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« Freedom's Sanctuary in Iraq | Main | Cold Calling the Communists in Iraq »

March 22, 2007

Is Petraeus Being Played?

-Patrick S Lasswell

At a late night meeting with senior political players in Iraq, concerns were raised about General Petraeus' ability to distinguish friend from foe in Baghdad. The heart of the problem lies with the importance of the former Ba'ath party members and their involvement in the Islamic Party of Iraq. My sources claim to hold documents from April 2003 from Saddam's Headquarters directing Ba'ath loyalists to join the Islamic Party and gain control of it. They are also very experienced in the brutal political realities of Iraq. Of significant concern to my hosts was the movement from Mosul to Baghdad of the leader of the Islamic Party that Petraeus worked with when he was in command of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). My hosts also worked with General Petraeus during that time and had met him repeatedly. They assessed him as very smart and quite well organized and had nothing disparaging to say about his character or leadership, however, his political savvy in tumultuous Iraq was questioned.

This is a difficult post for me to write, both because I am a junior member of the active reserves and because of my personal admiration for Gen. Petraeus. I am certainly operating in matters well above my official paygrade, but my responsibility as a citizen and a sailor is to pass critical information on as clearly as I can. The US military had many shining qualities, one of which is its intentional abstraction from politics. Historically this kept the United States from becoming a dictatorship, making this a priceless virtue. Regrettably, politics and security are inextricably entwined in Iraq. Our virtue is being exploited by Ba'athist remnants, according to my hosts. Theoretically, we have other agency support on this front, but indications are that those agencies would rather be meddling in political matters at home.

Their claim is that the Ba'ath remnants are using their local knowledge to facilitate matters for Al Queda. The specific description was that if a suicide bomber from Morocco or Tunisia wanted to kill my hosts, how would they find them? The Ba'ath remnants are guiding and assisting Al Queda attackers, providing them with a vehicle with which to operate, according to my hosts. Based on the extensive security of the Erbil house we met in, I gathered that this was not an idle concern.

My analysis of the situation and the information is that it is no less than a 4 out of 5 datum. It is not just that their story held together, it is that they have strong reasons not to lie. The success of the Coalition is substantially in my hosts interests personally, financially, and politically. Could this just be politicians trying to edge out his competition? Not particularly likely, since the Islamic Party operates in a different sphere than my hosts, and is a minority party besides. Was I swayed by my hosts cordiality and hospitality as he shared with me his cigars, his whiskey, and served me at his table? Possibly, but in the cold light of morning, I still think the datum is solid.

The scenario for how Ba'ath remnants could gain Gen. Petraeus' trust is that they would sacrifice their own people to gain lasting advantage. The Ba'ath are notorious for cutting dead wood with a broad ax and using that violence to keep the survivors in line. By personally delivering to Petraeus' hands various stooges with stored explosives, for instance, the Ba'ath remnants could show their value. The calculus of power here is very rough indeed.

As disturbing as this oversight is, it is a correctable one. Gen. Petraeus has forces in the field with the best Rules of Engagement (ROE) yet issued. Quality control was imposed on the ROE recently when Gen. Petraeus removed restrictions added by excessively cautious subordinates. Subordinates with greater concern for their careers than victory is an endemic problem in all military organizations. With that obstacle out of the way and the surge still ramping up, we are clearly on the attack. It is much easier to shift an attack than to restructure a defense. General Petraeus has repeatedly shown himself to be one of the smartest and most competent flag officers in our nation's history and I'm sure he can adjust to this problem.

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Almost a month later, what's your take on the subject now? After the last few days of what appears to be hi valu target massive explosives AQ/Baath allied attacks in Baghdad, are we facing ascendant Baath negotiating position, or last ditch stuff? Did the Baathists give up any of their deadwood recently?


Fouad Ajami has some interesting things to say about this topic and the situation in Baghdad. I envy his access.

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