Monday, September 18, 2006

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Incompetence or impossibility in Iraq?

Rajiv Chandrasekaran is coming out with a book on the CPA's experiences in Iraq called Imperial Life in the Emerald City. For a taste, check out Chandrasekaran's excerpt in Sunday's Washington Post, as well as his Q&A at today. He opens the latter by stating the following:

I believe that the Coalition Provisional Authority -- the U.S. occupation government in Iraq from April 2003 to June 2004 -- had a rare opportunity to resuscitate Iraq. It's hard to remember now, but back then the Iraqis were turly happy to be liberated from Saddam's government. They were eager for American help to reconstruct their country and they wanted U.S. forces to help establish order. But the CPA, in my view, squandered that goodwill by failing to bring the necessary resources to bear to rebuild Iraq and by not listening to what the Iraqis wanted -- or needed -- in terms of a postwar government. By sending, as I've written, the loyal and the willing over the best and the brightest, we hobbled our efforts there.
This is a theme I've touched on in the past (full disclosure: Chandrasekaran contacted me during the drafting of his book to get in touch with my sources at CPA, and I briefly acted as a go-between).

It also dredges up what will be an age-old debate -- was the failure in Iraq preordained because the mission was hopeless, or was it becaused the administration bungled the execution? Last year, Matthew Yglesias and Sam Rosenfeld argued that failure was preordained.

Yesterday Jonathan Chait took the incompetence position in the Los Angeles Times:

The argument that the Iraq war had no chance to succeed has an undeniable surface appeal. Things are going so badly there that it's hard to imagine how it could have turned out differently.

But the more we learn about the war's conduct, the more we learn that the administration didn't just make the normal sorts of mistakes that inevitably occur in wartime; it was almost criminally negligent. The Bush administration literally refused to do any planning for the occupation. They invaded before all the available troops were in place, staffed the Coalition Provisional Authority with underqualified hacks vetted solely on the basis of ideological loyalty and rashly disbanded the Iraqi army, which could have provided some early order.

One might counter that none of this was really decisive because Iraq is so deeply riven with sectarian feuds that brutal fighting between Sunnis and Shiites was inevitable. But this misunderstands a lot about human behavior. When the authority of government dissolves, people retreat to the safety of tribal solidarity, and under such conditions they can do savage things of which they never thought themselves capable. Once the expectation of chaos sets in, it can spiral out of control.

Yglesias responds here and here. One excerpt:
Let me just note that this is an extremely weak claim being made on behalf of the underlying policy concept. It "wasn't necessarily doomed" though it was bound to be "extremely difficult."

I'd be interested in seeing someone who thinks along these lines venture some vague probabalistic estimates. It wasn't "necessarily doomed" but was it likely to succeed? Or are we merely claiming that there was some chance of success? Ten percent? One percent? And how does that feed into policy analysis? Obviously, you wouldn't want to try and introduce a bogus false precision to these kind of calculations. Still, it seems to be that before launching a war of choice, you're going to want some better odds of success than "not necessarily doomed."

If you read what I've written on this subject, I obviously take the incompetence position -- Iraq could have gone much, much better.

To answer Matt's question, however, it seems to be that had the Bush administration:

a) Not been committed to proving Rumsfeld's thesis about warfighting, and thus had significantly more troops on the ground in the spring o 2003;

b) Staffed CPA based on meritocratic criteria as well as a conviction in having the mission succeed; and

c) Not disbanded the army

Then I'd say the odds of Iraq being at least as stable and open as, say, Ukraine would have been better than 50/50.

That said, I close with what I wrote two years ago:

[W]e can't rewind history and replay Iraq with better implementation. It is impossible to say with absolute certainty that the flaw lay with the idea or the implementation. I clearly think it's the implementation, but I will gladly concede that there are decent arguments out there that the idea itself was wrong as well.
Tell me, dear readers -- was it the idea or the implementation?

posted by Dan on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM



The problem is the Sunni Arabs. They kept on fighting. The solution is to get rid of the Sunni Arabs. I said this here three years ago and it is happening right now just as I predicted.

Terrorists Now the Chief Targets of Terrorism September 18, 2006: The worst trends of the week include; Sunni Arabs fleeing the country, corruption in the police, Shia and Kurd death squads, government corruption and Sunni Arab terrorism. The Sunni Arabs are getting out of Iraq because the Kurd and Shia, especially the Shia, death squads are operating more frequently in formerly "safe" Sunni Arab areas. Anbar province (western Iraq) is becoming particularly active, and the government has told tribal leaders out there to either do something to reduce the terrorist attacks launched from bases in Anbar, or face escalating attention from death squads and army (American and Iraqi) raids. A coalition of Sunni Arab tribes has agreed to do something about the terrorism. But it will take a few weeks to see if this latest pledge is worth any more than the last few. The Sunni Arabs show more enthusiasm for anonymous terrorism, than tribal warfare. However, over the last two years, several tribes have expelled all al Qaeda members from their territory. However, there are plenty of Sunni Arab nationalist ("we should run the country") terror groups to fill in. While the Sunni Arab terrorists have not brought down the Shia dominated government, they have kept the Sunni Arab tribal and religious leaders terrified. That may be changing, as more tribal leaders improve their own militias, and learn from the tribes that have chased out the terrorists and assassins. The government has made it clear that, until the terrorist violence stops, the entire Sunni Arab community will be held responsible. The government is saying, in effect, that they will not try too hard to halt the anti-Sunni death squads until the Sunni Arab leadership makes an effort, a real effort, against the terrorists.

