This is FRONTLINE's old website. The content here may be outdated or no longer functioning.

Browse over 300 documentaries
on our current website.

Watch Now
Beyond Baghdad [home]
photo of petraeushomethe long roadiraqis and americansinterviews
Interviews: maj. gen. david petraeus

Petraeus is the commanding general of the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division, known as the "Screaming Eagles," and was based in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul from April 2003 to February 2004. Petraeus and the approximately 18,000 soldiers under his command moved into northwestern Iraq in late April, and in early May presided over Iraq's first postwar elections. Having launched some 4,500 reconstruction projects and used tough military tactics to quell security threats, Petraeus had the kind of success in and around Mosul that Washington had hoped for, making Mosul a showcase for visiting congressmen.

Here, Petraeus describes the challenges he and his division faced, the complexities of the political and social dynamics of Mosul and northern Iraq, and why he sees reasons for optimism. "We're just trying to get the cattle to Cheyenne," Petraeus says. "We're trying to accomplish the mission that we've been given. ... This is basically all about hard work, common sense, and just keeping your nose to the grindstone." This interview was conducted by FRONTLINE producer Martin Smith on Nov. 23, 2003.

We're not over here working our fingers to the bone, fighting and dying, with the idea that this task is beyond us. We are over here with the idea that it can be accomplished.

What experience were you able to bring to the table that helped you go beyond the military functions to really the standing up of a system of government, et cetera?

Well, first of all, a lot of our commanders, a lot of our soldiers, have done quite a bit of this stuff before. The brigade commander in the city, for example ... was the commander of the first battalion that went into Kosovo. He also was a company commander in Panama. Another brigade commander just came back from Afghanistan with his brigade. An entire brigade of the division was deployed in Kosovo not long before.

And you yourself?

I spent a year in Bosnia up until last summer. So I literally just got back from spending a year doing this. Also, some years back, in Haiti with the U.N. as the operations officer for that mission as well.

So that was a useful template?

Oh, they were very, very helpful, yes. Because we're wrestling with a whole gamut of issues there as well. This stuff is not foreign to us.

Again, I'd also say that the training that our light airborne and air assault forces go through back in the United States at the Joint Readiness Training Center prepares us pretty well for this also. They're very intensive rotations that do include interaction with so-called civilians on the battlefield where you do have to work with local officials, with NGO heads, and with all the other folks that you find in this kind of environment. The difference is that the city there, if you will, in that training environment, has maybe a few hundred people in it. The city here has 1.7 million in a region that has way over 4.5 million.

So what's going through your head in those first days that you get in here? What are you telling yourself that you need to do?

The first thing that we needed to do was re-establish some degree of security and start rebuilding respect for the law -- and a culture, if you will, of law and order -- because that had totally broken down. There were private armies roaming the streets. There were political leaders who were proclaiming themselves to be the governor and mayor and all the other officials. All the government buildings had been looted. The looting was still continuing, and basic law-and-order policing was just non-existent. So that was the very first job.

We managed to do that fairly quickly by just flat blanketing Mosul itself with four infantry battalions: an attack helicopter battalion, a tank battalion, an artillery battalion, a small attack helicopter OH58 battalion, and so forth. Started getting that under control.

Then we realized that, in addition to just getting basic services restored and getting businesses, shops, schools and universities re-opened, the other thing that we needed to address was this incredible power vacuum that existed really all the way from Baghdad down to the district and sub-district level. So we took that on.

Of course, this is before the CPA was even established in Baghdad and Ambassador Bremer arrived, later in May (2003). In late April, we realized we had to do something about that. There were two choices. We could either fill the vacuum completely ourselves -- in which case, over time, it would be increasingly more difficult to extricate ourselves from running everything. Or we could start the process of getting Iraqis involved in self-government and filling that vacuum.

The sooner you get an Iraqi face on things, the better off you are. So we started down the road of getting an election going. We did that on May 5, elected a province council here in Nineveh province. That, in turn, elected the province governor. Frankly, we've been very, very fortunate in those individuals, the skills that they brought, the representation of the population of Nineveh province and what they've done for the new Iraq.

We sat in on a city council meeting, municipal council meeting. What are we seeing there?

