December 13, 2004

Iraq - Thoughts on the Insurgency

I would like to see the mission in Iraq better defined. The administration has always claimed Operation Iraqi Freedom to be part of the global war on terrorism. I am in the camp that they were two separate things. I had no problem with the invasion of Iraq and the removal of Saddam Husayn (I have a personal interest in that) - he was a menace and a potential threat, not necessarily to the United States proper, but a threat to American interests in the region. I would have like to have waited a bit longer before committing troops, but that option was fast fading as the United Nations would have lifted sanctions on Iraq in the near future. Iraq without sanctions, Saddam with $23 billion in illegal oil revenue from one UN program in addition to what the Iraqis were making elsewhere, dormant but revivable weapons programs - I maintain he was a threat, about to be let out of his box.

As long as we are dependent on fossil fuels and the Middle East is the major producer of this fungible commodity (where we buy our oil day to day is meaningless), anyone with the ability to threaten Saudi Arabia is a threat to American interests. Jimmy Carter, in his 1980 State of the Union address said, "Let our position be absolutely clear: an attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America. And such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force." So, the bottom line is that I am in the camp that believes our interest in Iraq ultimately is oil - the Carter Doctrine. I believe that when Carter said "Persian Gulf region" he really meant Saudi Arabia. In the 1980s when I worked for the DIO for the Middle East, all of the planning was about Saudi Arabia. Imagine our surprise in 1990 when President Bush said we were going to liberate Kuwait....

So what was the mission? Bring democracy to Iraq? We should have stuck with the original plan that had been government policy since 1995 covertly and since 1998 overtly - remove Saddam and turn the country over to someone we could deal with. Was that person a Jeffersonian democrat? Just like those we support in other Arab states - let's just use Saudi Arabia for one, and the 'Amir of Kuwait that we reinstalled in the palace there for another.

Does the insurgency in Iraq have the potential to exacerbate the threat of terrorism? Excellent question, one that I do not have an answer for - and wish I did, because it comes up all the time, and I have to tap dance my way out of it. It certainly has brought more of the terrorists into proximity of US forces. There is a bounty being paid to Syrians, Egyptians, Moroccans, Tunisians, even Chechens to go to Iraq to kill Americans for as little as $50. One could argue that as long as they are going to Iraq, they are not coming here. I would tend to dismiss that argument. I think the people that will mount operations in the United States and the people that will volunteer to go to Iraq are probably from different pools. It has to be a diversion for Al-Qa'idah, but I am unsure as to the extent. I wonder most about the funding. As I always say in my presentations, successful insurgencies - yes, including the ones I tried to mount - require three things: weapons, training and MONEY. Who is funding the insurgency operations in Iraq? If it is Saddam loyalists with access to the unaccounted for Saddam money (including the $23 billion oil for food money) rather than coming from the main Al-Qa'idah coffers, then it will have little to no effect on Al-Qa'idah's ability to mount an attack in the United States. If money from Saudi patrons - and anyone who thinks that source has dried up I think is delusional or actually believes 'Adil Al-Jabir when he moves his lips - is being used in Iraq, then it is diverting resources from the larger Al-Qa'idah.

I would assess the insurgency in Iraq as moderately successful, but only in the Sunni triangle. I believe that for most Sunnis, and I go back to my Iraqi contact there who believes that 90 percent of the people favor - but that does not mean overtly support - the coalition's and interim government's efforts to establish a representative government.

I believe what is happening more often than not in the Sunni triangle is what some call acquiescence of the local population. I agree, but I might define it as the "intimidation" of the local population. The local population is afraid that overt support for the efforts of the coalition or interim government will lead to reprisals against them or their families. This is good reason to be afraid - the security situation in the triangle is tenuous at best. Most of the violence we see now is directed at Iraqis.

The insurgents have learned the hard way that you cannot engage the Americans in a fight. Guerrilla tactics are the only effective way to deal with these forces. The insurgents believe that constant low-level attacks will eventually be effective if they can continue to isolate the coalition from the population and outlast American resolve - I do not mean the resolve of the American military, but of American public opinion. Most Iraqis are not sure we are going to stick this out - they do not want to be holding the bag of we leave. I call them "fence-sitters." They are waiting to see who is going to be the apparent winner before giving their support.

Now, let's contrast the situation in the Sunni area with that in the north and south, where the insurgency has not been effective. In the south, there was the aberration of the Muqtada Al-Sadr uprising, but note that this was effectively ended by Grand Ayatollah 'Ali Al-Sistani's intervention. That intervention via his moral authority ended any support for the insurgency. At one point, we saw local militias engaging Muqtada Al-Sadr's Jaysh Al-Mahdi (Mahdi Army). No local population support, no successful insurgency.

In the north, there is no local support in the Kurdish areas. In fact, the security situation there has been fairly good for over 12 years. The only successful insurgent attacks in the Kurdish area occur in Mosul (Al-Mawsil), which is not really a Kurdish city - it's about half Sunni Arab; Kirkuk, which is made up of Kurds, Turkomen and Sunni Arabs (but the Kurds believe it to be their capital); and at times in Irbil/Arbil. The violence in Irbil is normally directed at the Kurdish autonomous government offices - part of the interim government. These three cities are on the dividing line between Sunni Arab and Kurdish areas and are easy venues to conduct operations. You don't see insurgents operating in Sulaymaniyah, attacking the electrical grid at Darbandikhan, or any other cities up there. I doubt that you will. The Kurds, unlike the Sunni Arabs, overtly support the efforts of the interim government - after all, that interim government has committed to their de facto autonomy. Also, Arabs stick out like sore thumbs up north. If you can't speak Kurdish, you better have a good reason to be there.

Speaking of the Kurds, I would be integrating more of the peshmerga into counterinsurgency operations. They are capable, excellent guerrilla fighters, and can tell good guys from bad guys. Of course, to them, Arabs in general are bad guys....