Adam Ash

Your daily entertainment scout. Whatever is happening out there, you'll find the best writing about it in here.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

How long before Cheney becomes a total embarrassment to the Administration (maybe he'll resign to make room for a new GOP contender, if there is one)

1. How Cheney bombed in Afghanistan
The vice president slinks home from a disastrous trip where a failed assassination attempt was only the loudest proof that his war policies have emboldened al-Qaida and the Taliban.
By Sidney Blumenthal/

Was the suicide bomber attack at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan on Tuesday an attempted assassination of Vice President Dick Cheney or a horse's head in his bed?

The day before, Cheney had delivered a stinging message to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf -- U.S. aid would be withheld unless Pakistan supported strikes against Taliban and al-Qaida forces that have nestled in Pakistan as a sanctuary, where they have gathered strength in anticipation of a spring offensive against the Afghan government. Musharraf's official response via a spokesman was immediate: "Pakistan does not accept dictation from any side or any source." Then came the bombing. Was it another form of reply? The Taliban claimed credit. But was only the Taliban involved?

The Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency was present at the creation of the Taliban, which it has deployed to give it strategic depth in its long war with India. The ISI has lent clandestine support to other terrorist groups against India. And ISI agents have also been deeply involved with al-Qaida. ISI operatives continue to aid and advise the Taliban and al-Qaida resurgence in Afghanistan.

Musharraf, a former army chief of staff who took power in a military coup in 1999, has been a rival of ISI influence and has never succeeded in securing control over it. The circumstances surrounding the two assassination attempts against him, using suicide bombers within 11 days in 2003, remain unsolved, though experts believe they are linked to his tough policy toward the Taliban and al-Qaida. Soon after Sept. 11, 2001, encouraged and aided by the U.S., Musharraf waged an unsuccessful military campaign against the Taliban and al-Qaida in the remote tribal province of Waziristan, bordering Afghanistan. Last spring, Musharraf withdrew Pakistani troops from south Waziristan, ceding it to the Taliban and its allies. Last September, Musharraf surrendered north Waziristan, agreeing to a formal truce with Taliban representatives and even returning seized weapons. Taliban and al-Qaida flags fly side by side throughout the region. From 2001 to the present, the Pakistanis reportedly have not arrested a single Taliban leader. The Taliban operate their headquarters unimpeded out of Quetta, the capital of Pakistan's Baluchistan province, the gateway to Kandahar in southern Afghanistan.

Musharraf's retreat was an acceptance of political reality and an act of self-protection. He believed that U.S. backing for his appeasement policy was critical to maintenance of his power, which he must assume is the larger mutual goal. Cheney's recent ultimatum, however, puts him in a precarious spot, especially with parliamentary elections scheduled this year and the popularity of Bush at its nadir among Pakistanis. The questions pressing upon Musharraf are the degree of control he has over his own government and country and his survival at the sufferance of the ISI and its clients.

The questions raised by the would-be assassination of Cheney highlight the counterproductive incoherence and impotence of administration policy. Before the bombing, Cheney was gleefully using his foreign travels as a platform for partisan strafing. After he declared that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi 's criticism of the administration's Iraq policy aided and abetted al-Qaida, she called President Bush to register her objection to having her patriotism smeared. Cheney's remark, she said, was "beneath the dignity of his office." On Feb. 26, a reporter from ABC News asked Cheney if he stood by his statement. Cheney was only too happy to repeat it. "If we adopt the Pelosi policy, then we will validate the strategy of al-Qaida. I said it and I meant it," he said. The pool reporter noted that Cheney "looks pretty chipper, near the end of a weeklong odyssey." But after the bombing, Cheney fell uncharacteristically silent.

Since Sept. 11, Bush and Cheney have proclaimed a Manichaean struggle in which, as Bush said, "you're either with us or with the terrorists." This formula has been applied at home and abroad. It is a distillation of Bush's foreign policy and his domestic politics. In his "war on terror," he is leading the forces of "freedom" against "evil" because it is "part of God's plan," and that "God is not neutral." Then Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath told the BBC in 2005 that Bush had confided in him and Mahmoud Abbas, former prime minister and now Palestinian president: "I'm driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, 'George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan.' And I did, and then God would tell me, 'George go and end the tyranny in Iraq,' and I did."

