Growing Danger in Iraq
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GWEN IFILL: And now, for another look at the state of affairs in postwar Iraq, we are joined by three who have been watching it unfold.
Retired Marine Corps Lieutenant General Bernard Trainor is the co-author of “The Generals’ War,” a book about the 1991 Gulf War. Adeed Dawisha is a professor of political science at Miami University of Ohio. He was born in Iraq, and is now an American citizen. And Hamid Dabashi is chairman of the Middle East and Asian languages and cultures department at Columbia University. He was born in Iran.
General Trainor, as Donald Rumsfeld likes to say, it has been eight weeks since the end of major combat was declared, so how goes the occupation?
LT. GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR (Ret.): Gwen, it’s probably not as bad as the media makes it out to be, and probably not as good as the Defense Department pretends it to be. There are these isolated incidents that are taking place. There’s an indication that there may be a guerrilla war starting to emerge in this situation. But if that’s the case, the guerrillas will have to depend on the local population to support them. And if they’re not supported, the guerrilla operation will die on the vine. So it takes aggressive intelligence and it takes aggressive proactive operations to put something like this down before it spreads.
GWEN IFILL: Professor Dabashi, what is your take on that? Is it going the way it ought to have been going?
HAMID DABASHI: Those opposed to this war to begin with now are put in a bizarre situation to answer how should it end. As we say, it takes only one madman to drop a pebble inside a well. 100 wise men can’t get it out.
But the first thing we need to do, those who were assuring the public and this administration that the Iraqis will pour into the streets with flowers and baklava, they should have some public accountability about what happened to that reception that they were expecting. The second thing that we need to know is some sort of an accurate assessment of what exactly is happening inside Iraq, for which we cannot either totally rely on CNN or on al-Jazeera.
When you look at the data and the information coming outside Iraq, there seems to be two sorts of resistance. One is civil, one is military. The civil resistance, some of it is for basic necessities of daily life, for clear water, electricity, hospital equipment, public safety, et cetera. That sort of civil unrest should be distinguished from a spontaneous source of public resistance, as to military occupation of the form, for example, that we saw when the Shias were marching towards Karbala. Then these sorts of civil unrest need to be distinguished from the military.
We are told that most of this military resistance or all of these military operations come from remnants of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party. Probably that is true. But one cannot rule out the possibility of a spontaneous resistance, paramilitary resistances to the military occupation. When we put… and then the two factors, the civil and the military, can feed catalytically on each other and worsen the situation.
GWEN IFILL: Let me ask Professor Dawisha if he sees it the same way. Do you split it up between a military and civil unrest, pressure, protests?
ADEED DAWISHA: I would focus on the word “pressure.” I would say “demands.” I wouldn’t call the efforts of, for example, the majority of the people to get jobs, to have services restored, to get some unemployment benefit, “resistance.” This is not resistance to me. It’s demands of any population anywhere in the world, even in democratic societies.
What the bulk of the population is at the moment asking the Americans to do is to provide them with the services, and certainly to, if they can’t employ them, give them some kind of money akin to unemployment benefits or social security so they can actually make ends meet for the next six or seven or eight months until the American and the allied administration gets Iraq going in some organized fashion. That is not resistance to me.
The only resistance that seems to be worthy of note is the one that is being conducted primarily in what is called the Sunni belt, with Baghdad in the South and Tikrit in the North, from groups that I would still maintain, regardless of what Professor Dabashi says, I still maintain tend to be… or are the remnants of the support system Saddam had– not just the Ba’ath Party, but the Special Republican Guard and the security operators, Fedayeen, people like that.
GWEN IFILL: Professor Trainor, while this is going on, no matter what the source of the resistance pressure uprising is, what is the appropriate role for U.S. Troops? We’ve heard about U.S. troops going door-to-door in nighttime house-to-house raids. Is that the appropriate role for U.S. troops at this stage?
LT. GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR (Ret.): It has to be part of it. I use the three S’s are necessary at this particular juncture, and should have taken place immediately after the fall of the regime: security, stability, and services. And to provide security for the people within the region, you’ll let them know that you’re there, that you’re in charge. Then you provide stability so that their normal life can resume as quickly as possible. Finally services, where you get the utilities back on, and you try to return normalcy. We haven’t done very well on any of those three.
So the problem that we are facing is, as pointed out, that certain civil disobedience and rejection, but that’s the minor one. The real problem are these hard-core people. Some of them, I’m sure, are leftover Ba’athists. Some of them are probably anti- American zealots, possibly driven by religious zealotry. And some are probably nationalists that are looking to seize the levers of power, and the way to do that is to get the Americans out of there.
GWEN IFILL: In your opinion, have there been enough U.S. troops or allied troops on the ground to carry out those three S’s, as you described them?