To be continued in the next post due to length restrictions.

posted by: Tom Holsinger on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]

From a post of mine here three years ago:

The differences between us pacifying Iraq's Sunni Arab tribes, and not doing so, will chiefly be these:

(1) how many Sunni Arabs remain in Iraq once we leave. Note that the Iraqi armed forces are being rebuilt with an all-new, i.e., non-Sunni, cadre. Unreconciled Sunni Arabs in Iraq will have the following choices once our occupation ends - (a) becoming reconciled, (b) becoming gone or (c) becoming dead.

@ 22% of Iraq's population was Sunni Arab before we invaded. It is now under 15% and dropping fast - most of the decline has occurred in the past year. The war will be over when less than 5% of Iraq's population is Sunni Arab.

We won't win by ourselves. Our Shiite and Kurdish allies are winning it. Whether they retain their victory is up to them. But the end for Iraq's Sunni Arabs is in sight.

The premises of this thread are flat out wrong.

Dan, when did you stop beating your wife?

posted by: Tom Holsinger on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]

Disbanding the army was pretty much guaranteed--if we didn't we lose our biggest Iraqi allies, the Shia.

posted by: John Bragg on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]

You seem to think that 50-50 odds would have been good enough. But would really bet thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars on a coin flip?

It disturbs me that even now, even sane, well informed pundits like you don't get it: war is chaos, it's inherently unpredictable, and it's also extremely costly in lives and money. You don't undertake it unless absolutely necessary, and, given the lack of immediate threat and the huge obligations we had already accepted in Afghanistan, invading Iraq was not a necessity.

posted by: Andrew Dabrowski on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]

So, Dan, where do we get the "several hundred thousand" troops for a? Or do you have a different estimate than Shinseki which is somewhere in a neighborhood that is doable. Or do you believe we should have instituted the draft to achieve the Shinseki estimate?

Seems that if you can't make this prerequisite, then b and c don't matter. Considering Kristol and friends are calling for more troops and we cannot provide them, where were we to get the troops?

Given infinite (or imaginary) resources, surely more is possible than not. But it would be useful to have a number for a you feel is realistic and achievable, rather than just throwing out "significantly more" - which is rather vague and conveniently undefined.

posted by: Azael on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]

The idea of invading Iraq was wrong and all those who backed it (including all the illustrious Democrats) committed a grave mistake. Very few understood and had the courage to point the irrelevance of Iraq war to the larger war on Terrorism.

Having said that, once started, Bush could have made good out of it by executing it well. He screwed that and continues to do so.

All that left is the natural course - population occupying Iraqi boundaries sorting out things among themselves. What America needs to ask herself is what is in it for her in this Civil War; surely not what Bush is claiming like a clueless stubborn ruler who does not care for his own soldier’s lives and the country’s wealth. He is waste, well radio active waste.

posted by: Umesh Patil on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]

If 20/20 hindsight is allowed, then the answer is simple - there is nothing we could have done to shorten the occupation campaign in Iraq short of driving out the Sunni Arabs - the Baathists - ourselves.

That is how such campaigns are commonly won in the Middle East - ethnic cleansing of diehhard losers. This is how our Iraqi allies (the Shiites and Kurds) are winning now.

More American troops wouldn't have done it. More American bloodthirstiness would have. Lefties and Democrats wouldn't have liked that either.

A win is a win. We're winning.

posted by: Tom Holsinger on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]

The IDEA was bad. There were three basic support groups for the Invasion of Iraq. I think you can find each of them in PNAC pre Bush era. First the idealist, generally fm romance driven intellectuals, Second, managers of natural energy resources and last those who see our commitment to Israel as our primary obligation for foreign policy. No way could the military induce the birth of a new Iraq with such a group of fathers. They couldn't even get permission to stay long enough to secure Afghan. goals. bs

posted by: Ben Stewart on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]

If the goal was as stated [actually goal number 3, but that is another issue ], to create a liberal democratic, unified Iraq, then the chances for sucess of the policy were very low. There are no exact matches to the case, of course, but we can have a look around the neighborhood.

If we take Turkey as a best case scenario then things look pretty bad from the start. The former seat of the (Sunni) caliphate is now a secular republic guarded by an officer corps committed to Kemalist ideas which has had to intervene from time to time. Despite what might be called a brutal campaign of national indoctrination over 80 years, and a solid ethnic majority (Turks) that country still faces an armed struggle with a separatist movement and more lately a successful Islamist political movement. If the Turks can't bring peace to the enitre territory their own country in 8 decades, how could a bunch of Ferenji do it in 5-10-20 years?