What you're seeing is Democracy 101. You're seeing the founding fathers, if you will -- at the regional, at the province level -- debating a host of issues, from the most mundane to some very, very important ones -- from very practical to quite philosophical, about rights of minorities and all the way down to, of course, their own salaries.

So it's a huge mix of issues that they're grappling with as they try to shape and influence, in a positive way, their part of the new Iraq; as they try to improve on what has already been done in terms of getting basic services restored and getting industries going and attracting business and so forth.

How well is it working? What we saw was a lot of long speeches.

Well, that's what democracy is. If you go back and look at the Federalist Papers and re-read those from our own experience, there were years of long speeches. There are going to be months and months more of that here, certainly, in the future.

You have to remember that, not only did the Iraqis not understand democracy and the philosophy, if you will, of democracy -- and political philosophy in general, because they haven't been allowed to even discuss these things in universities and schools and the other places where normally that kind of dialogue would be ongoing -- not only did they not know that in general, they certainly don't know in particular what shape and size and form democracy should take for Iraq, either at the national or the local or regional level. And that's what they're working out. These speeches are very helpful in that regard. They're debates, basically. The truth won't be found in any one of these single speeches, but probably in that dialogue or debate among them. ...

Let's talk about some of the obvious problems that you face. Unemployment. ...

Unemployment's a huge problem. Now, first of all, though, everyone who was employed at the time of liberation or at the start of the fighting, if you will, really is still employed. Even the military, which, as you know, was fired, was then subsequently given stipends and so forth. But all of those that were in the Mukhabarat [Iraqi Intelligence Service], the Baath, and these others certainly, are now unemployed. Of course, they don't see a future in the new Iraq. That's one reason that they're fighting so vigorously against the success that they see up here in northern Iraq.

But at the time of the fighting there was large unemployment, because the only hirer, the only industry, if you will, is government. Government owns everything. You may see the cement plant and think that that's a private enterprise; it's not. It's government-owned, by the Ministry of Industries and Minerals. The same goes for anything that is of any value in this country. Gradually, though, there is some private investment coming in.

The hotel just a mile from here, for example -- $16 million over six months is being invested in that by a private investor in a very, very good arrangement that will allow Iraq to still own the hotel. They won't sell it outright. They will have a rental agreement, and that will satisfy all parties.

But unemployment's a big problem, because if people aren't getting a paycheck, they don't see a stake in the new Iraq, first of all. So why should they support this grand new experiment that's unfolding around them?

Number two, they are easy fodder for people with money, like the former Baath who stole millions of dollars from the government when they left and who can now pay them $10, $20, $100 to shoot an RPG at our forces, the Iraqi police, or other officials that they associate with the new Iraq.

So that's an enormous problem in that regard as well. Beyond that, of course, we just need people working, occupied and feeling that they're doing something worthwhile with their lives and providing for their family. ... They have to be invested in the new Iraq.

Now, they'll never starve, of course. There's a tremendous social safety network in place here in Iraq that remains. There's food distribution that goes on, so they won't starve. There is medical care which is reasonably good in this region. So their very basic needs will be taken care of. They're not charged for electricity, they're not charged for water, they're not charged for most things. But they don't have jobs, and they don't feel like they're doing something productive; they're not advancing themselves. All they're doing is surviving. Again, you've got to do much more than survive if you're going to throw your hand in fully with the new Iraq.

Has de-Baathification been a problem here?

Well, it has been. First of all, the whole north, the whole Sunni area of Iraq, was of course very, very prominent in terms of the members of the Baath Party, the regime, and so forth. You have to understand that the whole society was involved in the Baath Party at some level or another. The question is how high were they. Just about everybody was in some way, shape, or form involved in this.

The question is, where do the bad Baathists stop in that hierarchy -- the ones that we, no question about it, should throw in jail? Then the batch that should be brought up on charges for abusing their power and privilege and what they did to their fellow Iraqis. Then those that are farther down the line, that in a sense were leaned on to join the Baath Party, because without it, they weren't going to get a job.

In practical terms, how has that hurt your reconstruction efforts?

You have huge numbers of these people. Just as an example, if you go down to level four -- 900 out of 22,000 teachers in Nineveh province alone are Baath level four or above. If you fire all of those and say they can never work again for the government, and they're not going to get a retirement, salary or anything -- then although they will not starve, and they will still get free electricity and water, they have no incentive whatsoever to support the new Iraq. In fact, they have every incentive to oppose the new Iraq, most likely.

