2003 August 22 Friday
Robert Baer On Iraq Bombings And Lebanon Parallel

Robert Baer, author of Sleeping With the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude and See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism, examines the parallels between early 1980s Lebanon and Iraq today.

So why was the U.N. headquarters hit rather than an American target? After all, the group behind the U.N. bombing could have easily run the same truck into an American patrol, killing dozens of soldiers. Again, I go back to Lebanon, 1983. The objective of the terrorists then was to create a sense of complete hopelessness in Washington. The terrorists wanted to show the Americans that no amount of military might, money or international assistance would help -- that U.S. deaths would be in vain and that the only logical response was to pull out.

If the people behind the U.N. bombing are the same ones who are responsible for last week's sabotage of Baghdad's water main and the oil pipeline to Turkey, this may very well be their plan. By attacking the U.N. and other indirect targets, they are probably attempting to drive away any potential international investment. They want the Bush administration to feel isolated. As for the common Iraqi who has been taking the brunt of their campaign, the terrorists believe it is worth it. They think in the long term.

Baer believes things are going to get worse in Iraq. He also believes that with so much at stake the US can not afford to pull out.

A greater amount of American resolve aside, there other important differences between Lebanon of 1983 and Iraq in 2003. One of the most important differences is the sheer size of the American involvement. The US Marine presence in Beirut was literally more than two orders of magnitude smaller and Lebanon was a place the US could afford to let remain in chaos (it is worth recalling that Lebanon was in chaos before the US showed up). With a far larger number of personnel to devote to the task, and with access to all parts of the country, and with basic sovereign ruling authority over Iraq the US is in a much stronger position in Iraq to collect the intelligence and gradually Iraq does not have to be as totally lawless as Lebanon was. The US can - if it devotes enough resources to the task - greatly reduce the level of lawlessness in Baghdad and the Sunni areas.

Another important difference is that at the highest level Lebanon was split in more ways than Iraq is split today. Lebanon had significant Shia, Sunni, Christian, Palestinian, and other factions. While Iraq has tribal divisions it has only 3 major top level groupings and two of those (Kurds and Shias) make up about 80% of the population, have little anomisity toward each other (anyone know to the contrary?), and both view the Sunnis as their former oppressors. This creates much more favorable conditions for US attempts to form alliances and a governing consensus.

Still, if US military and civilian intelligence workers in Iraq can not penetrate the organization or organizations carrying out the bombing attacks and the oil pipeline attacks the situation in Iraq could deteriorate. The pipeline attacks are especially important because a successful restoration of Iraqi oil production could provide financing to greatly accelerate the more general rebuilding of Iraq and provide funds that could be spent in a variety of ways to improve security.

Therefore, my conclusion about Iraq is that the US needs to do two main things really well:

  • Very quickly get the oil pumping and flowing in large quantities reliably. Protect the oil. Make sure it can get to market. The resulting revenues are essential because they can be used to extend security and improve conditions throughout the rest of Iraq.
  • Train large numbers of high quality intelligence officers in Arabic and ship them to Iraq to track down and take apart the groups that are conducting the bombings and ambushes.

Update: The top US Army general overseeing the Iraq occupation rule says Iraq is a magnet for terrorists.

The remarks by Army Gen. John Abizaid, the head of the Central Command, added to a growing chorus by senior Bush administration officials who have begun to depict postwar Iraq as a magnet for terrorists bent on attacking the United States. "I think Iraq is at the center of the global war on terrorism," Abizaid said at a Pentagon news conference.

However, keep in mind that much of the Shia area in Southern Iraq is still very peaceful.

I know because I'm one of those Marines. My reserve unit was activated before the war, and in April my team arrived in this small city roughly 60 miles south of Baghdad. The negative media portrait of the situation in Iraq doesn't correspond with what I've seen. Indeed, we were treated as liberating heroes when we arrived four months ago, and we continue to enjoy amicable relations with the local populace.

Will terrorists attackers find a way to build bases of operations in southern Iraq? That's something to watch for.

Update: Wretchard of the Belmont Club has a few posts on the bombing of the UN building in Baghdad and on the movement of Islamists into Iraq to attack American forces that make for good additional reading. See here and here and here. As for whether the choice of the UN facility as a softer target for a terrorist attack indicates we are winning: the question that needs to be asked is whether the terrorist attacks can achieve their objectives if only softer targets are attacked. Well, what sort of place will Baghdad be like if there is a constant stream of attacks killing dozens or hundreds of people each time? What effect will that have on investment and on the willingness of Iraqis to work for the American occupation forces? Seems the effects will be pretty bad.

Also, another important indicator is whether terrorists can prevent a substantial production and export of oil from Iraqi fields. If they can wage a successful campaign of sabotage to the oil industry then they could put a big crimp in reconstruction efforts.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 August 22 02:54 PM  Mideast Iraq


Comments
james said at December 6, 2004 2:27 AM:

If its not to uch trouble can you please send me information on how to contact Mr. baer. thank you


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