The Iraq War’s Progress
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RAY SUAREZ: For some perspective on today’s military developments, we go to our corps of analysts. Former special operations officer and Middle East intelligence analyst Army Colonel W. Patrick Lang; former military operations planner air force Colonel Samuel Gardiner; and former marine corps Middle East counterintelligence officer Dale Davis. He’s now director of international programs, and teaches Arabic at the Virginia Military Institute. Well, for people at home trying to make sense out of all the different action that they’ve been seeing on the news, let me get you an overall assessment of this day in Iraq. Sam.
COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: I guess I would say not good — but I recognize, Ray, that the three of us are in what the vice president would call the embedded military analysts who criticize the plan. But what we’re seeing is not enough troops to maintain stability. Stability operations are what come after the fight. When we have looting in the bigger cities, when the hospitals are looted in Basra and Baghdad, then we have a serious problem that’s beginning to unfold. It’s not just about defeating the army and regime, it’s about the stability operations that come next.
RAY SUAREZ: Dale Davis?
DALE DAVIS: That’s right, Ray. I think it’s very clear that we’ve moved into a more critical and more difficult phase of this entire operation. And that is that we are no longer simply concerned about purely military objectives, but that we have to provide a variety of services that in fact we’re not particularly, our troops are not particularly well trained to do, and this includes not only providing stability on the street, security, but distribution of humanitarian aid and assistance, providing essential services such as water distribution, power distribution, getting the basic functions of government back in order in Iraq. And who we have to turn to now, since we don’t have enough marines or enough soldiers to do that, is a dilemma. Are we going to turn to the old police force which was widely infiltrated by the Ba’ath Party and under the control of the regime and is certainly feared by the Iraqi people? Or are we going to rely on perhaps the free Iraqi forces who are the armed wing now of the I.NC, who have no credibility what so ever in Iraq to provide stability, it’s a real dilemma.
RAY SUAREZ: Taking into account what your two colleagues just said, Patrick Lang, isn’t there also still a war on?
COL. W. PATRICK LANG: Oh yeah, it has been a great and glorious victory up to this point, won with great style and dash by the army, the marines and air force, but there’s still more fighting to do up around Tikrit. And the way when you go up there you can’t be sure what you’re going to meet, I mean, you may meet armored or artillery, scattered companies of people that just won’t give up, it means you have to take enough force up there out of the already skimpy forces in the Baghdad area in order to make sure you get fire dominance on the battlefield – that’s how you win and have low losses like we’ve had — is to put fire on the enemy to force him down. If do you that, you’ll deduct people from Baghdad and we’re just too thin on the ground – we need to do something about that.
RAY SUAREZ: The 4th infantry division is on the way, right?
COL. W. PATRICK LANG: Yes, and as I understand there’s a prospect of a brigade of 5,000 men being up there in a week or so, and that will be a great help. But I think we ought to think about military police units being flown in from the states. These are combat troops in Baghdad and they’re not policemen. Their job is to close the enemy and destroy them by fire maneuver and close combat. They don’t give out parking tickets and stop looters, except by shooting them, and that’s not what you want. So you need to get people in here who are actually policemen.
RAY SUAREZ: Let’s say in the north for a moment because you’ve got two Kurdish armies in the field that are meeting with some success, but if they start to get help from the Americans and indeed there’s a plan that American forces will take Kirkuk over from the Kurdish army at the end of the week, does it give them a political dilemma as much as a military dilemma? You’ve got your military tasks that have to be performed, but you’re also stepping on some eggshells.
COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: Clearly that Kirkuk thing is both political and military problem. Politically there’s the Turkish issue, the Kurds would like to keep it, Secretary Powell today said that we would agree that we would keep the Kurds out. But again there is this connection to the force problem. There’s still firing going on. The 173rd Brigade which is the only force, large force that’s up there, is split between the Mosul front and the Kirkuk front.
COL. W. PATRICK LANG: It’s not that large either.
COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: No. Some of them are going to move down, and I understand, I heard this afternoon that the 10th Mountain Division is going to be flown in from Italy into Kirkuk. But you’re still talking about a small force for the size, which has to take over stability operations and prevent any additional fighting, as well as deal with this political problem.