So there has to be something a little bit more nuanced than that. We have discussed this considerably -- the other military commanders and I, particularly of the Sunni areas -- with the CPA. Ambassador Bremer, in fact, gave us a temporary breathing period to finish the school year and the university year this past summer, which was successful. Then there has been a process which is very rational, which is essentially a reconciliation process -- where local committees of very respected people of integrity, with legal oversight, review records and make recommendations to the ministries. ...

So essentially, Ambassador Bremer has given you the leeway to rationalize this process, to minimize the sort of disruption it causes ...

Let me be very clear. Ambassador Bremer let us have people remain in positions who were not so bad just at first blush. First blush, there were some taken right off the top -- the chancellor of the university, for example. We fired him.

But you put people on the city council who are former Baathists too.

Well -- I mean, the governor's a former Baathist. Of course, you know, he left the Baath Party in 1993 when his brother was killed, his cousin was killed, and he was forcibly retired for conspiring against Saddam. ...

But there are others on there that have had tighter relationships with the Baath all the way up to the war.

Sure, there are people throughout the society that have this. ... You've got to sort out -- it has to be a bit more individual than this collective "Just fire everybody and tell them they can never work again for the government," who is the only source of employment in most of these areas. ...

That process is working along. Again, to be very clear, Ambassador Bremer let us keep in an at-will probationary employment status after they signed a letter of denunciation of their membership and a variety of other things, by the way. As an example, the professors in the university, a certain number of them [were allowed] to complete the school year, who absolutely the university could not have continued and held its graduation without them. Then the process that was set down from the Ministry of Higher Education follow-on to that -- to examine the records, and give recommendations back to the ministry on what should be done about these individuals in the future. ...

Many of the exiles, the Iraqi exiles, namely Ahmad Chalabi and others, have advocated a kind of purge. ...

Dr. Chalabi was here -- a couple of days ago, in fact. We had a very good discussion on this issue. He is the head of the de-Baathification council for the Iraqi Governing Council. He acknowledged to us the need for a reconciliation process. What there really needs to be, in truth, is a truth and reconciliation process. There probably ought to be some that ought to be brought up on charges beyond just the top 55, or the top whatever number that we have on various blacklists right now, who are being thrown in jail. So some should not only be fired; they should actually be thrown in jail and brought up on charges because of what they did beyond those already on those lists.

But then there are others who are -- again, in this level four and above -- who probably should have other steps taken against them that are not as final as being fired without retirement and never any hope for a job. You know, you're not only throwing that individual out of work, of course. You're throwing away the chances of that individual's family. These are large families that are supported by these individuals. So what that does is create enormous numbers of enemies for our soldiers, some of whom may not need to be enemies; some of whom would actually like to have a contributing role in a new Iraq, albeit not certainly in the form that they had before.

That seems like a key point, and it exacerbates ethnic tensions.

Well, it does, because of course a large portion of this certainly is the Arab Sunnis who feel, to begin with, that they have been dispossessed to some degree because they ran the place for a long time. Now, that's their problem, frankly, and they brought that on themselves. ... We have no sympathy whatsoever for the former Baath Party officials.

We are trying to keep a country together, keep a region together, and start building toward this new Iraq. Our governor, who has every reason to be absolutely bloodthirsty in his approach to the former Baathists -- given that, again, the regime killed his brother and his cousin ... and he himself was forcibly retired from the military after being wounded six times, I might add, in the service of his country. This was the reward for that great service.

He actually called together on his own the former Baathists in Mosul and Nineveh province. There's a large number of them here. We're not talking about firing them or anything else, because most of them were already out of whatever position they were in. But he sat them down and said, "Look, you need to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. If you are part of the problem, of course, over time, police [and] coalition forces are going to hunt you down anyway. But in the meantime, if you truly want to see a better Iraq, then support -- or at the very least, do not oppose."

So if he can have that approach, he who is so injured, whose family paid such a huge price for what they did in the past -- I would think that others would be able to do the same.

I want to talk a little bit about the Kurds and the ethnic tensions that are existing between them and the Sunnis, and the Arabs in general. You command an area that contains the three Kurdish provinces. What do you see happening in this area?