At Cheney's direction, intelligence was skewed to suggest links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida. Over the past year, as that intelligence was exposed as false and, worse, as disinformation, Cheney has defended the conflation of threats through a contrivance of illogic, also routinely repeated by Bush: "We were not in Iraq on September 11th, 2001, and the terrorists hit us anyway."

Cheney's implication that the U.S. presence in Iraq cannot possibly be an inspiration for terrorism is simply not shared at the highest levels of the senior military, including commanders on the ground in Iraq. I have learned that they are privately reading, circulating, and in agreement with a new article written by terrorism experts Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank, senior fellows at the New York University Center on Law and Security. (Bergen is also a fellow at the New America Foundation. For purposes of full disclosure, I am also a senior fellow at the NYU Center.) Their article, "The Iraq Effect: War Has Increased Terrorism Sevenfold Worldwide," published in Mother Jones, provides empirical evidence for careful conclusions:

"Our study yields one resounding finding: The rate of terrorist attacks around the world by jihadist groups and the rate of fatalities in those attacks increased dramatically after the invasion of Iraq. Globally there was a 607 percent rise in the average yearly incidence of attacks (28.3 attacks per year before and 199.8 after) and a 237 percent rise in the average fatality rate (from 501 to 1,689 deaths per year). A large part of this rise occurred in Iraq, which accounts for fully half of the global total of jihadist terrorist attacks in the post-Iraq War period. But even excluding Iraq, the average yearly number of jihadist terrorist attacks and resulting fatalities still rose sharply around the world by 265 percent and 58 percent respectively."

Draining military and economic resources from Afghanistan in the run-up to invading Iraq contributed to Afghanistan's current crisis. While money and materiel were siphoned to Iraq, Afghanistan was starved. "Aid per capita to Afghans in the first two years after the fall of the Taliban was around a tenth of that given to Bosnians following the end of the Balkan civil war in the mid-1990s," Bergen noted in testimony on Feb. 15 before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan James Dobbins has said, "Afghanistan was the least resourced of any major American-led nation building operation since the end of World War II." But the Iraq policy has had other ricochet effects, according to Bergen and Cruickshank:

"Since the invasion of Iraq, Afghanistan has suffered 219 jihadist terrorist attacks that can be attributed to a particular group, resulting in the deaths of 802 civilians. The fact that the Taliban only conducted its first terrorist attacks in September 2003, a few months after the invasion of Iraq, is significant. International forces had already been stationed in the country for two years before the Taliban began to specifically target the U.S.-backed Karzai government and civilians sympathetic to it. This points to a link between events in Iraq and the initiation of the Taliban's terrorist campaign in Afghanistan. True, local dynamics form part of the explanation for the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan. But the use of terrorism, particularly suicide attacks, by the Taliban is an innovation drawn from the Iraqi theater."

The bombing at Bagram silenced Cheney's bombast, at least for the moment. His mission to Musharraf and the subsequent assassination attempt, if it was that, also exploded his simplistic ideological sloganeering. Rather than waging a grand battle of good vs. evil, he and Bush are dependent upon an ambiguous Pakistani leader with a tenuous grasp on power, whose untrustworthy intelligence service is crucial in directing the Taliban.

Rather than approaching a climactic struggle against free-floating sects of "Islamofascism," the administration has been a party since Sept. 11 to concrete regional conflicts in which not only were economic, social and diplomatic instruments ignored but international military help was also rejected. Belatedly, in Afghanistan, circumstances of the administration's own making have forced it to concede the necessity of getting assistance from allies. Yet the movement of 1,400 British troops there is a direct reflection of the disintegration of the "coalition of the willing" in Iraq. Those very troops are being redeployed from southern Iraq, the British sector now being ceded to control of Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, which Bush's "surge" is supposedly intended to suppress.

Rather than returning home a conquering hero, Cheney slinks back from his trip having revealed how the failure of administration policy has validated the strategy of the Taliban and al-Qaida. That harsh conclusion, moreover, is not mere punditry. It is the considered view of senior military commanders.