Of course, if the idea was the ethnic cleansing and dismemberment of the country -- a la Tom Holsinger -- then the policy has been a smashing success. Good show!

posted by: Mitchell Young on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]

I remember before the war arguing this with a friend, his position was the war was correct, mine it was a gamble, executed well it would improve the Middle East & US Security, executed ok/poorly it would be a disaster.
So I do think 50% is light, the talent was there, Shinseki/Powell etc, alot of extremely capabable leaders existed in the US military / Govt, which had a wealth of material on dealing with Insurgencies, lessons learnt in Vietnam etc, but useless if ignored :(.
So I'll call it 85%.
What was not fully anticipated & blew the 85%, was the micromanagement and plain incompetance of Rumsfeld/Cheney, two names that will go down in ignomy, their reputations now in tatters, irretrievably damaged.
Though even at 85% I would not have invaded Iraq, after 9/11 I don't believe it was a good thing to misstep in the court of global public opinion, there was time to deal with Saddam, I would have done an immaculate job in Afghanistan, I would have worked to ensure the real future danger fissionable material was locked up tight & I would have taken Khan to the International Court ( whilst working very hard to stabilise Pakistan ).

posted by: Nigel Caughey on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]

As the author of this book points out,the Special Inspector General in Iraq has reported on some of the human resources issues in the CPA. See the 10/31/2005 Section 2207 report ( the end of that report,the SIGIR noted not only the staffing of the CPA with idealogues but one reason that arose.
First,the report quotes Gen Garner,Bremer's predecessor,that he was charged with a March event in Feb. 2003 by the DoD. The reason the DoD was in charge of the post-war period was Rumsfeld won the inter-Cabinet battle with Powell.Partly due to that internecine war,the other depts. in the cabinet would not volunteer their experienced people for the Iraq billets.
State,given their pre-war analysis of the country, should(?) have been in charge of the peace once the DoD won the war.
I think that Rumsfeld proved once again that the Pres. should have canned the guy early on.Not just for the post-war planning issues but also for the logostical issues during the war.
Read the reports,they're eye-opening.

posted by: TJM on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]

Did I miss something? We're done in Iraq, now?

If not, you've got the tenses wrong in your post.

posted by: mrsizer on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]

It's a question that keeps popping up on blogs for reasons that seem to have more to do with rationalising opinions past and present rather than for the purpose of actually figuring the mess out. For my part I'd say there are more tangibles in the implementation argument than the idea argument and therefore the question should be approached with that in mind. The idea argument leads to theory, the implementation argument to concrete analysis. Each has their virtues, but the former is obviously more open to rhetorical abuse.

posted by: heraclitus on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]


The idea of invading Iraq was a foolish one -Richard Clark's comparison to attacking Mexico after Pearl Harbor seems like an apt comparison, but failure was not pre-ordained.

In addition to the points you raise, I think a regional approach that brought Turkey, Iran, Saudi and Syria to the table in the immediate post-invasion period would've helped a great deal. We gave Iraq's neighbors no stake in our enterprise, so it is not surprising that they have been less than cooperative.

The hubris of the Bush Administration is reflective of the President himself. the n'er do well son of one of the most powerful political figures in modern times always had Daddy's friends to bail him out of trouble. As a result, he never paid a price for his failings in life. Thus, he thought he cannot fail - especially because he is never wrong (Jesus tells him so, right?).

I suspect he has now been disabused of this notion, but regrettably several thousand people died so that he could learn a life lesson. Perhaps if he had had to spend a night in jail after one of his numerous DUIs or, if he had been busted for coke possession or, if he had gone bankrupt and lost his house (or been aware that he was even at risk of any of the above), he would've been more careful.

To be successful, the Iraq enterprise would've required a very real visceral fear of failure to keep the decision-making grounded in reality. Being scared shitless by the enormity of an undertaking is a very helpful leadership quality.

posted by: SteveinVT on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]

I think Dan is trying to rationalize statements like this:

"The area specialists aren't necessarily wrong; democratizing Iraq won't be easy. But the conditions aren't nearly as barren as these experts suggest, and the potential upside is enormous. If a democratic transition were to succeed in Iraq, then Syria, suddenly surrounded by established democracies (Israel and Turkey) and emerging democracies (Iraq and Jordan), might start to feel nervous as well. Combine democratization in the Fertile Crescent with the continued liberalization of Morocco, Bahrain, and Qatar, and suddenly the neocon vision of a fourth wave of democratization spreading across the Middle East begins to look plausible."

Dan even cites Iran as a democracy contributing to the stabilization of Iraq. Really, what were people smoking back in 2003?

posted by: bjjk on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]

Richard Clark's comparison to attacking Mexico after Pearl Harbor seems like an apt comparison,

Now *that* is an idiotic statement. At least say something like "attacking Mexico after the Zimmermann telegram," or perhaps "attacking Germany after Pearl Harbor" or something.

Do you really hate Mexico or something? How can you possibly compare Mexico during WWII to Iraq? Did we have troops in another country specifically to defend against Mexico? Had we recently fought Mexico in a war? Was Mexico ruled by a brutal tyrant slaughtering his own citizens, and who had launched several wars of conquest?

posted by: John Thacker on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]

Second, managers of natural energy resources

Bzzt, wrong. Oil companies and such generally did not support the war. If it were about oil, we would have simply accepted Saddam's deal to lift the sanctions in exchange for oil deals in Iraq's oil fields.

Of course, the largest factors determining success and failure have little to do with the US and much more to do with the Iraqis themselves.

posted by: John Thacker on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]

The lefties here are moving the goal posts, per their SOP, under pressure.

Our objective in Iraq was to stop it from being used as a terrorist base against us (the Iraqi base at Salman Pak trained Al Qaeda terrorists in how to hijack aircraft) and, if possible, become a base for democratizing the Middle East.