... So far, in Nineveh province, there is a good degree of working together. There is, in fact, an Arab governor and a Kurdish vice governor. Both of them want to be the representatives of all Iraqis, of all ethnic groups ... and all the tribes and all the various other interest groups and walks of life and religions as well.

You don't feel that there's a problem with ethnic tension here in Mosul?

There is ethnic tension--

Christians are afraid?

Sure there is. Everyone is concerned about how they will end up in the future. Everyone wants the certain basic human rights. That, I think, they have a reason to want. They all have legitimate aspirations, and they're all concerned that those legitimate aspirations are realized, and that's understandable. But it's one thing to have, if you will, tension, or dialogue or debate. Shouting is OK. Shooting is not. We've said that on a number of occasions. In the ethnic area, that has been the limit so far.

One would hope that you don't have to point that out too much. Let's talk about this discovery that you've made at the mosque across the street there from where Uday and Qusay were taken.

Yes, by the way, let me point out, when we killed Uday and Qusay, we found $1.3 million in dinar and dollars that they had with them. That's just an indicator of the kind of enormous wealth that these guys carried around with them. That, again, finances a lot of these problems, these challenges to security right now. In a country where a good starting monthly salary is $60 to $90 a month, $1.3 million can do an awful lot of mischief and a lot of damage.

The mosque across from that area there -- some Iraqi police and Iraq Civil Defense Corps forces that we worked with went in there and found some mortar base plates, and high-powered binoculars, a mortar sight, and some other items like that. These were not necessarily lethal weapons. We didn't find the mortar tube.

But an edict had gone out from the Religious Affairs director here in Mosul, the Islamic official, to get rid of all the military stuff that was in these mosques. That was after other items had been found in other mosques, the imam then said that all he was doing was collecting it from the people and that he intended to turn it over. To be charitable, that may have been the case in this situation as well. But after that order had gone out, again we were concerned to still find military items in a mosque. In fact, we then put the place under observation for a few hours and a truck drove up that had individuals with mortar triggers in it. So that raised our concerns again.

We sat down with both the Iraqi Islamic Party and with the religious affairs council members, expressed our concern again and told them that they've got to clean this up, or else we're going to have to search additional mosques.

You have to watch the mosques closely in general?

We do keep an eye on the mosques, because they're very influential, obviously, in an Islamic society. People listen to the imams. They listen to the sermons very intently, the citizens do. Again, there's a tremendous amount of influence that's exerted by those in the pulpit. So we are always interested in what they're saying. When there are anti-coalition sermons, for example, we address that with the leaders of the religious affairs council.

There's a lot of concern that after we leave, after the United States, after the coalition leaves this country, that no amount of nation-building, if you will, can stand this place up on its own -- that once the United States coalition leaves, there's going to be trouble in Iraq.

I think we have to make sure that before we leave there is a stable, self-sustaining government and economy and all the other pieces in place, so that that does not happen.

What is your assessment as to how long that would take?

I honestly don't know. Every part of Iraq is different. We have made great progress here in terms of a host of very, very important areas, such as border police. Several thousand of them are trained, equipped, and on the border, doing a very good on the Syrian border in particular, which is one of great concern to a lot of people, and we're among them.

The police in Nineveh province, although there are still a couple thousand more that need to be hired, actually are doing a credible job. We're fortunate to have a very fine police chief. He's done terrifically well.

There's a superb public safety academy that now has trained several hundred people. ... So these types of things are very encouraging. The facility protection, security forces, over 5,500 of them who are guarding a variety of sites for ministries and so forth and that will be taken over by the ministries for budget purposes very soon. This, again, is all encouraging. The government is encouraging. The investment that is taking place is encouraging.

The amount of rebirth of industries is very heartening. There's tremendous resources here. There's water, there's oil, there's sulfur, there's wonderful farmland, actually. And best of all, there are people who are reasonably pragmatic, well educated and businesslike.

So there's a lot of reason for optimism here in the north. We think that it can really continue to show what success can look like -- as long as the resources keep flowing in here. I have no doubt that they will.

The question is whether it sustains itself in face of trouble elsewhere.

