Week of Violence in Iraq
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RAY SUAREZ: Many recent attacks have come at the beginning of the week, a pattern that’s no accident.
SOLDIER: The folks who are terrorists use the mosques as cover, stay for prayers, go to prayers on Friday, stay afterwards to plan an event, use Saturday to rehearse the event, and then the number of events we are seeing on Sunday and Monday spike.
RAY SUAREZ: The spike occurred this week as well, starting with Sunday’s rocket attack on Baghdad’s al Rashid hotel. It housed many foreigners, including, at the time, Paul Wolfowitz.
The number two civilian at the Pentagon said the U.S. would not be deterred. A day later in Baghdad, five separate car bombs blew up in a span of 45 minutes, killing 36 people. Four of the sites were Iraqi police stations. The other: The International Committee of the Red Cross. The ICRC, known for its resilience in war zones, pulled out much of its foreign staff in response. The U.N. and Doctors Without Borders followed suit, citing insecurity. But President Bush said Monday’s events indicate the militants are desperate.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: The more progress we make on the ground, the more free the Iraqis become, the more electricity is available, the more jobs are available, the more kids that are going to school, the more desperate these killers become.
RAY SUAREZ: That logic was lost on Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle.
SEN. TOM DASCHLE: If this is progress, I don’t know how much more progress we can take. I would also say that there is a growing credibility gap between what is said and what is being done.
RAY SUAREZ: The week was also bloody in the troubled city of Fallujah, west of Baghdad. One bomb exploded near the police station, killing four; another targeted the U.S.-appointed mayor. Militants also attacked a freight train with U.S. supplies, setting off widespread looting.
While most of the week’s casualties were Iraqis, at least four American GIs were killed in various attacks, attacks now coming at a rate of 33 per day. That’s triple the rate in July. More than 117 U.S. Troops have died since major combat ended in May, exceeding the combat deaths during the war. The attacks, according to today’s New York Times, may be directed by Saddam Hussein himself. Unnamed U.S. Officials cited in the report say Saddam “is acting as a catalyst, or even a leader in the armed opposition.” That opposition, say Pentagon officials, also includes former General Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri.
A longtime member of Saddam’s inner circle, al Douri is number six on the U.S. list of Iraqi targets. Some in the Pentagon connect him to Ansar al-Islam, a group linked to Al-Qaida. Whoever’s in charge, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Thursday the reality is, “the attacker has the advantage.”
DONALD RUMSFELD: The idea that there’s some short-term fix. You can put up barricades around your building. Sure, that’ll stop a truck. And you can do that. And you put…. hang wire mesh over your building, and it will repel a rocket-propelled grenade. And then they’ll attack soft targets going to and from work.
RAY SUAREZ: Rumsfeld said the solution is to continue finding, and killing, the terrorists. Part of that strategy, according to published reports Wednesday, is to speed up the training of Iraqi security forces and put them on the front lines.
RAY SUAREZ: For more on where things stand after this week’s events in Iraq, and who may be behind the latest wave of attacks, we get three perspectives: Rashid Khalidi is director of the Middle East Institute at Columbia University; Richard Perle serves on the Defense Policy Board, which advises the secretary of defense and was assistant secretary of defense under Ronald Reagan. He is now a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and Amatzia Baram is a visiting fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace, and a professor of Middle East history at the University of Haifa, Israel. Professor Khalidi, let’s start with you. Given the events of the past week and things that are going on in other areas, in other spheres of the American effort there, what’s the state of the mission today?
RASHID KHALIDI: I think that we are seeing the inevitable consequence of a military occupation that was based on false information. I think we are seeing the inevitable consequence of problems that were predicted by everybody who is not part of the group that urged for this war before it started. Military occupation almost inevitably brings this kind of a reaction. I think that the kind of terrorism we are seeing is something that’s not unprecedented to anybody who looked at Iraq over the past two and a half decades. The kind of diabolical skill to put car bombs together is something that Baghdad has witnessed for two and a half decades. Whoever is doing this, it could have been predicted and should have been predicted and I think that it is an indication of how far from reality the administration is that the president could be talking about things being better.
RAY SUAREZ: Richard Perle, the state of the American mission?
