2003 July 14 Monday
Reuel Marc Gerecht Sees Shiite-American Relations Key In Iraq

Former CIA agent and resident fellow of the American Enterprise Institute Reuel Marc Gerecht says the Shiites in Iraq are most fearful that the US will not try hard enough to root out the old Sunni Baathist elite.

After spending several days talking and dining with numerous clerics aligned with Najaf's two most influential grand ayatollahs, Ali al-Hoseini as-Sistani and Muhammad Said at-Tabatabai al-Hakim, I couldn't see at all a desire on their part for a divorce. Yes, some complained of American heavy-handedness and ignorance in the national and, more acutely, local administrations. Some but by no means all were worried about "street morality" in Najaf and Karbala, fearing that the American presence might provoke a little too much independence and sartorial free expression among Iraqi women. And some were worried that the Americans might develop a "British mentality," publicly embracing the idea of Iraqi democracy but privately working to undermine the right of the Shiite majority to gain the upper hand politically. But I didn't meet a single cleric in this crowd who really wanted the Americans to leave right away. Many clerics clearly understood that the United States needed to remain in Iraq at least for two or three years. Scratch through the nationalist pride and sense of Islamic honor--and the two are tightly welded together among the Shiite ulama--and there was often a real foreboding within the clergy that the United States wasn't going to interfere enough in postwar Iraq. That is, that the United States wasn't going to annihilate the old Arab Sunni Baathist order.

Gerecht believes US commanders made a big mistake at the end of the war when they failed to send large numbers of forces into the northwestern Sunni areas of Iraq to chase down the Baathist forces there. He also thinks the CIA and State Department are hobbled by a lack of Arabic-speaking specialists in Arabic societies. He recommends that the State Department raid Arabic-speaking staff from other embassies and send them to Iraq where they will be able to make a much bigger difference. Makes sense.

Update: Also see the analysis by AEI resident fellow Thomas Donnelly on how the US military is developing a better understanding of the problems it faces in Iraq.

But at the tactical level, soldiers, agents, and special operations forces are working hand in glove to weed out local Ba'athist cells. And a broad assessment of enemy strength and commitment to fight is being built, piece by piece. There is an intelligence value in having military commanders who also must act as the civilian authority: All the local leaders are anxious to come plead their cases--they are in some sense the classic intelligence "walk-ins," and by sifting their stories, it is possible to assemble a three-dimensional picture of what's happening in the Iraqi streets. This makes it hard for outsiders to move in unnoticed. In sum, the current operations should yield a more accurate, bottom-up assessment of the situation nationwide, but until then, making any larger judgments will be difficult. And, of course, the success of the current military sweep operations will go far in shaping those judgments.

This points out a big downside to relying on NGOs: If the US military and civilian administrators are the main source of aid to the Iraqis then the Iraqi factions will all come to the US officers and officials and describe their troubles and enemies in detail. The US folks will then also be in a stronger position to dole out aid as carrots to get more information and cooperation.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 July 14 10:22 PM  Mideast Iraq


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