Yes. Sure, and that's a challenge. ... We're also a target, because if the enemy sees this as an example of success, then of course they're going to want to take it on. And they are, and they have come back in here several times. Most recently, starting about a month or so ago, we saw a sustained spike of enemy activity. We've lost a number of soldiers during that time, had a number of others wounded.

We think that we have substantially disrupted what they sought to recreate up here with former regime loyalists, criminals, and some foreigners. But they're still out there, and they're still taking shots at us, and they're going to be. This is going to require a great deal of patience, determination and just sheer fortitude. ...

You do a fair amount of ribbon cutting. Ceremonial work?

Yes. We do a lot of representational tasks, and we're constantly doing those, frankly. First of all, our soldiers have done extraordinarily good work in large amounts of it -- over 3,800 individual projects, for example. Every one of these -- a small school refurbishment, a medical clinic, a well, another classroom somewhere, you name it -- when we do those, the Iraqi people also like ceremonies, and so we do ceremonies. We want the people to see the great work that our soldiers are doing. Heck, we want the American people to see it, too. They should be very proud of what their sons and daughters are doing out here. So we're willing to do all the ribbon cuttings that people want to erect for us.

We even have two Iraqi TV crews that we hired to even get it on the local television here. So that, again, this is about hearts and minds, to a degree. We want the Iraqis to see how hard we're working for them. We want them to see how hard their government is working for them, because anyone that I go to, the governor is right there next to me. We always have local officials with our brigade commanders, our battalion commanders, whoever is doing the ceremony. We try to get as much local press -- at the very least, the press that's on our payroll there to record these, and then to give it to the Iraqi TV stations and radio stations.

It's, indeed, incredibly impressive, the number of projects that you have running. I sat in on the evening briefing, and we recorded that with our cameras. It's almost an overwhelmingly complex job, managing all of that. But, yet, there it all is. In a half an hour, you get an overview of all that's going on.

We think of this as getting the cattle to Cheyenne. I use this metaphorical image. We're all outriders out there, and what we have is all these large number of tasks -- that's the herd, that's all the cattle -- a whole bunch of individual, hundreds if not thousands of projects at any given time ongoing that we're trying to complete. So we're trying to keep the cattle herd, keep it all just going in the right direction. Every now and then, one will fall behind, or we'll lose track of it, or it'll take a wrong turn. If it's important, we'll go back and get it. We'll send an outrider, a battalion or brigade commander will get it back in tow and carry on with it. We're trying to get it all. When you get it to Cheyenne, if you will, that mission, that particular task, is complete.

I discussed this with some of our guys one time, and they said, "You may think it's a cattle drive. But we think it's a stampede."

In truth, it is, to a large degree. We're probably riding really hell-bent for leather here -- leaning forward in the saddle -- and it's probably raining sideways, and there's lightning bolts out of the sky like that famous Frederick Remington print called "Stampede." I have to give credit to an earlier boss of mine for that image as well, the great General John -- Jack -- Galvin, who used that similar image. I think it's very appropriate to what we're doing here. What we're trying to do is just keep it all headed in the right direction.

We've got a tremendous amount of decentralization. The initiative by our young leaders and soldiers is incredible, and we applaud it and encourage it. Half the time they're way out ahead of us, and that's where they ought to be. That's the American way. The innovativeness of our soldiers is extraordinary -- their determination to do what they did in 125-degree heat during the summer when we were really in pretty primitive conditions; their courage to continue doing it as they're getting shot at and ambushed and improvised explosives detonated around their convoys. It's incredible. Again, the American public should be very, very proud of what our young soldiers are doing out here.

It strikes me that the military comes at this from a very practical ... a very non-ideological point of view. When you sit in Washington, people tend to read the [Washington] Post and the [New York] Times, and they see this war in terms of conflicting ideologies, whereas you guys take a very different approach. It's very striking to me.

Well, we're not sitting in Washington reading the Post and the New York Times. Yes, we're just trying to get the cattle to Cheyenne. We're trying to accomplish the mission that we've been given -- which is to maintain a safe and secure environment, and to foster the rebuilding of basic services, governmental infrastructure, and so forth. We've done a lot of discovery learning. But this stuff is not rocket science. This is basically all about hard work, common sense, and just keeping your nose to the grindstone and dragging on through a variety of challenges, through tough times -- and occasionally through good times.

