The Afterwar in Iraq
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JIM LEHRER: Now, our update on the continuing strife in Iraq. I spoke with “New York Times” reporter Edmund Andrews a short time ago. He is in Baghdad. Edmund Andrews, welcome.
EDMUND ANDREWS: Thanks, good to join you.
JIM LEHRER: First. What is known now about the mosque explosion in Fallujah two days ago, killing five Iraqis?
EDMUND ANDREWS: We are still not entirely sure what happened. However, the preponderance of evidence is that it was an explosion that originated within the mosque, and the prevalent theory from the Americans is that they were working with explosives themselves inside the mosque, and had an accident and blew themselves up. That is their theory. The evidence for that is based on the blast pattern left behind, and the absence of any observable attacks from the outside. It appeared to us yesterday, that there was very thin evidence for an external attack. Today, the Americans were quite clear in saying that their theory is that it was self- generated, an action either while they were practicing making bombs or trying to build one.
JIM LEHRER: Are some Iraqis still claiming it was the result of an American missile attack of some kind?
EDMUND ANDREWS: Yes, that is true. In Fallujah, especially the hostility of the Americans, the coalition forces, is very intense. It is almost impossible to find people in Fallujah who do not believe that the mosque attack was something conducted by the Americans themselves. Just one bit of context there. Almost anything that happens in Fallujah– and this is true for some other parts of Iraq, but it’s particularly extreme there– almost anything that happens does get blamed on the Americans. I remember going to the site of the power substation that had been blown out two and a half, three weeks ago, by a rocket- propelled grenade, and the Americans were being blamed on that. The justification was that American soldiers were positioned around the substation when somebody fired an RPG at them. The mentality there is that it’s the Americans fault; if they weren’t there to begin with, these things wouldn’t be happening. And if you have no other villain to blame, as in the case of the mosque, then it must be the Americans.
JIM LEHRER: All right. On the subject of the attacks on American personnel, what’s the current theory?
EDMUND ANDREWS: It’s very hard to say. It’s clear, it’s absolutely clear that there is a measure of organized resistance; that this is a concerted effort with very tactical, often strategic, targets that are being attacked. The attacks on electrical power lines, on the gas pipelines, on infrastructure that disrupts electricity, all of those are… seem to be part of a fairly organized effort. However, at the same time, it’s also clear that there are other things going on. Part of the problems with the electrical power systems do stem from purely opportunistic and commercial looting– people ripping down power lines to melt the copper and resell it. And there are political opportunists. There are fringe groups that may not be dealing very much with each other, but have one agenda or another, and benefit from either disruption or making the coalition forces look bad. It’s very hard to tell. What American commanders have told me is, it really is a mixed bag. However, I’m more convinced today than I was a few weeks ago that there is sort of a residual Ba’athist element that is waging a concerted effort, and they are organized. They probably have money. They’re probably buying or paying ex-Iraqi soldiers to join their efforts. So there is some of that going on, but I don’t think that explains the whole story.
JIM LEHRER: In general terms, is it your impression, based on your reporting, that things are getting safer, or are they gradually getting even more dangerous?
EDMUND ANDREWS: Well, I’m pleased to report that today seemed to be a very quiet day. There were very few instances of violence that came to my attention today. You may know more about this than I do. But it was a very quiet day from our perspective here in Baghdad. I don’t think that’s the beginning of a trend. I do think that the dangers have increased, certainly they’ve increased to the American soldiers, and I think it is fair to say that the forces of order have had a substantial setback in the last couple of weeks; that law and order is in a weak position at this point, weaker than it was before. I don’t think it is impossible for the coalition forces and the new Iraqi police to get a grip on it, but it hasn’t been good. It has not been good in the last week or two. And certainly in the last couple of days it’s just been a very bad series of events that have made the coalition forces look bad, and I don’t think we’ve seen the end of that yet.
JIM LEHRER: Now, the coalition forces have had this Operation Sidewinder, which is in an attempt to round up some of the people who are causing some of the chaos. How successful has that been up until now?
EDMUND ANDREWS: They’ve detained several hundred people, 300 people at my last reading, it may have gone up. Operation Sidewinder continues to proceed. It’s not over yet. Having said that, the volume of weapons that they’ve seized so far is pretty minimal — it’s quite small in comparison with the last major operation a couple of weeks ago. It’s on the order of, you know, a few hundred Kalashnikovs. There hasn’t been anything pulled in, in the way of large numbers of rocket-propelled grenades or even heavier weapons. Then the people that they’ve brought in, it’s not clear who they’ve gotten, but at best they may have found one or two mid- level former government people. So, that’s not very impressive. What is perhaps… we’re keeping in mind is that when they do these raids, they’re going into hundreds and hundreds of locations. They are getting… they are finding documents, they are finding written evidence of different kinds that can be a lead, and leads, to more valuable discoveries. And in addition, they actually do run into situations even in these raids where people talk to them, and they learn things through from talking to the people. So the longer-term intelligence benefits could prove to be more significant than immediate results would lead you to believe.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Edmund Andrews, thank you very much for joining us.
EDMUND ANDREWS: My pleasure.