Tags: Hidden | Persuaders | Iraq

Hidden Persuaders in Iraq

Monday, 05 December 2005 12:00 AM

President Bush's newly minted Strategy for Victory in Iraq lists the criteria for snatching success from the jaws of failure. It could work provided Congress and the American people understand the strategy's hidden persuaders.

U.S. field commanders estimate the number of insurgents – Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says terrorists should not be elevated to the lofty status of "insurgents" – at about 20,000 with about 200,000 supporters (Saddam Hussein loyalists, including former members of Republican Guard elite units, secret intelligence and security service veterans, and senior Ba'ath Party operatives).

The insurgency could easily last another five to 10 years. But it will be the Iraqi army's job to cope with up to 100 different and semi-autonomous insurgency groups as the U.S. gradually draws down to about 100,000 troops by the end of 2006.

In the western province on the Syrian border, insurgents regroup in guerrilla units in small communities along the Euphrates River. By day, the villages seem peaceful, as peasants go about their chores. By night, each village has a small guerrilla unit ready to attack Iraqi security forces that approach after dark.

The scene is reminiscent of Vietnamese towns and villages in the days of French colonialism. They were French by day, Vietminh by night. The same scenario emerged during the decadelong U.S. involvement (through March 1973, when the last U.S. soldier departed); U.S. by day, Viet Cong by night. Many pundits and reporters fell for Hanoi's strategic deception and were convinced the Viet Cong were a spontaneous insurgency against the U.S.-supported Ngo Dinh Diem regime's "tyranny" and that Saigon should negotiate with them.

Ignored later was captured evidence the Viet Cong was organized on orders from Hanoi in 1959, following Politburo decisions of the North Vietnamese Communist Party. Postwar memoirs of communist generals confirmed that VC communist cadres came from the north to organize the south against the U.S. presence that gradually replaced the departed French.

The Paris peace negotiations between Washington and Hanoi dragged on in the early 1970s in a perpetual cycle of talk-fight-talk-fight-talk. We should draw on this experience to guide us through the thorny thicket of secret negotiations with Iraq's homegrown insurgency.

President Bush separated the insurgency into three broad categories – rejectionists, Saddamites and al Qaeda's foreign jihadis. He clearly favors the subrosa talks already taking place between some members of the provisional Iraqi government and the rejectionists (believed to be mostly disillusioned Sunnis). But Mr. Bush firmly rejects any notion of talking about a cease-fire with the Saddamites and/or Abu Musab Zarqawi's foreign jihadis. Problem here is that rejectionists and Saddamites are frequently indistinguishable.

If the object is to split the foreign jihadis and the homegrown insurgents, the Saddamites better be brought in to the negotiating, along with the rejectionists. Otherwise, the Saddamites will remain in a tactical alliance with foreign jihadis.

Mr. Bush says "we will never accept anything less than complete victory" and the lesson he wants the world to take from U.S. intervention in Iraq is that "advancing the cause of freedom and democracy in the Middle East begins with ensuring success of a free Iraq."

If a free Iraq means freedom for the local Sopranos to rob the country blind, the criteria have been amply met. Even with frequent sabotage of the country's two principal pipelines, some 1.9 million barrels are pumped each and every day. Deducting 400,000 barrels for daily local consumption, that's $87 million a day in oil income. Or about $2.6 billion per month. Would you believe $31.3 billion a year? A staggering $62.6 billion for the last two years.

Where has it all gone? No one in the Iraqi government seems to know. Several members of Congress have asked the Pentagon and the State Department for an accounting. So far they have drawn a blank.

There is about $1 billion missing in arms procurement scandals that constitute a new variation on the old Saddam and U.N. oil-for-food con. But it's just the tip of a gargantuan ripoff in the billions. This time, Iraqi arms procurers in the Defense Ministry agreed to pay intermediaries three times the going rate for commissions while lining their own pockets to buy old equipment from former Soviet satellite countries – weapons, ammo, vehicles, tanks and helicopters.

In one case under investigation, the defense authority paid $226 million for a consignment of old Russian helicopters from Poland. A Polish Iraqi employee at the ministry cobbled the deal. The investigating magistrate, Judge Radhi, who heads the Commission on Public Integrity, said, "Two helicopters were delivered but were useless." The contract was canceled, but Iraq never got its money back.

There are also a number of cases of fraudulent links between Iraqi government employees and the insurgency. Some 450 cases are under investigation, including officers who sold ID badges to terrorists. U.S. military and diplomatic sources, who spoke anonymously for obvious reasons, say the unofficial estimate is $10 billion to $20 billion in unaccounted disbursements. An unknown amount came from U.S. taxpayers.

This is not the kind of freedom President Bush had in mind to advance freedom in the broader Middle East. Iraq's Arab neighbors watch nervously as they open the political doors a crack – and see the popular masses preparing to break them down. The anti-U.S. Muslim Brotherhood, the Mideast's most popular political organization, is biding its time. The MB's battering ram is its campaign against corruption.


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President Bush's newly minted Strategy for Victory in Iraq lists the criteria for snatching success from the jaws of failure. It could work provided Congress and the American people understand the strategy's hidden persuaders. U.S. field commanders estimate the number...
Monday, 05 December 2005 12:00 AM
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