It turns out the former objective requires removal of the Baathist die-hards, i.e., the Sunni Arabs. This is being accomplished, just not by us. The Sunni Arabs are being driven into Syria and Jordan by the Shiites and Kurds. Good riddance.

The elections show the Iraqi people are all for democracy and whatnot. Whether they can hang onto it given the endemic corruption of Arab culture is the big question. We won't know the answer on that for years.

But Iraq is a dandy base for further American operations in the Middle East, starting with Iran. Funny how things work out like that.

posted by: Tom Holsinger on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]

John Thacker, take your meds. Now.

The Mexico/Pearl Harbour quote is from Richard Clark's book, Against all Enemies:

"Having been attacked by al Qaeda, for us now to go bombing Iraq in response would be like our invading Mexico after the Japanese attacked us at Pearl Harbor",

i.e., silly. Like your post.

posted by: St. James the Lesser on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]


Your post is an absolute joke.

I am far from a lefty, but your understanding of the initial Iraq objective is verifiably wrong.

The objective WAS to remove the threat of WMD by Saddam Hussein. Period.

posted by: Rick Latshaw on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]

Chandrasakaran's piece was a hatchet job. Nothing more. He repeatedly fails to point out where the GOP connections are. Take that Hallen kid, for example. His GOP connection? He had previously applied for a job, that's it! I read somewhere he wasn't even a supporter of the war! What the problem came down to with him was disagreement over how something should be done, and it's not hard to understand where he was coming from, trying to revamp the stock exchange. Others disagreed with him, and that was it. That's not incompetence. That's a disagreement, nothing more.

This article is full of stuff like this, and it's incredibly insulting to the civilians who actually risked their lives to go over there. (Like accompanying the article with a picture of SOLDIERS swimming in a pool, and saying CPA officials also did that. Is Chandrasakaran now going to claim the soldiers are incompetent and nothing but GOP hacks too b/c they dared to go for a swim?) The sad part is people are taking this crap seriously.

posted by: Anon on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]

John Thacker,

I have a big beef against Mexico. Try as I might, I cannot find a decent tortilla for sale in the state of Vermont, damnit. I thought the availability of quality mexican food in all 50 states was supposed to be a key benefit of NAFTA...

Let me know when you get your foot out of your mouth.

posted by: SteveinVT on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]

The implementation was fatally flawed. Could it have been done well, given adequate objectives, planning, coordination with other nations, training, and then sufficient resources devoted to the task? Maybe. How could anybody possibly know?

If we had the objective of bringing democracy to iraq, and we planned for the occupation ahead of the actual quick war, and we planned to deal with an insurgency in case one started -- which involves training a lot of troops in effective counterinsurgency warfare which is a very different thing from fighting urban battles -- and we got a lot of people who knew the language to help, and we called for a lot of volunteers (and if necessary draftees) to do the easy jobs while our superbly competent professional military did the hard stuff, and we encouraged militias to turn into police forces responsible to city governments and to the justice system that we'd encourage them to develop ... who knows, things might have gone a lot easier than we'd be planning for. I dunno. No way to re-run the experiment.

People who supported the war had some sort of fantasy about what it would be like. And given the explicit goals and orders compatible with those goals and the needed resources, maybe our government could have come close to the fantasies. I dunno. No way to find out now.

Whatever you thought was going on, it wasn't what the Bush administration was ready to make happen. Whatever Bush said he was doing, well, the results are coming in.

Now they keep talking about military action against iran. Fool me twice?

posted by: J Thomas on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]

Wow, Holsinger, that's some good stuff you post here.

Good thing we got rid of the "rape rooms" and replaced them with some good, old-fashioned ethnic cleansing carried out by our "allies," the Iranian subalterns.

"A win is a win," indeed. Spoken like a true regimental commander of the 101st Fightin' Keyboarders.

posted by: Arr-squared on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]

"Our objective in Iraq was to stop it from being used as a terrorist base against us (the Iraqi base at Salman Pak trained Al Qaeda terrorists in how to hijack aircraft)"

Recent reports emanating from a Senate Committee have it that Saddam regarded al Qaida as an enemy. What's the evidence that this report's findings are in error and that prewar Iraq and al Qaida were virtual allies?
It's pretty clear that Iraq is a terrorist base of sorts today. (Al Qaida a significant political force in at least one governate; thousands in training so to speak, who may turn to western targets in future years.) But is it true that Saddam's Iraq was already launching terrorists against local or western targets? When and where did these attacks occur? Is it plausible that an Iraq gravely weakened after 1991, its military and economy a shell of their former less-than-formidable selves,its air space under American control, its northern third practically autonomous--is it plausible that this weakened Iraq would have adopted so provocative a foreign policy aimed at thw world's only superpower?

Putting aside questions of basic competence, it's now plain to see that Iraq is a deeply divided society. Now maybe those divisions have only surfaced and become so extremely problematic because of the occupiers' extraordinary incompetence. But isn't it at least as plausible to suppose that given freedom of political expression, Iraqis would say things others found highly provocative? After all, Shiites had for centuries been repressed, and Sunnis grown accustomed to dominance. The Kurds had since 1991 acquired the reality of independence and the means to preserve it. Given these underlying realities, could even the most skilful of occupiers have built an edenic democracy in Mesopotamia?
Even supposing that they could, what was the interest that compelled America to undertake this enterprise, which surely entailed in any event considerable downside risks? What was it that made Saddam's Iraq the most pressing danger we confronted, so pressing as to justify drawing down resources in Afghanistan and taking on what you must agree was quite a large-scale project? Isn't the greatest danger we confront surreptitous attacks by Islamists operating largely on their own initiative, or at any rate under the sponsorship of some state other than Saddam's Iraq? How did deposing Saddam serve to decrease this danger?

posted by: Fenelon on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]

Tom Holsinger, they say when life hands you sh*t, make a sh*t sandwich. I have to applaud your creativity in coming up with an optimistic way to look at this.

So, you say these problems always turn into ethnic cleansing and then peace. I have to disagree some, there are some other examples. Like, belgium. The flemish and the walloons used to have some scraps but now they get along just fine. And then there's the USA where we live in harmony with both the black population and also the hispanics. Mexico still has a large native population with no ethnic cleansing on either side. And look at england! Angles, saxons, welsh, scots, normans, pakistani, you name it, and they haven't done an ethnic cleansing for over a hundred years. It doesn't have to go that way. Though admittedly it often does.

And ethnic cleansing doesn't always produce peace. Admittedly there are examples where it does, like the turks going after the armenians and the nazis going after the jews -- the remaining armenians and the jews in germany are quite peaceful today -- but very often the result is just more fighting. Very often people who succeed at ethnic cleansing aren't ready to stop fighting just because they're clean, they go on and fight somebody else.

Come to think of it, wasn't our kosovo adventure intended to *prevent* peace through ethnic cleansing? And this time you say we're trying it the other way around?

OK, iraq started with 5 million sunnis who weren't kurds, 5 million out of about 25 million, 20%. And you want to bring that down to 5%, about 1.05 million out of 21 million by getting rid of 4 million sunnis. That isn't so bad, it's less than 6 million -- there aren't 6 million of them anyway.

You say a third of the sunnis are already gone, how was that statistic collected? Do we have census-takers knocking on doors all over anbar? I'd like some sort of error bar on that.

Anyway, you say we're winning this way. But we aren't doing it ourselves. Is it our allies winning for us? Do we actually have allies left in iraq? I sure wouldn't consider any shias our allies at the moment. Our collaborators keep looking more nervous. Suppose the sunnis all leave, is there any particular reason to think it will be our collaborators who win after that? How does this come out looking to you like we're winning something?

posted by: J Thomas on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]


The airliner hijack training Saddam Hussein's regime provided to terrorists at Salman Pak was enough reason of and by itself to invade Iraq. Read this excerpt from a Guardian story on November 11, 2001:

... In an interiew with The Observer, he echoed Zeinab's claims: 'The foreigners' training includes assassinations, kidnapping, hijacking. They were strictly separated from the rest of us. To hijack planes they were taught to use small knives. The method used on 11 September perfectly coincides with the training I saw at the camp. When I saw the twin towers attack, the first thought that came into my head was, "this has been done by graduates of Salman Pak".'

A larger excerpt of this story is:,,4296646,00.html

The senior US intelligence source said the CIA believed that two other hijackers, al-Shehri and Jarrah, also met known Iraqi intelligence officers outside the US in the run-up to the atrocities. It is understood these meetings took place in the United Arab Emirates - where Iraq maintains its largest 'illegal', or non-diplomatic, cover intelligence operation, most of it devoted to oil exports and busting economic sanctions.

The source added that Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which has now effectively merged with al-Qaeda, maintained regular contacts with Iraq for many years. He confirmed the claims first made by the Iraqi National Congress - that towards the end of 1998, Farouk Hijazi, Iraq's ambassador to Turkey and a key member of the Mukhabarat leadership - went to Kandahar in Afghanistan, where he met bin Laden.

The FBI believes many of the 11 hijackers who made up the conspiracy's 'muscle', Saudi Arabians who entered the US at a late stage and whose task was to overpower the aircrafts' passengers and crew, trained at Afghan camps run by al-Qaeda. But they have no details: no times or places where any of these individuals learnt their skills. Meanwhile, it is now becoming clear that al-Qaeda is not the only organisation providing terrorist training for Muslim fundamentalists. Since the early 1990s, courses of this type have also been available in Iraq. At the beginning of October, two INC activists in London travelled to eastern Turkey. They had been told that a Mukhabarat colonel had crossed the border through Kurdistan and was ready to defect. The officer - codenamed Abu Zeinab - had extraordinary information about terrorist training in Iraq. In a safe house in Ankara, the two London-based activists took down Zeinab's story. He had worked at a site which was already well known - Salman Pak, a large camp on a peninsular formed by a loop of the Tigris river south of Baghdad.

However, what Zeinab had to say about the southern part of the camp was new. There, he said, separated from the rest of the facilities by a razor-wire fence, was a barracks used to house Islamic radicals, many of them Saudis from bin Laden's Wahhabi sect, but also Egyptians, Yemenis, and other non-Iraqi Arabs.

Unlike the other parts of Salman Pak, Zeinab said the foreigners' camp was controlled directly by Saddam Hussein. In a telephone interview with The Observer, Zeinab described the culture clash which took place when secular Baathists tried to train fundamentalists: 'It was a nightmare! A very strange experience. These guys would stop and insist on praying to Allah five times a day when we had training to do. The instructors wouldn't get home till late at night, just because of all this praying.'