RICHARD PERLE: Well, we are making significant progress despite what you’ve just heard. Of course there are going to be efforts of the kind we’ve seen, bombs as we’ve seen, by people who are desperate. To say this is a product of occupation is rubbish.
This is a product of the fact that the people who are doing this, who are known to their neighbors as the jailers, as the secret police, as the torturers. They have nowhere to go. This is a desperate last ditch action on their part to try to save themselves from their own people. This isn’t a product of occupation.
RAY SUAREZ: Professor Baram, looking at the last week, how will we know, what are the signs of whether this is just a spike or part of a larger, wider offensive?
AMAZIA BARAM: Well, the offensive can be larger. We are certainly at a very dangerous moment. I have no doubt about that. However, I would just say that the coalition forces managed to achieve remarkable gains on three levels: Governance, crime, non-political crime, and infrastructure. The issue of occupation or not is quite obvious as well. Yes, technically certainly is military occupation. The U.N. confirmed it. However, when you look at the Iraqi population, I’m afraid Professor Khalidi doesn’t understand Iraq. I don’t know how to explain it. In Iraq you have… and I can explain why, but about 80 to 85 percent of the population of Iraq sees this right now as yet as liberation. About 15 percent , could be 20, but could be 10 as well, the Sunni Arabs mostly, see this as military occupation to which they object because they were denied their hegemony in Iraq, a tiny minority ruling over Iraq since 1920. They got used to this and they are entitled to it. So yes it’s technically occupation, but in reality, 80 percent or more see it as liberation. Those who don’t are fighting and they can be very, very dangerous to the whole mission.
RAY SUAREZ: Professor Khalidi, how do you respond?
RASHID KHALIDI: I think that Professor Baram and Mr. Perle are entitled to their opinions but there are attacks all over the country. The same kinds of polls that they’re citing show that large majorities of Iraqis are growing increasingly unhappy with the American military presence. And it is true that there are very possibly people who are formerly connected to the regime. It is very possible that there are other people in the catalog of demons that the administration trots out every time it wants to explain what is going on. But I seriously doubt that a bunch of “dead enders” and a bunch of Jihadys and so forth could be carrying out 33 attacks a day if there weren’t a little bit broader support than the tiny minority that the administration describes there.
I think we have to look at things like Iraqi casualties in clashes with American troops. I think we have to actually look at reports that are not featured I think enough in the American press about how jittery American soldiers are there, about how the overwhelming firepower they use when they’re attacked by these whatever they are, insurgents, causes casualties among Iraqis and how these attacks are not just located in Baghdad and the so-called Sunni Triangle. I think we have to look a little bit beyond the very limited range of news we are getting. For example, we don’t know where the Iraqi civilian casualties are in these day-to-day clashes with American troops. We don’t even know exactly what the clashes consist of. The Pentagon only deigns to tells us when an American soldier is killed – it doesn’t tell us in the dozens of times, over 1,200 times — when American soldiers are wounded exactly what happens. I don’t think we are getting a very full range of information. Most Iraqis hated the former regime. There is no question about that. There is no question that there are divisions in Iraq and there are people in the administration that were happy to play the on these divisions. But I think that most Iraqis while hating the former regime are not happy with an American military presence that looks like it is going to stay for another year. It’s also a fact that’s revealed in polls, so however well Mr. Baram knows Iraq, I don’t think he is even looking at the polls that show things contrary to what he’s saying.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, Mr. Perle, you’ve heard Professor Khalidi talking about the increasing sophistication of the attacks, the choice of targets, the ability of the people who carry out these attacks to dissolve into the population. What does that indicate?
RICHARD PERLE: Well, in fact, most of the attacks are centered in the so-called Sunni Triangle. The North and the South of the country are largely free from attacks. There are occasional ones, but these are the areas where people are going to school every day, where the shops are full, where the cafes are full, where life is returning to normal. So I insist on what I was suggesting earlier because all the evidence supports the view that these attacks are being carried out by bitter enders with some help from terrorists from outside who understand that an American success in liberating Iraq and putting Iraq on a decent course is a challenge to the dictatorships that surround Iraq. And so the Iranians and Jihadists coming across the border from Syria are happy to destroy the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations for that matter. So we have two things going on. We have terrorists who are desperate to see us fail, and we have bitter enders who have nowhere else to go and we are making substantial progress in much of the country, much of the country is relatively free of attacks and given the magnitude of the change, bringing down Saddam’s regime, it is surprising in some ways that we don’t have even more attacks.