2. Arrogance, analogy and Iraq
Gustav Seibt looks at the flawed reasoning behind the widespread intellectual support of the Iraq war
From signandsight

No war since 1914 has found so much support from the liberal public as the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. Beyond the public justifications and journalistic explanations, a large number of writers, essayists and experts in the Western world opted to take strong opinions on this war, either standing solidly behind it or calling it the lesser evil, a bitter necessity . The difference from 1914 is that the masses on the streets, in Europe at least, were against the war, and they too had their spokesmen, but largely in the union-oriented political milieu.

Nonetheless, the motivations behind the powerful intellectual support of the war should be analysed in retrospect, and not only because the hopes that were invested in the Iraq War were so disastrously disappointed. We should be concerned, for one, with monitoring the success rate of our prognoses but more importantly, with exploring the argumentative basis of our war confidence in the West. Only then will the "war of ideas" between the Western public and the Islamic world that the essayist Paul Berman been demanding since 2001, seriously begin.

It's already started, here and there – even though it's a particularly internal conversation in the West, for example on the Internet site , where a noteworthy debate (English version here ) on universalism and multiculturalism has been waged in the last few weeks, to which Ian Buruma ,Timothy Garton Ash ,Pascal Bruckner and Necla Kelek have contributed. But the discussion is concerned principally with the inner constitution of a liberal society, and not the civilisational conflict between the West and the entire Islamic world that the Iraq War has plunged us into, whether we like it or not.

But in this field in particular, the rubble of the Iraq War has to be cleared away before we can carry on with a modicum of credibility. Nobody should take pleasure in the fact that authors like Wolf Biermann and György Konrad , essayists like Hans Magnus Enzensberger ,Hans-Ulrich Gumbrecht and Karl-Otto Hondrich , "liberal hawks" like Paul Berman and Michael Ignatieff , and even considered observers like Ralph Dahrendorf and Herfried Münkler were wrong on so many counts. In fact, many of those named, and Konrad and Gumbrecht in particular, should be credited for admitting their mistakes.

Reading the articles of the intellectual hawks today, it's striking to note that the question asked so often today - whether the Iraq War was a good idea that was just badly executed or whether it was, as Jürgen Habermas and Ivan Nagel postulate, a violation of international law with an uncertain outcome – this obvious question doesn't get to the heart of the widespread errors in judgement.

Most of those behind the war – the exception being Herfried Münkler – didn't even concern themselves with Iraq, international law, the chances and risks of a war in the Middle Eastern context. The vast majority of arguments for the war were drawn from European experience of the last two or three generations. Thus, one wrote about the overriding issues such as pacifism and anti-Americanism, appeasement and anti-Semitism, rather than addressing the thing itself.

First and foremost was an attempt to draw broad historical analogies . The fall of Saddam, a desirable enough goal, was compared directly with the fight against Hitler, the democratisation of Iraq with the democratisation of West Germany and Japan after the Second World War and the chance for democratic change throughout the entire Middle East was compared with the end of the East bloc and the quick establishment of civilian democracies afterwards. But virtually nobody had anything to say about the actual domestic situation in Iraq today.

Things developed differently than the expectations of imminent success suggested. And therein lies an almost obscene arrogance that is occasion for a sharp criticism of the West. A country is subjected to absolute misery and with what justification? Memories of our own history. It's understandable that Iraqi intellectuals fall into a cold rage over this today. But we can assume that these Iraqis have other more pressing concerns. Of course the main responsibility for the disaster is to be borne by the political-military actors who initiated an adventure based on falsified information, unrealistic goals and absurd arrogance. No wonder it went spectacularly wrong. Nonetheless, it must be admitted that rarely was such irresponsible behaviour accompanied by so much empty talk.

The comparison with 1914 is all the more depressing because in 2003, we see again the syndrome of a "Literatentum" – a term coined by Max Weber during the First World War, referring to the phenomena of a body of literature that used critical, aesthetic, definitely non-expert, uninformed superstructures to justify risky decisions in matters of war. A lot was at stake in the First World War as well: culture and civilisation, politics and music, the German spirit and the Western anti-spirit and vice versa – and the "war goals" of an obviously unrealistic, in fact insane blueprint.