Tough times. Right at the end of the briefing where I sat in, you had some news.


Tell me about it.

Well, that's about the toughest time we've had in Iraq. We lost 17 wonderful Screaming Eagles that night -- two helicopters -- still under investigation right now. But we do think that they did collide, and we do think now that there probably was an RPG involved. We're not sure if it hit one of the aircraft, or if it led that aircraft to change its course very quickly. That's still very much unclear. In fact, we may never know, because there were no survivors on one of those aircraft. ...

How did the news come to you?

We got it over the radio. First we thought that there was one aircraft down, and then all of a sudden there was a second aircraft missing.

You were sitting right here at the briefing?

We were, we were. The brigade commander went streaking over to the site, and we started getting reports that there were two sites with wreckage. Then there were survivors at one site, but there were dead at the other site. We were trying to figure out how this could be that one helicopter could be a couple hundred meters apart from the wreckage and so forth. All of a sudden, we realized to our even greater horror that it was two aircraft that had gone down.

It doesn't get any lower than that, I can tell you. We take every casualty personally, very deeply personally. These are our soldiers. This is like losing a member of the family. To lose 17 of them, and in the blink of an eye, was just horrible beyond belief.

It seems a great contrast between the almost seductive sense of control that one gets out of that evening briefing, to this horrible tragedy that happens immediately thereafter.

Sure. We're constantly out on the ground to correct any sense of enormous control. That was probably the best, if you will -- or the worst -- example of that kind of thing. And it was awful. That was a tragedy, truly, as I said, beyond belief.

It was very difficult, extraordinarily difficult, actually, for all of the division. It still is. Of course, [it is] beyond belief in terms of difficulty for the families back home as well.

We've since memorialized all those soldiers. We've dedicated ourselves to drive on in their memory to make sure that their deaths were not in vain. One of our great troopers here, in fact, in the headquarters, told me the next morning, he said, "You know, we've got 17 additional reasons to get this thing right." And he's absolutely correct.

There's no assurance, though, is there, that we can get it right? We can do everything right, we can do everything correctly, but the task could conceivably be impossible.

We won't accept that. I mean, we're not over here working our fingers to the bone, fighting and dying, with the idea that this task is beyond us. We are over here with the idea that it can be accomplished -- that we have made incredible progress, as you have seen, and that what we have to do is continue to prevail and to persist and to work very, very hard at this.

It's clearly very important to have good intelligence. It's been one place where we've come to the war, perhaps, under-prepared. What have you been able to do to improve our ability to know where we're going to get hit?

What we have worked very hard to do is to put together an intelligence structure that supports the division in the northern region with all of the various agencies of the U.S. government, all the capabilities brought together, working together very, very closely in a way that enables us to identify who is opposing us, who's shooting at us, who may shoot at us. Then we're doing our very best to act on that intelligence to disrupt or actually to kill -- what we'd like to do is take the head off the snake, of course, but in the meantime we'll get as close as we can to the head in each of these various cells.

We have, in fact, in the past couple of weeks, for example, gotten a couple of the cell leaders, gotten some very important facilitators. … We got number two, number three, number 20 and number 27, here in the north. We're always on the lookout for the additional members of the group of 55 there that still haven't been killed or captured. We did pick up about 100 people over the past several weeks who will be going to Baghdad for long-term detention as well. That will take a chunk out of their structure. But there are more out there.

We're going to have many more challenges. The enemy's going to keep on shooting at us, and we've just got to keep our guard up. We've got to continue to go after them aggressively, but to do that in a way that doesn't set back everything else -- that doesn't create more enemies ... with each operation.

One of the tools we have is enormous resources, in terms of money. An effective tool?

Very effective tool. In fact ... we point out that there are only two things we need up here. We have enough forces -- we have both the number of forces and the capabilities in our forces that we need. ... What we need is money, and we need intelligence.

Ambassador Bremer was great about making available captured enemy funds to all the military commanders -- it was called CERP -- Commanders' Emergency Reconstruction Program money. That was a breakthrough when he was able to accomplish that, to get the folks in Washington to agree to using that money in that way. That was what enabled us to do those 3,800 projects that we talked about earlier.

You're out of that money now?