RAY SUAREZ: Dale Davis, there was an estimate in the Chicago Tribune this afternoon that there are still 80,000 armed Iraqis in that long corridor that stretches through the Tigris, Euphrates Valley all the way down from Kirkuk and Mosul down to the port at Umm Qasr. What are the variables that affect how you choose to deal with them? And what are their choices too, can’t they just disappear and lay low for a while?
DALE DAVIS: Well, that appears to be what most of them are doing. It is clear that the Iraqi army itself, the regular Iraqi army, has basically faded away, ceased to exist, and those soldiers that are still alive have simply gone home, at least from Baghdad south. In the north we’re not sure what the status is exactly. We did see Kirkuk fell relatively quickly. What I think is happening is that the fall of Baghdad yesterday had such a psychological impact, the collapse of the regime in other words has such a psychological impact on the rest of the armed forces and that psychological impact actually gained momentum over time. It may be that in fact it washes over even the forces protecting Tikrit. I’m a little skeptical that that will occur, but it is a type of dynamic that occurs once you have the collapse of the center of power.
COL. W. PATRICK LANG: Even if that happens, and I think there’s a chance there that Dale is right, that the momentum of collapse may take over, you still have these problems of foreign volunteers and people like that. But even more important, there’s the problem of how are you going to restore order and stability in this whole big country with the size force you have and you are going to have to get the local forces stood back up on their feet to police things in a hurry. Otherwise you’re going to have anarchy in this place.
RAY SUAREZ: But they can’t be ignored, those men, until you know whether they’re going to resist, whether they’re going to wait two months and then start shooting at you.
COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: I think probably, it’s very interesting that we say we don’t know how they’re going to rack, the guys on the ground don’t know that either so, what you’ll see is nothing like we did in Baghdad, there will be some kind of an aggressive grade to see what the defense is like. Once you can get a sense of that, then you know how to deal with it. And I suspect that they don’t know what it is yet, and we’ll see reconnaissance by fire to determine what it is.
RAY SUAREZ: We also have the development of the murder of two prominent Shia clergy in Najaf. Dale Davis, what did you make of that?
DALE DAVIS: I consider this to be a very significant development of great concern to the U.S.– it indicates to me that the Shiites are not prepared to accept leadership that is imposed upon them by the United States and the U.S. Military leadership or the rehabilitation and reconstruction office of Jay Garner. It is quite likely that they, the events of the day occurred because they did not view this Shiite leader as having any credibility what so ever, and they were not inclined to accept his leadership in Najaf. The Shiite theology promotes a political culture of opposition to foreign domination, and I think we’re just seeing the early stages of that. We should take that into great consideration before we try to impose any of the other INC leadership on Iraq.
RAY SUAREZ: Patrick, do you agree?
COL. W. PATRICK LANG: I think that’s right. And I also think that we should not eliminate from our thinking here the influence of Tehran on Shia in Iraq. I was told very clearly this week by somebody who is connected in Europe to intelligence circles there that in fact they know that the Iranians are infiltrating large numbers of revolutionary guards guys into Iraq in other to prepare them for the day when revolt might be necessary.
RAY SUAREZ: Didn’t a lot of Shia clergy seek refuge in Iran rather than the west when things got hot in Iraq?
COL. W. PATRICK LANG: Sure, it’s a natural thing for them to do. Islam always has universalist aspirations, and if you believe Shia Islam is the correct form, then if you’re going to flee some place, the place would be the center of Shiism in Iran.
COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: Just put this in a strategic context. I think we’re at the point in this conflict where we are susceptible to negative strategic events. And interesting, after you have achieved something, you hold onto it by preventing very visual bad things from happening — like the bombing of the barracks in Beirut. Imagine if this had been televised or filmed that we would have seen that then. Dale’s point would have even been more significant. If we get a series of very visual strategic events, then our problems can compounded.
RAY SUAREZ: Gentlemen, we’ll stop it there for today. Thanks a lot.
COL. W. PATRICK LANG: Thank you.