In the end, what remained was a destabilised continent in ruins, the cultural phantasms vanished as though they had never even existed. And today the political feuilleton is faced with the humiliating recognition that an old warhorse and travelling reporter like Peter Scholl-Latour understood the situation in the Middle East better than the most erudite essayists in New York and Paris.

Behind the dashed hopes and errors of 2003 lurks the perpetual question of what we can learn from all this. The classic thesis has become that we can't learn anything from it, because contemporary history, with its irrevocable changing of the basic conditions of existence, prevents the return of similar constellations and situations, rendering all wise principles of past historical experience invalid. History has ceased to be the instructor of life because it has sucked all life into its vortex.

But this thesis has never prevented the same old far-fetched parallels from being drawn. The historically-thinking person needs some kind of orientation. Strangely, however, the little bits of wisdom – for example, that it's better not to irritate your friends - are often forgotten. Expansive, far-fetched analogies enjoy greater popularity among historical thinkers.

This explains why the liberal public misread the Russian Revolution for decades after 1917; they saw it in the mold of the French revolution. And a bit of " terreur " was absolutely acceptable because in the end, a civilian constitution came out of it and then later, a dictator who brought order.

Mussolini and his squadristi posed as the Roman Ceasar who marched on Rome like Sulla or Octavia , and then later as the mature ruler like Augustus who created a new empire of peace. Half of Europe, including Rainer Maria Rilke and Sigmund Freud , believed him. And when Hitler came to power soon after, Europe had grown accustomed to the Italian "Heros of culture" and was not too concerned about the "German Mussolini": if it worked in an old nation of culture such as Italy, it'll be alright in Germany.

Those are the errors of the past. Today, every second dictator gets compared to Hitler and every fight against him is bound to be victorious, just as National Socialist Germany was ultimately overcome. But Islamic fundamentalism is positioned as " Islamofascism " and that makes the phenomena comprehensible. The decisive difference – that European fascisms have been, for the most part, anti-religious, in other words have broken with cultural traditions while Islamicism depends on the authority of a thousand-year old religious tradition - is brushed aside. It makes the problem infinitely more complex! Max Weber's "Literatentum" gains an entirely new layer of relevance with such wild twists in historical thinking. This method of mapping entire regions of the world according to our own experience betrays a hybris that has to be eliminated if we are truly going to enter into a debate at the level of ideas.

Defeats are known to give rise to reflection, and lessons are best learned from stories that don't end the way we expected them to. A lesson from this recent history is, the more expansive the historical analogy, the more likely it is to be misleading. Another lesson is: little bits of conventional wisdom can be helpful. Two examples: If you're planning to occupy a large country, take a lot of troops. And if you're going to dissolve an army, be sure to keep the weapons and give the men work.

3. The Iraq insurgency for beginners
A leading expert on the insurgency clarifies who is shooting whom in Iraq, the growing power of al-Qaida, the influence of Iran, and the only thing left for the U.S. to do.
By Kevin Berger/

For somebody in America, Evan Kohlmann has a remarkably intimate view of the Iraq insurgency. In 2004, he founded, a clearinghouse of virtually every communiqué -- video, audio, Internet, printed -- issued by insurgent groups in Iraq. For three years, Kohlmann has pored through every one of them, with the help of Arabic translators, and emerged with a clear-eyed view of who is fighting whom in Iraq and why. Given his insights, Kohlmann has been put to work as a consultant by the U.S. Department of Defense, the Department of Justice, the FBI and the CIA.

Spending time in Kohlmann's archives is an extraordinary experience. It strips away the cloudy myths of the insurgency steamed up by U.S. politicians and pundits and leaves you with a bracing portrait of roving insurgent groups, more like neighborhood gangs, with their own identities and insignias, progressively growing more violent. I wanted to talk to Kohlmann for the simple reason that as much as I follow the news about the Iraq war, I have always felt slightly frustrated at not knowing who the enemy really is. Kohlmann says I'm far from alone. And he's talking about people way over my head. "I find it tragic that people in Washington, D.C., who are the heads of major congressional committees, and deciding things about Iraq, don't know the difference between Sunnis and Shiites," he says. Kohlmann insists he is nonpartisan. He spoke from his office in New York.

Every day you look at Iraq through the lens of insurgent videos and Internet postings. What do you see?

