Sunday, July 09, 2006

Iraq's Baathist Funded Insurgency

Blogging will be light for the rest of the day from my end, while I watch the World Cup finale and do other fun summer things. However I wanted to link to this important editorial from Laurie Mylroie about Iraq, in the NYSun.
Iraq's most-wanted list is dominated by Baathists, starting with Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, Saddam's former deputy, for whom a $10 million reward is offered. Al-Duri is a leader of the insurgency and heads a reconstituted Baath party. Number two is Mohammed Yunis Ahmed al-Moali, a senior Iraqi Baathist, who now lives in Syria, according to the U.S. Treasury Department. Al-Moali is al-Duri's deputy in the new Baath party.There is a $1 million reward for information leading to his capture, as there is for the next two men on the list: the former head of the Iraqi Intelligence Service, Tahir Jalil Habboush al-Takriti, a member of the party's new Regional Command; and Sayf Al-Din Fulayyih Hasan Taha al-Rawi, former Republican Guard chief of staff. By contrast, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, nom de guerre of al-Zarqawi's shadowy successor, is way down the list at number 30 and worth only a $50,000 reward.

Senior Iraqi figures have long maintained that the insurgency is essentially Baathist. Last fall, one Iraqi official described the insurgency to a small group of Americans in Washington. Zarqawi was 'nothing,' he said. Jihadis were recruited through the mosques to Syria - which is ruled by the Baath party, as was Iraq. The jihadis were then trained by individuals from Afghanistan under the auspices of Syrian intelligence, after which they crossed into Iraq. Although they were involved in a major Syrian intelligence operation, the jihadis did not understand that. A senior official in Iraq's Defense Ministry gave a similar account of the insurgency following a November 22, 2005, mortar attack targeting General George Casey and Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. That official instructed the embassy in Washington to tell the Americans that the Baathists were the enemy. The situation was just too dangerous not to recognize that. He also relayed the threat that had been made to him by a senior Syrian official, "We can get you, even in the Green Zone." Just a few weeks ago, an Iraqi friend in Baghdad related to this author a discussion he had had with an Iraqi intelligence official, who affirmed that the Baathists were responsible for the violence,whether directly or indirectly, through their penetration of al Qaeda. He was adamant on that point. Indeed, until early 2005, U.S. officials held the same view. National Security Council Adviser Condoleezza Rice stated in January 2005, "as we swept through [Iraq] really rather rapidly, the core of this insurgency, that is the Baathists and many of Saddam's loyal forces, melted into the population. They didn't stand and fight. When they reemerged, they reemerged as an insurgency." In October 2004, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz told the Atlantic Monthly:

Almost no one says the real problem is that Saddam never surrendered. And even though he was captured, his people never surrendered. His organization is still operating as though they have a chance to win and they're allied with people who want to help them win, by which I mean the jihadis on the one side and the Syrian Baathists on the other - even though the minute they triumphed they would start fighting over the spoils. I think we're even seeing signs that the Syrian Baathists and the Iraqi Baathists are getting back together temporarily. They all want us to lose and that's more important to them than who comes out on top. But if you don't see who the enemy is and why they're fighting, you can't win.

In the spring of 2005, however, U.S. commanders in Iraq began to focus on al-Zarqawi's organization, because, as they reasoned, al Qaeda was responsible for the more spectacular attacks. There was, however, a fatal flaw in this approach: they did not understand that al-Zarqawi could not operate without the Baathists,who provided critical logistical support for his assaults. The more that U.S. intelligence focused on al-Zarqawi, the more the jihadis were all it saw - "like a moth drawn to the flame," as one U.S. military officer put it.

Iraqi officials - who know their own society far better than Americans - maintain that if they can defeat the Baathists, the jihadis will be relatively easy to deal with. Their numbers are limited, and they are not very sophisticated. With a new, sovereign Iraqi government in place, counter-insurgency efforts will presumably take this direction and focus on the Baathists.

Americans need to pay attention to what Iraqi officials say and do, not only for the consequences inside Iraq, but also for the implications for the broader war on terrorism. The Iraqi view harkens back to the understanding Americans had of terrorism before Bill Clinton became president, when major attacks were presumed to be statesponsored, because the resources and expertise of a state were generally far greater than that of a group. The notion that Islamic militants operate on their own, without support from terrorist states, and pose a much greater threat than those states is a Clinton-era concept. President Bush implicitly corrected this fundamental mistake when he decided to oust Saddam. He did not, however, correct the basic misconceptions about terrorism that Mr. Clinton introduced, and they continue to undermine the effective implementation of his decisions, including the war in Iraq. Just possibly, the new government in Baghdad will clarify what Americans now have such difficulty understanding.
[I'm including a lengthier than usual quote since the jist of the article is subscription only.]

The perspective that Ms. Mylroie is critiquing here is the doctrine that has been popularized by such self-promoting "intelligence celebrities" as Richard Clarke, as well as by the MSM, which lionized Mr. Clarke after he became so publicly critical of the Bush Administration's policies.

In light of Ms. Mylroie's comments, it's also worth a relook at Mary Anne Weaver's article in the Atlantic Monthly, The Short, Violent Life of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, which raises some of the same points about American over-obsession with Zarqawi as the center of the insurgency in Iraq, but with more of a knee jerk, anti-Bush murk one must wade through before one gets to the heart of what she is saying.

Meanwhile, let's not leave out of the equation the problem caused by the Sadrists in Basra and parts of Baghdad as well.


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