LT. GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR (Ret.): Initially, no. Initially I think we were short of the people, and I think we were very, very slow in exercising our authority in the region. In my judgment, at the downfall of the regime, there should have been a person like Tommy Franks standing up there that says to everybody, “Look, I came, I saw, I liberated. And now the rest of you better behave yourselves if you want the support of the American people.” That didn’t happen. We just kind of eased into this thing at the end of the war and didn’t do a very good job of it, and we were short of people to do it.
GWEN IFILL: Professor Dabashi, back to the question of who are these people on the ground today. Today we saw the first attacks, firefights in Shiite areas. Six British troops were killed; more were wounded. We have heard tales of foreign combatants on the ground coming from countries throughout the region, taking part in this. Is that also part of the kind of buildup that you’ve been seeing, the kind of resistance that the United States has been trying to beat back?
HAMID DABASHI: There are two foreign groups, non-Iraqi groups, that are already inside Iraq. One is the Iranian Mujahadeen in the northern part of Iraq, and the other is the Ba’ath battalion in the southern part of Iraq. They’re both in a position of being swapped. The Americans are taking the Mujahadeen, posturing them to let them loose on the Iranians if the Ba’ath battalion creates trouble for them.
But I also agree there are potentials for other sources of non-Iraqi elements because inside Iraq you have pan-Arabism, pan-Islamism, there are pan-Shiaism elements you can have — other non-Iraqi combatants elements entering and turning this situation more and more into a quagmire that the U.S. presence inside Iraq increasingly resembles the Israeli presence inside the occupied territories, with the difference that U.S. is halfway around the globe, and controlling a colonial occupation of this sort becomes increasingly difficult.
And unless we have an almost immediate, almost immediate withdrawal of the U.S. Army, we are bound to see more civilian casualties on the Iraqi side and more casualties on the side of the American forces.
GWEN IFILL: You think the U.S. Army should withdraw, or the U.S. Military should withdraw entirely?
HAMID DABASHI: Absolutely, and replaced by any combination of forces– by U.N., the League of Arab Nations, Organization of Islamic States, or an ad hoc regional council of the immediate neighborhood of Iraq that can step in and restore immediately civil order and, after that, the democratic future of Iraq.
GWEN IFILL: Professor Dawisha, what do you think of that idea?
ADEED DAWISHA: You know, if the American forces were to withdraw today or next week or next month, whether they’re replaced by Arab League forces or whoever, the group that is going to come to power is not the majority of the power. It is not the Shiite community, it is not the middle class, it is not the secular anti- Saddamist regime.
The people that are going to come to power, in fact, are what we now are calling the remnants of Saddam’s regime, because these are the people with the weapons. They disappeared in the middle of the night when we entered Baghdad, which suggests that the skeleton structure of this group is still there, and, along with it, the entire weaponry that they possess. We saw images during the war of how much weaponry they had. It is the people with the weapons who will take over power, not the people with the majority. They’re the ones who are going to be able to come back into power. And that, I think, will be a major disaster for Iraq after having liberated them from those people.
GWEN IFILL: So in your opinion, the people in power with weapons should be the people who are allied with the U.S. Military?
ADEED DAWISHA: I’m just saying that the people with the weapons are going to be the ones in power. Why do you think, for example, the Shiite clergy in Najaf have not come up with any statement advocating force against the Americans? They actually haven’t even come up with a statement against the occupation of the Americans. It’s because they know that if they… if the Americans were to leave in the next months or so, it is not the Shiite majority but these people who have oppressed them for the last 30 years who are going to come back to power.
GWEN IFILL: General Trainor, we are talking about the people who are the remnants of the Saddam regime. Do you think it is necessary for the United States or for any forces on the ground in Iraq to isolate and identify and perhaps assassinate, in some way, Saddam Hussein himself, in order for this to be a successful post-war occupation?
LT. GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR (Ret.): I don’t think it’s necessary that we find Saddam Hussein in a hurry and bring him to trial or to kill him. I think that would be nice, but I don’t think it’s essential. I mean, there’s a good deal of Iraq that is quiet as I mentioned at the outset, it is probably not as bad as the media makes it out to be with all the horror stories in these little pockets of resistance. So little by little, you can take control of the situation.
But I certainly agree with the proposition that a rapid withdrawal of American forces is nothing but disaster. And any force that goes in there, if you think they can control the situation any better than the Americans, somebody is smoking funny cigarettes. The place will just have to absolutely be reduced to chaos. The thing for the United States to do is what it’s doing right now: Maintain a firm hand, assist the people, develop the intelligence, and track down the people who are perpetrating these attacks, whether they’re Ba’athist regime, or whether they’re some sort of a splinter group of one sort or an this is not going to be an easy job. Nobody expected it to be. But I think on some, over a period of time, those that are objecting to the forces that are in there trying to restore order are going to be isolated and eliminated. And the key is, the Iraqi people themselves providing the information which will allow the authorities to track them down.
GWEN IFILL: Okay. General Trainor, we’ll have to leave it there. Thank you very much. And also, to Professors Dawisha and Dabashi.