A picture of fundamentalism. Shiite fundamentalism clashing with Sunni fundamentalism clashing with American fundamentalism. We have tried imposing things upon Iraq that are totally foreign to it. Now each side is unwilling to acknowledge the right of the other to have a voice in what's going on. It's a disaster.

Describe the insurgency.

You have to be careful when you say "insurgency." You have to distinguish between the Shiite militias and the actual insurgency, which is the Sunni groups. Most of the Shiite militia activity is not directed at the U.S., it's directed at the Sunnis. The Sunni insurgency, meanwhile, is directed at everyone -- the U.S., the Iraqi government, the militias.

The best way to divide it up is into three camps. You have Sunni nationalists, initially a large portion of the insurgency; the moderate Sunni Islamists, who use Islamic terminology and talk about establishing a government based on Sharia law; and you have the Salafists, like the group Al-Qaida in Iraq. To them, the fight is not about preserving the borders of Iraq, it's about revolution, about rebuilding something completely new on the basis of some kind of idyllic Muslim empire.

What drives people to join the insurgency?

I've called up families of fighters and when I ask that question, the response is always the same: Wouldn't you? They are extremely upset about what's going on in Iraq. Some of them have a burning hatred for the U.S. They see the U.S. as imposing its will on their countries. Some of them have a burning desire to be a missionary and martyr for Islam. You have people who have broken out of prison and gone to fight in Iraq. It's now a vacuum sucking in every disaffected voice in the region.

How has the insurgency evolved?

When the U.S. invasion began in 2003, it was mainly Baathists, ex-Iraqi military, and Saddam loyalists. They were Iraqi nationalists, opposed to foreign occupation, who saw Iraq as a competitor with Egypt for the control of the Arab world. It was an issue of national pride. Video recordings and communiqués were coming out from everybody who had an AK-47. But as the war dragged on, some of these groups started coalescing; others were destroyed. Only the strongest, the most hardcore, the best financed, the people with the most training, survived, despite airstrikes and the arrest of their senior leaders by the U.S. military.

Do you call the insurgents "terrorists"?

No. The nationalist insurgents have done a lot of really brutal things. But in general they are people opposed to foreign occupation. If foreign occupation were removed, they wouldn't necessarily sit down and shake hands with Shiites. But at the end of the day, they would like to see a peaceful Iraq where Sunnis and Shiites can at least coexist with each other. Terrorists are people who set off bombs in marketplaces and deliberately kill innocent civilians for no good reason. Any suicide bombing is a terrorist act. It's not an insurgent act. There is no military objective in it. The vast majority of suicide bombings that take place in Iraq are either the work of al-Qaida or al-Qaida-linked groups. Al-Qaida are the terrorists.

Who constitutes al-Qaida in Iraq now?

It includes everyone from past conflicts in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Chechnya to people from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, North Africa, Syria and Jordan. A growing number of Iraqis continue to join its ranks every day. The people in the nationalist groups feel intensely hurt to see Iraq being torn apart. This is their homeland. And now their groups are taking on an Islamic tinge or else becoming straight-up jihadist groups controlled by al-Qaida. A lot of people joining the jihadist groups are now convinced there is no future left for Iraq, that the only future left is with al-Qaida, the only people who can protect them is al-Qaida.

David Kilcullen, an astute counterinsurgency expert, told George Packer in the New Yorker that what drives a lot of young men to become jihadists is a "sense of adventure, wanting to be in the big movement of history that's happening right now." Do you agree?

Oh, yeah. For some of these guys, it's like a safari. They see themselves as knights of the round table. In fact, that's how al-Qaida now sells the insurgency to them: Are you a chivalrous knight or a coward?

Has the U.S. invasion, in fact, strengthened al-Qaida?

Definitely. And this is the depressing thing. The hardcore true believers of al-Qaida at one time were probably 10 percent of the insurgent groups. Now they're 50 percent. Al-Qaida is growing in places it shouldn't. You have groups like the Islamic Army of Iraq that have transitioned from being traditional insurgents to extremist ones. Or take a popular insurgent group called the 1920 Revolution Brigades. The very name of the group has a nationalist, not Islamist meaning. And yet very recently, the head of al-Qaida's Islamic State in Iraq issued a statement in which he said that people from the 1920 Revolution Brigade were now fighting alongside al-Qaida. The U.S. is failing miserably at containing the spread of al-Qaida.

Why are the more moderate Muslim groups siding with al-Qaida?

They have no choice. There's a group called the Iraqi Islamic Resistance Front. They are far from angels. They recently released a video of supposedly a chemical rocket attack on a U.S. base in Samarra. But they were also the subject of a flier that was being posted around in Ramadi. The flier was signed by al-Qaida and said the Front was working with the Iraqi Islamic Party, the Iraqi government, and so is no longer a legitimate group. The Front was furious. They issued a statement saying, "We're not working with the government, we're with you guys, so don't issue these kinds of accusations." So there's a lot of pressure to work with al-Qaida or be targeted by it.

Does that message go out to people on the streets too?

Yeah, sure. That's the sad thing. If you work with the U.S. or the Iraqi government, you are targeted by al-Qaida. If you work with anyone else, you are targeted by the Shiites. It's a lose-lose situation. And what's amazing is this slide has all happened over the past 12 months. It's pegged to one singular event, the spark, which is the 2006 bombing of the Askariya Mosque in Samarra. Al-Qaida never claimed direct responsibility for it but they did call the mosque the heretical idol and mocked the fact that the Shiites were upset about it. Afterward, it was saying, "We've been fighting Shiite militias all along." To broaden its appeal, it said, "We're declaring the formation of an Islamic state in Iraq. This is no longer just an insurgent movement. We now have a state that we're fighting for, so come and join our cause. You're either with us or against us." Sure enough, we started seeing more groups edging toward al-Qaida's jihadists umbrella network.

Would al-Qaida have blown up the mosque if the U.S. wasn't in Iraq?

There wouldn't be an al-Qaida in Iraq if the U.S. wasn't there. The story of al-Qaida in Iraq begins in 2003. We handed al-Qaida exactly what it was looking for, a real war in the Middle East where it could lead the way. Al-Qaida is like a virus. It goes for weak victims and it uses conflicts to breed. Iraq gives al-Qaida a training ground, a place to put recruits in combat. If they come back from battle, you have people who have fought together, trained together, you have a military unit. As Richard Clarke has said, it was almost like Osama bin Laden was trying to vibe into George Bush the idea: "Invade Iraq, invade Iraq." This was an opportunity they seized with amazing alacrity. As brutal and terrifying as what they've done is, you have to acknowledge they capitalized on an opportunity that we handed them.

What happened to the U.S. message of democracy?

It totally failed. The idea of Western-style democracy in Iraq doesn't appeal to anyone. It was our own myth. We thought that if we get rid of Saddam Hussein, people would come together and celebrate and democracy would reign throughout the Middle East. The people who thought that up are people who think Iraq is like Texas. Iraq is not Texas. To Iraqis, tribal affiliations, religion and family mean a lot more than saying, "I'm from Iraq." You know we're doing a bad job of communicating our own message when we're losing the propaganda war to people who cut other people's heads off on camera. Think about it: People in one of the most Westernized countries in the Middle East would rather trust al-Qaida than the United States. That's a terrible sign of things to come.

How many total insurgents are there?

Somewhere in the tens of thousands. I would say al-Qaida, including the various groups in its alliance, has about 15,000 people, probably more. To give you an idea of its strength, consider that it has sacrificed 800 of its own members in suicide bombings. We know that through direct evidence because al-Qaida has videotaped and recorded many of the bombings. And remember, those 15,000 are just on the Sunni side, and constitute just one group out 10 or more.

The U.S. is fighting both the insurgency and Shiite militias, right?

Right. But the Shiites aren't a simple group either. They have divided themselves into two factions: the pro-Arab Shiites who are Iraqi nationalists and the pro-Iranian Shiites. There have been some incidences involving the Shiite Mahdi Army and the U.S. and British military. But the scope of activity between the Mahdi Army and the U.S. military is minute. The militias pose less of a day-to-day insurgent problem and more of a problem in the way they have infiltrated the Iraqi police force and other Iraqi government services, particularly the Interior Ministry, and how they arranging the murder of Sunnis through those agencies. They are creating instability, and that's the main reason we're going after them. It's also the No. 1 reason why Sunnis fight and are upset: The Shiite militias have essentially taken over the law enforcement and are using it to murder Sunnis.

We invaded Iraq to rectify crimes by Saddam Hussein against the Shiites, right? We wanted to bring him to justice. What the Sunni groups are saying is, "How come there's no justice to people who are drilling holes in people heads right now? Never mind 20 years ago." They have a point. Dozens of bodies turn up every day in Baghdad but nobody is paying heed to them. So the Sunnis are saying to the U.S., "If you guys are not going to prosecute the people responsible for this, then we're going to take matters into our own hands." And the Shiites are saying the same thing. They're saying, "You can't protect us from al-Qaida's suicide bombers. Your idea of strengthening security is to crack down on the Mahdi Army, who are the only ones preventing suicide bombers from coming into Sadr City. Why should we trust you? We should rely on ourselves. You can't trust anyone but your own people." It's an arms race. It just builds up and up.

How do the militias stack up against the insurgents in number of fighters?

There are probably fairly equal numbers of militiamen to Sunni insurgents, if not more. Given that they're waging open war with each other, and neither one seems to be winning outright, the answer is that one doesn't outnumber the other to create an imbalance.

Is a surge of 21,000 new U.S. troops going to help?

I don't think any number of new troops is going to help unless we're going to station troops on every single corner of every single street in every single city in Iraq. The problem is the insurgents are not just a foreign force. You're talking about such a diverse organization and network, where even major groups, when their leaders are killed or captured, still persist. They're self-sustaining operations.

Look at Fallujah. In late 2004, we pumped that place full of overwhelming military force. We went block by block, street by street, and liquidated the place. We got rid of all the insurgents. We chased al-Qaida out of there. That was undoubtedly a military victory. But was that the end of al-Qaida? No, it moved to other cities, established bases in Ramadi, Samarra and Mosul. And Fallujah itself? It was relatively stable but in the past year has started to fall apart. And once again, insurgents are attacking Fallujah.

What do you make of the recent furor over the Iran government supposedly arming the militias and killing 170 American soldiers?

It's tragic-funny. There have been over 3,000 U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq, which means more than 2,830 people were killed by Sunnis, the real insurgents. The way this has been advertised in the press is incredibly disingenuous. Money and weapons and personnel have been coming across the Saudi and Syrian borders for four years and have been directly aiding Sunni insurgents, who are responsible for the lion's share of U.S. casualties. It's the height of hypocrisy to attack Iran and not criticize Saudi Arabia.

Have you seen any evidence that the Iran government has aided the militias?

Yes. Some Sunni insurgent groups have uncovered what they claim are documents with the government of Iran insignia, and ID cards of people they say are Iranians, who they say have been aiding the Shiites. Some of the items are more credible than others, of course, and none of it is utterly conclusive. But has any of this activity been the major cause of U.S. casualties in Iraq? No. Not even close. The whole thing is incredibly overblown. If a foreign country invaded Mexico, American weapons would start turning up in Mexico. There may even be senior American officials who are providing weapons to prevent that country from invading us. The Iranians may be doing the same thing. At a maximum, what the Iranian government is doing is arming people they see as their allies to prevent Sunni insurgents from launching attacks on them. Or from a radical Sunni state emerging inside Iraq. They see it as an act of self-defense.

But if you want to know who is responsible for the fact that al-Qaida is succeeding in Iraq, it's Saudi Arabia. The most common nationality of foreign insurgents in Iraq has been Saudis. Where do you think all the money comes from to pay for these operations? It's from Saudi donors. I'm not blaming this necessarily on the Saudi government. But they have made some very provocative statements about the idea that if the U.S. withdraws from Iraq, they're going to actively aid Sunnis in their war against Shiites. If we're going to put pressure on Iraq's neighbors, let's put pressure on all of Iraq neighbors to stop contributing to the violence.

What do you think of Seymour Hersh's recent report in the New Yorker that the U.S. is taking part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and Syria and that a "by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups"?

The idea that the U.S. is bolstering Sunni extremist groups in Iraq deliberately is pretty ridiculous and sounds awfully conspiratorial to me. Most of the Sunni groups consider themselves to be antithetical to the very idea of the United States. Even if we were to offer to help them for some strange reason, they would never knowingly work with us. But I can't say the same for Saudi Arabia and other supposed U.S. allies in the Gulf region, who don't have any soldiers in Iraq at risk from Sunni insurgents, and who would do just about anything to curb the expansion of Iran.

Contrary to what U.S. leaders are always saying, do you think the insurgency, and militias, have, ultimately, won the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people?

Unfortunately, I do. But I tell you this: Between August and December of 2005, there was a dramatic loss of influence of al-Qaida in Iraq. People associated with groups like the Islamic Army in Iraq, mainstream Sunni insurgent groups, were not so sure about killing people at a polling station. Al-Qaida was threatening to kill anyone, Sunni or Shiite, who tried voting. But the Sunni insurgents were saying, "No, we're not going to let the Shiites take power willingly. We're going to try and beat them anyway we can." At the time, I could see the various Iraq tribes saying, "Forget this, al-Qaida, maybe we can achieve reconciliation with the Shiites." The U.S. could have capitalized on that friction. But it didn't. A month went by, there was bickering about the makeup of the government and the results of the election, and we weren't hands-on enough in trying to broker out some kind of truce. Then came the bombing of the mosque in Samarra and it was too late.

What should the U.S. have done to capitalize on the friction at the time after the elections?

We needed to make sure that the Shiite militias were kept in check. And that's exactly what we didn't do. Following the bombing of the mosque, there should have been a serious clampdown. It was a matter of trying to stop the cycle of reprisals. But we did nothing while the Shiites went on a rampage.

Do you think the U.S. should withdraw from Iraq?

I'm afraid not. If we withdraw from Iraq right now, there's no doubt what will happen. First there's going to be a war for control of Baghdad and then once Baghdad is ripped to the ground, the battle is going to spread across Iraq. It could potentially be like Rwanda. Right now, hundreds of people are being killed each month, which is awful and horrifying in itself. Imagine if that figure was 100 times bigger. Also, if we withdraw, a widespread war is going to be entirely our responsibility. It's easy to say it's Iraqis killing Iraqis. But nobody else is going to see it that way. Everyone is going to affix blame to us. We will ultimately cause a situation that forces us to reinvade Iraq and create even more casualties. It's an awful Catch 22.

I take it you have little faith in the Iraqi government.

The Iraqi government is a joke. A very sad joke. It's beset on all sides. It's been thoroughly infiltrated by militia groups and has no sway whatsover among Sunnis, even moderate Sunnis. It is completely incapable of defending itself, despite whatever bizarre claims Prime Minister Maliki may make. If we were to withdraw, it would collapse. An Iraqi government would only work if it included both Shiites and Sunnis, and there are precious few Sunnis who are working in Iraqi government, and even the ones who do are under constant threat.

So what's the solution?

We have to give people a reason to stop supporting al-Qaida. And the only way to do that is to punish the people who are harming them. We have to show that democratic forces can also hold up justice. Right now, democracy for Iraqis amounts to Shiites in control of the police force and running everything. The things that might convince Sunnis to move back in the other direction would be a real step at trying to reform the Iraqi police force, the Interior Ministry, and try and bring some of the individuals in those places, which have committed gross crimes, including crimes on the scale of Saddam Hussein, to justice.

Does the Bush administration have the smarts to figure that out?

I'm not sure they do. I thought perhaps, in invading Iraq, they had some long-term view that nobody else could see. But that hope faded very quickly. The Bush administration didn't reach out to anyone credible when they were asking about, for instance, the connections between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein. Anybody with any real knowledge of the region would have told them there are no connections between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida. The only people who believed that nonsense were lunatics.

If I was going to invade Iraq, the first thing I would do is commission the top history experts, top geographical experts, top cultural experts, and sit them down at a table and say, "This is what I'm thinking about doing. Is this feasible?" That was never done. Nobody in their right mind would have taken a look at Bush's plan and said, "Oh, yeah, that's going to work." It's not possible that it could work. Every historic precedent works directly against Bush's plan. I know it's easy to say, but the best solution is not to have invaded at all.


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