Asked whether he believed the foreigners' camp had trained members of al-Qaeda, Zeinab said: 'All I can say is that we had no structure to take on these people inside the regime. The camp was for organisations based abroad.' One of the highlights of the six-month curriculum was training to hijack aircraft using only knives or bare hands. According to Zeinab, women were also trained in these techniques. Like the 11 September hijackers, the students worked in groups of four or five.

In Ankara, Zeinab was debriefed by the FBI and CIA for four days. Meanwhile he told the INC that if they wished to corroborate his story, they should speak to a man who had political asylum in Texas - Captain Sabah Khodad, who had worked at Salman Pak in 1994-5. He too has now told his story to US investigators. In an interiew with The Observer, he echoed Zeinab's claims: 'The foreigners' training includes assassinations, kidnapping, hijacking. They were strictly separated from the rest of us. To hijack planes they were taught to use small knives. The method used on 11 September perfectly coincides with the training I saw at the camp. When I saw the twin towers attack, the first thought that came into my head was, "this has been done by graduates of Salman Pak".'

Zeinab and Khodad said the Salman Pak students practised their techniques in a Boeing 707 fuselage parked in the foreigners' part of the camp. Yesterday their story received important corroboration from Charles Duelfer, former vice chairman of Unscom, the UN weapons inspection team.

Duelfer said he visited Salman Pak several times, landing by helicopter. He saw the 707, in exactly the place described by the defectors. The Iraqis, he said, told Unscom it was used by police for counter-terrorist training. 'Of course we automatically took out the word "counter",' he said. 'I'm surprised that people seem to be shocked that there should be terror camps in Iraq. Like, derrrrrr! I mean, what, actually, do you expect? Iraq presents a long-term strategic threat. Unfortunately, the US is not very good at recognising long-term strategic threats.'

posted by: Tom Holsinger on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]


We're talking about the Middle East. Ethnic cleansing of recalcitrant losers is a traditional path to victory there.

posted by: Tom Holsinger on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]

It is a good idea, when considering why persons with controlling responsibilities with the management and availability of global natural resources would have been interested in questions regarding the invasion of Iraq, to keep in mind the Iranian administration's desire to become the major player in their region's markets. That desire has an impact on current regional balances of control and if successful would require great organizational problems. And I think the tortilla market in Vermont is the result of Russian obstructurism in the UN. bs

posted by: Ben Stewart on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]

This article is full of stuff like this, and it's incredibly insulting to the civilians who actually risked their lives to go over there.

Anon, you actually have a little bit of a point there. A lot of the reason inexperienced untrained juniors got put in charge of projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars was that the big shots who originally had the jobs had bailed out, often because of the danger. Simone Ledeen mentioned one senior economist who got a little of the edge of a mortar attack and lost a testicle. I think if I had a comfy desk job waiting for me in the USA I'd hesitate to stay in the Green Zone and risk the other one.

It wasn't that the administration really chose random loyal people to do important technical jobs. They were choosing loyal people to be gofers and warm bodies and such. It was the gofers who stayed through several 90 day tours while their supervisors went home who graduated into the important jobs. And then they faced the problems their supervisors had, one of which was that people who came in for 90 days didn't quite understand the routines by the time they went home again.

Anyway, nobody would have minded all this if they had been successful. But it failed. The CPA came home after failing. And Bush didn't ask for any more reconstruction money. I think that pretty much says what his hopes are. If we were actually going to stay the course, wouldn't it make sense to root out the corruption and go in there and actually do reconstruction? Restore the electricity, get pharmaceuticals to the hospitals, the things we promised. When we don't even pretend to do reconstruction it shows what Bush's intentions are.

The sad part is people are taking this crap seriously.

Yes. You are a troll repeating talking points somebody else chose for you to spread. If anybody takes you seriously that's very very sad.

posted by: J Thomas on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]

We're talking about the Middle East. Ethnic cleansing of recalcitrant losers is a traditional path to victory there.

Tom Holsinger, that path cannot work for us because we don't have a population to move into iraq after we clean out 25 million recalcitrant losers.

So the result would be for somebody else -- not us -- to be victorious.

posted by: J Thomas on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]


You can do better than that. Check out the CIA Factbook at:

It says the July 2006 estimate of Iraq's population is about 26.8 million.

15-20% of that is about 4-5 million.

Knocking that done to 5-8% is roughly 1-2 million.

So we're looking at about 3 million more Sunni Arabs being chased out, besides the ones who have already left.

posted by: Tom Holsinger on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]

Trying to decide whether it was the idea--invading Iraq for not-very-clear--and continually shifting--reasons, or the implementation that's resposnible for the current mess...well, these aren't mutually exclusive options.

1. The idea was f**ked. We didn't know why we were doing it. We could easily have anticipated that the invasion would not go well. We had little international support. We had no sufficient justification for invading Iraq (whereas we did have sufficient jutification, I think, for Afghanistan--now, there's the case for "good idea, implemented horribly).

2. The implementation was f**ked. We did it badly. We tried to do it on the cheap, with too few resources. We had no plan for the aftermath. We hired people who had no obvious skills for t heir jobs. We squandered billions of dollars using outside contractors, when we could just as easily have squandered billions of dollars on Iraqi contractors (at least enriching Iraqis). We tortured people. Need I go on?

The answer--it was a bad idea, badly implemented.

posted by: Donald A. Coffin on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]


Salman Pak is blowback from the INC. It's the wetdream of the Office of Special Plans. We all know how reliable that intel proved to be.

