By Alan Caruba
With all the reams of news and analysis that has been written about Iraq since the United States and a few reluctant allies invaded in 2003, you would think we would know who we were fighting, whether we have “won” the war, and if not, who did?
As of November 30, 2008 the number of U.S. dead was 4,205. The amount of money the U.S. has poured into Iraq as the result of the invasion exceeds $500 billion. Also at the end of November, the Iraqi parliament voted on an agreement that would have the bulk of the U.S. military depart by 2011. The agreement, though, leaves plenty of wiggle room for Iraqis to request U.S. military to stay on.
So, who won? The answer is Iran.
I have read a dozen or more books that have been spawned by the Iraq War, but if you really want to know the truth, you need to hear from the people who actually fought the war there. I am talking about the kind of book that soldiers write for their comrades in arms, cautionary tales that say, “Look, this is what we did wrong and here’s why we should not keep making the same mistakes.”
One such book is Steven K. O’Hern’s “The Intelligence Wars: Lessons from Baghdad.”
($25.98, Prometheus Books) In 2005 O’Hern served as the director of the Strategic Counterintelligence Directorate of the Multi-National Force in Baghdad, Iraq. He served as the senior military intelligence officer in Iraq while overseeing the work of counterintelligence offices and their sources.
O’Hern is presently a retired Air Force colonel, an attorney in Overland Park, Kansas, and what he does not know about the magical arts of intelligence gathering and analysis is probably not worth knowing. The bulk of his book is about the need for “HUMINT”, the kind of intelligence you can only get from humans, not technology.
We begin, though, with the obvious fact that “After the invasion of Iraq, the United States and its allies were facing an insurgency in a country adjoining Iran.”
“We knew that Iran had demonstrated the willingness to attack via proxies in the past at the marine barracks in Lebanon, Khobar Towers (in Saudi Arabia), and in the Lebanese Hezbollah war against Israel in 2006,” says O’Hern. “Yet we didn’t treat Iran as a threat. We failed to take a long view of a long war.”
Most Americans think we have been fighting Iraqi insurgents in Iraq. We have, in fact, been fighting people whose leaders have strong links to Iran, that were equipped for battle by Iran, and short of massed Iranian troops in the field we have been at war with Iran.
“After the US invasion of Iraq, Iranian investors and intelligence officers had spread out across the country with orders to buy as many as five thousand apartments, houses, stores, and restaurants in Baghdad, Basra, Najaf, and Karbala.,” says O’Hern. “These locations would be used as living quarters and command centers for Iranian agents and militias loyal to Iran.”
O’Hern’s experience is pre-surge and that has since changed the dynamics in Iraq to a considerable degree. It is entirely likely that much of the surge involved hunting and killing insurgents whose names and addresses were known to the U.S. military by then, thanks to effective intelligence.
The politics of Iraq is an impenetrable maze to outsiders, but it helps to know that the present prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is from the Islamic (Shia) Dawa Party, known to be closely allied with the Iranians in much the same way his opponent Moqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the Mahdi Militia, and who heads the United Iraqi Alliance is closely allied with the Iranians. The result is that “People and organizations with very close ties to Iran gained control of much of the government.”
Al-Maliki has been asserting himself, reaching out to Sunni politicians, military men, and others to widen the base of the Dawa Party. However, there are more than 400 political parties registered in Iraq with more than 150 just in Baghdad. In the coming provincial elections, more than 14,600 candidates and some 36 or more coalitions will be vying for power.
It can be argued, however, that it doesn’t matter who runs Iraq because, in the end, Iran will run Iraq and it just needs to patiently wait until 2011 when most U.S. forces are scheduled to leave. There remain many obstacles to overcoming a three-way split between the Kurds in the north, the Shias in the south, and the Sunni area of Anbar. In the meantime, Iran can work on developing its own nuclear weapons.
What men like General David Petraeus know is that we are now into what is called “fourth generation” warfare. As O’Hern points out, “Nations such as the United States will face tribes, clans, religious groups, and criminal societies that may operate in several nations and that are immune to sanctions and attacks against their host nation’s economy or infrastructure.”
We are now fighting ghosts, a phantom army that does not put on a uniform, form up ranks, or has an arsenal of tanks, planes, missiles, surface ships, submarines, and the other accoutrements of war, although you can be sure that Iran has all of that. And, soon, it will be able to put nuclear warheads on top of its missiles. When that day arrives it will alter the balance of power in the Middle East and South Asia.
What the United States has is some of the fanciest technology ever brought to bear on a battlefield. What it needs is more HUMINT, the most essential element of intelligence, the eyes and ears of people who know what is going to happen next.
“Even as early as 2005,” O’Hern notes, “the second-highest-ranking officer in Iraq wrote that HUMINT was needed because technology-based tools were ineffective in Iraq, a theatre where developing actionable intelligence was difficult.” The intelligence community’s devotion to technology-based information gathering will remain an obstacle for a long time to come though the military has learned since 2005 how essential HUMINT is.
Clearly the decision to invade Iraq a second time underestimated or misunderstood the nature of the enemy we would engage. One thing is known, though, the U.S. lacked an adequate number of troops to initially get the job done. The demands put upon our volunteer military were met with bravery above and beyond the call of duty.
The refusal for the longest time to recognize or admit that the enemy was Iran cost a lot of lives to the weapons being manufactured and brought into Iraq from Iran.
To this day, American policy has been reticent to identify the enemy that the whole of the Middle East knows is pulling the strings, whether it is Hezbollah in Lebanon or some of those running Iraq these days.
There is, however, an unknown factor. In general, Arabs and Persians are adversaries. The whole of the Persian Gulf these days bristles with Arab fear of Persian intentions. And, finally, Iraqis despite everything they have been through have a sense of their own nationality and may resist being an Iranian satellite state.
The American public, impatient with long wars, wants to leave. Iran may give them cause to leave even sooner than 2011. These are, after all, Persians, the descendents of the people who invented the game of chess.
Alan Caruba writes a daily blog at http://factsnotfantasy.blogspot.com/. Every week, he posts a column on the website of The National Anxiety Center, http://www.anxietycenter.com/