Well, it's slowed down. We actually just got a reload the other day, we're happy to report. ... That's an enormous help. But we can always use more of that. We've certainly requested more for a variety of different projects. They're working their way through to find the money of the various colors and shapes that they can give us for these various projects.

One former ORHA [official] made the point to me that one of the problems we had was not about spending money, it was about getting Iraqis to share a vision. I mean, it's one thing to pay somebody off that's willing to take cash. But it's another to actually get people to share our vision.

We think there is a shared vision in our area. We think that the vision they have for the police is the same as our vision. The vision they have for the border police, the vision for facility protection and security forces, for their industries, for their communities, is very, very much a similar vision. So we see a convergence, not a divergence, in that regard. ...

There is the sense that, in some parts of the country, the population is against us. But in broad swaths of the country, it's more like the population simply is sitting by and waiting -- that they are not actively supporting us, nor are they against us. In fact, they are probably secretly hoping that the Americans can prevail in restoring order. What are you seeing in your area?

We see a bit of all of that. But we do see a large number that support us. You can judge that any which way, whether it's just waving at a helicopter, applauding as a convoy goes by, or much more importantly, in a substantive sense, turning in large amounts of weaponry and very important human intelligence to us.

We have a lot of that lately. I've got statistics here, for example. Just in this month alone -- we're on Nov. 23 now -- we've had turned into us 780 RPG rounds -- turned in, now, by civilians -- 485 RPG launchers, 1,670 grenades, 24 surface-to-air missile systems. By the way, we've had 320 SA-7s turned into us since that particular program began; and over 600 items used for construction of improvised explosives: sticks of TNT, timers, wire, and so forth.

Did you have any idea that this society was this awash in this kind of --

We did, yes, we knew that there were extraordinarily big ammo supply points, and we've got five of them in our area alone. We guard them all. But we had no idea that there was this much stuff out there. Again, this is just three weeks, and this is after substantial captures and turn-ins already.

In fact, during this period as well we've also captured 190 AK-47s, machine guns and pistols, 65 RPG rounds, 40 RPG launchers, 130 grenades, 80,000 rounds of ammunition, 470 mortar rounds, 116 rockets, and 11 anti-tank missiles, and much more.

It's incredible.

It is incredible. And it goes on. ...

You've got one guy that came in for several nights running. I don't know if he's still coming by?

He's still coming by, yes--

And he gets paid every time.

We do give rewards, but I'm not convinced that this is all about rewards, either. They want this experiment to succeed. They want the new Iraq to succeed. Some of them want to be close to us. Of course, there's a variety of different motivations behind this. Some is the reward money, some of it. Again, there are some that won't accept rewards. Some of our best sources actually will take nothing from us -- and they continue to give us arms, ammunition, explosives, and probably more important, very good information. ...

We came across an informant down in Thuluya who had gotten found out by the tribe. They'd ordered his father to go out and shoot him, because he'd been involved in one of these programs that was bringing stuff in. Have you seen anything like that?

We've seen acts of intimidation, and a lot of attempted acts of intimidation. I'm not familiar with one where the father was ordered to kill his son. But--

I'll send you the piece. It was written up in several newspapers, an interesting story about tribal justice and what they do to these guys.

Yes. Yes. I mean, there clearly are numerous cases where the enemy that is still out there is trying to keep people from supporting the new Iraq authorities, police, coalition forces and so forth. They'll do just about anything to do that. They will work through tribes, they'll work through explosives, they'll shoot people, they'll attempt assassinations -- whatever it takes. They're willing to do it all, just showing, again, the true colors, really, of this regime -- just continuing in opposition, now, the way they used to when they had complete power. ...

Are you bold enough to make any predictions about where Iraq will be five years from now?

What I'll say is what I hope for Iraq five years from now. I hope that five years from now Iraq is the extraordinarily prosperous country that it can be -- one that gives basic human rights to all of its citizens, that has a functioning democratic government, and is a country in which there is security at all levels.


home + introduction + a long road + map: peoples and politics + iraqis and americans
interviews + links & readings 
tapes & transcripts + press reaction + producer's chat + credits + privacy policy
FRONTLINE + wgbh + pbsi

posted february 12, 2004

FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of wgbh educational foundation.
web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation