Sunday, August 24, 2003

The Grand Alliance

A lot of news recently, but not all of it obvious. The biggest sleeper item was the August 21 press conference by Secretary Rumsfeld and General Abizaid at the Department of Defense. Both emphasized that Iraq did not need any more American troops. What was needed -- and being supplied -- was more Iraqi troops. 

Q: General Abizaid, I'd like to ask you: Despite the litany of successes that the secretary just mentioned, horrors like that car bomb loom large in people's minds. The secretary says that you told Secretary Wolfowitz that you don't need more troops, that you have a sufficient number of troops. And he says that --

Abizaid: U.S. troops.

Q: U.S. troops, right. And you said that it's up to the Iraqis to eventually provide their own security. However, apparently they can't do that now. What are you doing in the short term, short of adding more troops, to provide some security? Are you bringing in some policemen quickly or -- what are you doing in the short term to try to provide more security?

Abizaid: Well, thanks for that question. I think it's clear that we've got to do a lot more to bring an Iraqi face to the security establishments throughout Iraq very quickly. Having said that, I think it's also important for people to know that there's more than 50,000 Iraqis already under arms that are working in coordination with the coalition. We've got 35,000 people, for example, in the police forces. We've got a border force that's forming. We've got Iraqi Civil Defense Corps volunteers -- over 2,300 of them -- that have come forward to form battalions to work with our divisions. We've got an awful lot of people that we've hired to defend infrastructure, somewhere close to 17,000. So --

Rumsfeld: This is in 3-1/2 months.

Abizaid: Yes, sir. Yeah.

Rumsfeld: This is the 50,000 or 60,000 Iraqis have been pulled together.

Iraqi security personnel are obviously better suited to the task than the Blue Helmets that the United Nations periodically threatens to send. Unlike the Nigerians, Uruguayans, Pakistanis and Malaysians who form the backbone of UN forces, Iraqis do not need to be transported in, rotated out, taught the language or given cultural sensitivity briefings. And Iraqi troops, unlike the UN's, might actually shoot back.

In this context, Paul Bremer's assertion that "it's not a question of more troops" but  "getting more Iraqis to help us" is really a restatement of longstanding policy. Presented under the obtuse heading "the US cannot go it alone" (the heading is actually taken from the reporter's assessment and not a Bremer quote) it is really a declaration of a growing US-Iraqi alliance whose major components are still being assembled. Aside from the Iraqi police, the United States is reconstituting the Iraqi intelligence service and creating a new Iraqi army. These Iraqi combatants will eventually number more than 100,000 and will far outweigh any kind of international "help" on offer from France or the United Nations. Around the fighting core of Americans, Brits, Aussies and Iraqis will be help from allied countries with specialized, complementary capabilities. One example is the burgeoning cooperation with Norway, which has made itself the world leader in mine-clearance and Czechoslovakia with its focus on chemical detection. But the main burdens will be carried by America and Iraq. The laughable fiction that 'only the United Nations can save Iraq' and that the 'Blue Helmets are needed to rescue America' conceals the humiliating fact that a UN deployment would at best be a public relations exercise with as much substance as the painted props upon a stage.

Ironically, the destruction of the UN Mission in the Canal Hotel may have accidentally prevented worse. Glenn Reynolds links to article by Mark Steyn who notes that:

Well, that's the luck of the draw at the UN, where so far this year Libya, Iraq and Syria have found themselves heading up the Human Rights Commission, the Disarmament Committee and the Security Council. The UN's subscription to this charade may be necessary in New York, but what's tragic is that they seem to have conducted their affairs in Baghdad much the same way. Offers of increased U.S. military protection were turned down. Their old Iraqi security guards, all agents of Saddam's Secret Service there to spy on the UN, were allowed by the organization to carry on working at the compound. And sitting in the middle of an unprotected complex staffed by ex-Saddamite spies was Sergio Vieira de Mello, the individual most directly credited with midwifing East Timor into an independent democratic state. Osama bin Laden (or rather whoever makes his audiocassettes) and the Bali bombers have both cited East Timor as high up on their long list of grievances: the carving out, as they see it, of part of the territory of the world's largest Islamic nation to create a mainly Christian state. Now they've managed to kill the fellow responsible. Any way you look at it, that's quite a feather in their turbans.

The usually perceptive Steyn fails to emphasize that the Ba'athist intelligence had effectively taken over the UN's Baghdad security apparatus. It had established a spy ring under United Nations diplomatic protection right in the Canal Hotel. So before the Jihadis break out the candy to celebrate de Mello's murder, they should stop to consider that they unthinkingly vaporized the last, best hope of Saddam's old spy network in the fireball of the blast.

In the last analysis, the battle raging in Iraq is an intelligence war in which locals are a much more valuable commodity than UN 'international troops'. Singapore's Rohan Gunaratna estimates that it took US intelligence 5 years to infiltrate Hezbollah and that a like amount of time will be necessary to penetrate Al-Qaeda. That process of infiltration will require Iraqis, not overpaid international civil servants, to complete. "The current multinational coalition started seriously fighting against them only after 9/11. Al Qaeda has a head start of ten years, so the fight has just begun." In that fight now are a host of willing Iraqis and they will be far more important than anything that Kofi Annan has to offer.