RAY SUAREZ: Professor Baram, protesters, marchers clashed with American troops carrying banners showing the likeness and slogans of Saddam Hussein. In this morning’s paper there were reports that the former president himself may have a hand in coordinating these attacks. Can you build an insurgency? Can you build a counter force in Iraq around someone who is so well hidden?
AMAZIA BARAM: Absolutely. I think the danger — contrary to what Professor Khalidi told us — at least as far as I know, the danger and the huge danger is lurking in the Sunni Arab Triangle. Let’s face it, these guys have been the master race for the last 80 years. This is a long time. And under Saddam it was even worse.
They killed, under Saddam, they killed 100,000 Kurds. They killed 100,000 Shiites — only 1987-1991, which is a bunch of murderers — not all the Sunni Arabs, of course, but a number of them. These guys are in big trouble and I would say there is a way of ameliorating their sense of alienation and it should be done, but right now their sense of alienation is absolutely horrendous and they are supporting Saddam Hussein because they believe he can bring them back to power — 15 to 17 percent of the population ruling over all the rest.
Now, public opinion polls, well, I read English. I read Arabic; I read English; I read a few other languages, and my information is different from Dr. Khalidi whom I respect but from that one I think he just is not accurate. According to Zogby’s poll and Zogby is not a great admirer, but he is a professional man, of the president, 65-66 percent would like the Americans to stay for a little longer. It’s not to say that they’d like them to stay forever or for two or three years. That I don’t know. But right now they realize that their interests lie with American help.
So what I’m saying is look, these guys, 15 percent of those who are desperate, and there — an effort must be made to make them far less desperate to connect them again into the system, the national system of Iraq. But I believe there is a source and Saddam Hussein can find and does find there supporters, many supporters — I would say hundreds of thousands of potential supporters, no less than that. Now because Iraqi’s a mix and especially Baghdad is a mix, it is a mixed city, a cocktail, it is very easy to penetrate Baghdad and to explode everything and Saddam’s philosophy since the early 1970s was his and his lieutenants, and he said in so many words, if we lose Iraq, if we lose power in Iraq, there will be no Iraq. These people have no inhibitions at all. And if 30 Iraqis died during the last — or 40 Iraqis in the last few days, expect more if this goes on. It is a very dangerous position — situation because the majority which would really like to get rid of Saddam Hussein and are not happy about that and to regain, to have sovereignty. This is majority is also mostly a quiet majority.
RAY SUAREZ: Professor Khalidi, given that you may not agree with the two other members of the panel just how high, what the percentage, what the number of resistors are I think all three of you agree that they’re there. Did the United States administration make its own job more complicated by disbanding the army?
RASHID KHALIDI: I think it certainly did. I think that was a very dumb move — one of very many dumb moves made by the administration — given the fact that it interest in there in a situation where it excluded expertise. This is a faith-based policy that they’re driving us into the morass with. It is also a policy that has a number of other dangers. The kind of ethnic approach that Professor Baram talked about which demonizes the entire Sunni population for the horrible crimes of the Baath regime and which in the name of de-Baathification has I think increased the problems that the United States faces in Iraq is an example of the kind of mistakes that are being made daily. But I want to go back to this issue.
RAY SUAREZ: Quickly please, sir.
RASHID KHALIDI: I will. If the United States does not very clearly make it understood to Iraqis that it is leaving and will hand over to a representative Iraqi authority very quickly, I think that you are not going to just see a few individuals carrying out these attacks. However few they may be, these things will maybe increase to a point where it is going to be impossible to bring the kind of stability to Iraq that everybody wants. This has got to change the situation. And I really do think that the kind of never, never land that we are in, the kind of bubble that we’re in that the president is trying to keep us is in very, very dangerous.
RAY SUAREZ: Gentlemen, thank you all.