If you don't believe me, check out the Senate's report:

Scroll down to section 3.

Now, of course, you are going to denounce this report as a partisan hachet job, but last time I checked the Chair of the Senate Intel Committee and the Majority Staff who wrote the report weren't exactly card carrying members of the ACLU. Pat Roberts is a probably a closet pinko isn't he?

posted by: SteveinVT on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]


Iraqi officials of the Saddam Hussein regime told UNSCOM officials at the time that the aircraft fuselage at Salman Pak was being used for "counter-terrorist" training.

The Senate report doesn't mention that. The Senate report doesn't mention all sorts of inconvenient evidence.

Here is what Charles Duelfer of UNSCOM said at the time:

... Zeinab and Khodad said the Salman Pak students practised their techniques in a Boeing 707 fuselage parked in the foreigners' part of the camp. Yesterday their story received important corroboration from Charles Duelfer, former vice chairman of Unscom, the UN weapons inspection team.

Duelfer said he visited Salman Pak several times, landing by helicopter. He saw the 707, in exactly the place described by the defectors. The Iraqis, he said, told Unscom it was used by police for counter-terrorist training. 'Of course we automatically took out the word "counter",' he said. 'I'm surprised that people seem to be shocked that there should be terror camps in Iraq. Like, derrrrrr! I mean, what, actually, do you expect? Iraq presents a long-term strategic threat. Unfortunately, the US is not very good at recognising long-term strategic threats.'

posted by: Tom Holsinger on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]


Are you too scared to address my post?

posted by: Rick Latshaw on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]

Or is it too stupid?

posted by: Rick Latshaw on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]

I've known Jay Hallen for years. He supported the invasion. He was definitely idealogical. And his parents are significant RNC contributors who lived next door to the man who hired him (Reuben Jeffries) in the Hamptons during the summer.

posted by: Anon on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]

He saw the 707, in exactly the place described by the defectors. The Iraqis, he said, told Unscom it was used by police for counter-terrorist training. 'Of course we automatically took out the word "counter",' he said.

Thank you for showing us how they knew it was a training camp for terrorists.

I guess the way you tell the difference is to see who repeats the exercises. If the experienced trainers play the terrorists and give multiple groups of iraqi police the experience, then it's counterterrorism training. If the experienced guys play the police and let multiple groups of terrorists get experience then it's terrorism training. In the other two cases it isn't so clear. But these guys of course assumed that iraqi police wouldn't get counterterrorism training, that if they faced an airliner hostage situation the terrorists would be on their side.

posted by: J Thomas on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]


You need more help than I thought - it appears to be an acute case of rectal-cranial inversion.

posted by: Tom Holsinger on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]

Tom, I accept your admission of defeat. It was an obviously untenable position and just as well that you chose not to try to defend it.

posted by: J Thomas on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]







posted by: Rick Latshaw on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]


I suggest you rent a copy of The Caine Mutiny and pay close attention to the trial scene at the end.

posted by: Tom Holsinger on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]







posted by: Rick Latshaw on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]

I'll pass on addressing the argument that no matter how big a disaster Iraq appears to be, it's really a success, and a smashing one at that. I suggest others do as well.

"The idea" we are supposed to evaluate with respect to postwar Iraq had to do with establishing a liberal democracy there that would in turn influence the entire Middle East and turn the region away from terrorism and other bad things. Both parts of this idea -- that Iraqi democracy was an attainable objective and that its attainment would have the benign influence on the region the administration expected -- rested entirely on faith. But we should set that aside for the moment.

The reason we should is that even good things come with a price. Before we seek them we need to consider whether their price is too high. From the Iranian border to the Morroccan coast are some 300 million plus Arabs, or about a quarter the number of Chinese and Indians in the world, somewhat more than a quarter of the number of Latin Americans in the world. In pursuit of the administration's objectives in Iraq -- one, mid-sized Arab country -- we are pouring more resources into our activities there than into everything we do with respect to India, China and Latin America combined.

Now, look. Iraqi democracy would have to be an enormous boon to the United States to justify the commitment of resources the Bush administration imposed on the country. And we don't know that it would have been anything of the kind. Success in Iraq could very well have turned out to be an Iraqi government just strong enough to prevent its people from falling on one another but not strong enough to prevent terrorists from using its territory, or one that emerged shaken but stable, a kind of super Bosnia that American troops would have to stay in for years lest it fall apart. Or it could have become just a target of terrorists operating from elsewhere.

To the administration -- as well as to a surprising number of its liberal critics -- this is all pessimism. Iraqi democracy was not only attainable but would too have been the catalyst for a transformed Mideast. These things were true because they just were. The vital importance of the Mideast, its primacy over every other American interest abroad, was and is likewise taken on faith.

Personally I can see better implementation making my preferred objectives more attainable. But my objectives -- chief among which is less American involvement, not more, in what is after all one of the more backward areas of the world, one with oil and absolutely nothing else we have any reason to value -- were and are not those of the Bush administration, and the window for attaining them appears to me to have closed roughly three years ago.

The debate over implementation is really a debate about 2003; it's discussion of the idea behind the Iraq commitment that is relevant today.

posted by: Zathras on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]


You need to brush up on your Machiavelli.

"A Prince, therefore, ought to go slowly in undertaking an enterprise upon the representations of an exile, for most of the times he will be left either with shame or very grave injury."

