself constantly referring to its character as "mysterious." Why were Iraq's forces not deployed in a logical fashion? Why was so little effort made by the defenders to oppose the invaders in the south, at a distance from strategic objectives?
Why, given that the threat of an invasion had loomed for many months, did the Iraqi high command not put obstacles and fixed defences in place? Why were targets of value, such as port facilities and the southern oilfields, not prepared for destruction? Why, above all, were those bridges not demolished?
The explanation of the failure may lie in the palpable absence of any effort at national leadership by Saddam or his closest associates. The war was completely one-sided. While the leadership of the coalition was manifest and visible throughout, the Iraqi leadership was invisible.
That added to the war's mystery. Where was Saddam? Perhaps he was killed or disabled by air strikes in the conflict's opening hours. There is, however, no proof of his demise, nor any news of his fate in the aftermath.
Physically, the coalition achieved a great victory, at virtually no cost to itself and at little national cost to Iraq or its population. Its centres of population, the government quarter in Baghdad apart, were left undamaged. There were few casualties among the civilian population and Iraqi military casualties were not numerous. Nevertheless, the psychological cost to Iraq, to the Middle East and to the wider Muslim world will undoubtedly prove very great.
Islam achieved its initial success as a self-proclaimed world religion in the seventh and eighth centuries by military conquest. It consolidated its achievement by the exercise of military power, which, perpetuated by the Ottoman Caliphate, maintained Islam as the most important polity in the northern hemisphere until the beginning of the 18th century. Islam's subsequent decline embittered Muslims everywhere, but particularly those of its heartland in the Middle East.
Muslims, convinced of the infallibility of their belief system, are merely outraged by demonstrations of the unbelievers' material superiority, particularly their military superiority. The Baath Party, of which Saddam was leader in Iraq, was founded to achieve a Muslim renaissance.
The failure of the Baathist idea, which can only be emphasized by the fall of Saddam, will encourage militant Islamic fundamentalists -- who have espoused the idea that unbelievers' mastery of military techniques can be countered only by terror -- to pursue novel and alternative methods of resistance to the unbelievers' power.
Western civilization, rooted in the idea that the improvement of the human lot lies in material advance and the enlargement of individual opportunity, is ill-equipped to engage with a creed that deplores materialism and rejects the concept of individuality, particularly individual freedom.
The defeat of Saddam has achieved a respite, an important respite, in the contest between the Western way and its Muslim alternative. It has not, however, secured a decisive success. The very completeness of the Western victory in Iraq ensures the continuation of the conflict.