Never trust exiles.

posted by: Jon H on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]

Tom, you aren't discussing facts but expressing an attitude. You think we will "win" if the sunnis in iraq are killed or driven out. And you don't expand on what it is about that which is a win for us.

When asked to explain about this you merely ridicule your questioners, which encourages the strong inference that you have no idea what you're talking about. You lose. You have so far been unable to support your argument in any way.

But OK, I'll do it for you. Here's one likely result of ethnic cleansing:

After enough sunnis are gone that the rest are defeated, the violence dies down. The shias agree to follow their elected democratic government. Their elected representatives then try to sneak out of the Green Zone and a lot of them make it out, they establish a quorum elsewhere and vote unanimously to kick the US troops out of their country. They announce this to the media. We have the choice between ignominously leaving, or ignominously declaring that the elected democratic government of iraq is an outlaw organisation and hunting them down while increasing troops for the occupation.

Here is another likely result:

After the sunnis are gone, the various shia militias argue among themselves. They fight each other, and the violence continues. Since much of the fighting involves kidnapping and killing leaders and their families the US forces can't help much with that. But we can provide artillery and air support for the factions we choose to support. And we can train iraqi troops though we're entirely clueless about which side they'll fight for. Maybe the official iraqi government dissolves. Maybe they tell us to go away. Probably they look utterly irrelevant -- the only important function they are capable of is to tell us to go away, and if they do that they look worthless to everybody.

How is either of these likely results a win for us? What outcome do you imagine that would be a win for us?

posted by: J Thomas on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]

The Iraq war: a great war or THE GREATEST WAR? please tell us Tom?

posted by: Colbert on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]

I don't know how accurate Rajiv is about other sections in CPA, but his description of the Health Ministry was accurate. Accurate, but understated. It wasn't just James Haveman, the senior politcal appointee who was completely unqualified, but the Chief of Staff was a 30 year-old who got the job through his father, after having performed marginally in a series of low level government positions - none of them involving health. This guy was the one who completely screwed up the plan to get medicines and supplies to the Iraqis - out of his league, and he was more interested in hitting on women than learning a single fact about the culture. But whenever someone would bring up the subject of Kimadia, he said that his plan was in place. I just heard that now Iraq has almost no drugs in hospitals, and the system is more corrupt than ever. The press officer was booted out of Laura Bush's office, but because of her family's contributions, she was sent to Baghdad to eat, drink, and fraternize. Haveman hated the US Army, and did everything that he could to undo their work to get the health system back on its feet. He was only focused on bringing a neocon plan to Iraq - if it couldn't work in the US, force it on the Iraqis. It was like stepping back in time 200 years - everyday it was "what can we do for the poor savages." And anyone who spoke up was considered a traitor - gone the next day. When the Army tried to hold an after action health symposium in DC, Haveman went straight to the Pentagon to get it cancelled at the last minute. But it didn't stop him from duping the National Academy of Sciences into sponsoring a full day of self-adoration in Aug 04 for Haveman and his gang.

posted by: TrenchWarrior on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]

Just one thought to cap off this discussion: it seems to me that there is a great deal that remains unknown about Iraq. Dan's asking for the judgment too early, and for every PoV there is -- in most cases -- a counterargument, and not many people have the data to cement their positions.

However, the rhetoric used to justify our continuing engagement in Iraq is increasingly perceived (both at home and abroad) as tired and bankrupt, and that doesn't auger well for the war effort as a whole. I'm put in the mindset of the Tet Offensive, which, while a military victory for the United States, shattered our commitment to the Vietnam War because it revealed the deep flaws in our strategy and the overt falsifications on which our rhetoric was based.

Iraq is ripe for a Tet of its own, and that's deeply troubling.

posted by: Adrian on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]

Might I suggest that "idea" and the "implementation" are not so easily separated. While the debate over the original motivations to go to war will probably be endless, it seems to me that administration had no intention of occupying and rebuilding Iraq as a democracy any more than in Afghanistan. That is why they focused their planning on the invasion and had absolutely no plan for the post-war.

If the conduct of the war is any indicator, proving that the United States could effect "regime change" rapidly and with a minimal troop commitment was a far more important goal than building a stable democracy in Iraq. "Proving Rumsfeld's thesis about warfighting" was not a secondary goal, it was the primary and overriding goal. If the administration thought it would have to commit several hundred thousand troops over a long period in order to topple Saddam Hussein they probably never would have done it in the first place. The "implementation" of democracy-building was disastrous because democracy-building was never the "idea." The "idea" was (and I am speculating based on what I know about the conduct of the war) to topple the Iraqi leadership, install a friendly government, withdraw and use the Iraqi example to intimidate other countries like Iran or even repeat the effort elsewhere.

My point doesn't necessarily impact the theoretical debate of whether it is a good idea to invade dictatorships and occupy them until we've built democratic governments. (Regarding Iraq, even given the highly optimistic estimate of a 50% chance of success and a 50% chance of, well, what we have now, it seems like a terrible idea to me.)

However, that debate doesn't really apply to this situation. I have always been surprised at how unskeptically most people accepted the justification that we are in Iraq to build democracy after the original WMD justification crumbled. If democracy-building had been the "idea," then, for Christ's sake, they would have had a plan for its implementation.

posted by: bbqwings on 09.18.06 at 11:03 PM [permalink]

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