Are American Prime Movers on Iraq at Cross Purposes?

Military experts consulted by DEBKA-Net-Weekly suggest that the endlessly complicated rivalries and cross motivations plaguing northern Iraq may be only a foretaste of the turmoil Washington can expect to sweep the country when the war offensive against Iraq begins in earnest.

They find some instructive lessons for Iraq in the Afghanistan Campaign – chiefly because they both share the same commander, General Tommy Franks, and the same US Presidential envoy for the opposition, Zalmay Khalidzad. In the run-up to the Afghan War in 2001, the two worked in smooth unison. This is not the case with Iraq. Not that they are in conflict, but the conditions under which each of them operates and carries forward American policy on the ground are totally different from their former experience. This difference has been the cause of “a certain lack of tactical coordination” between the two.

As one informed source put it to DEBKA-Net-Weekly, “In Afghanistan General Franks trod with extreme care when he ordered US military movements, because he had to deal not only with American troops but also with the Russian and Uzbek rapid deployment forces, who fought at the head of the Northern Alliance and its disparate militias. His support derived not only from the White House in Washington, but also from Russian president Vladimir Putin, Pakistan leader Pervez Musharref and a clutch of Central Asian rulers who supported the war.

By the time Khalilzad came on the scene to perform his job of laying the political groundwork for the post war period, all these alliances and understandings were already in motion.

Seen in retrospect, some of the tactical moves carried out in the heat of war between October 2001 to January 2003, prove to have been mistaken. In particular, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military experts point to the grave error committed by the war command in relying too heavily on the rapid pincer movement of Russian and Uzbek armored columns to break through from the northern town of Mazar-e-Sharif to Kabul in the south and on to Kandahar in the west. That tactic, better suited to the battlefields of the Second World War, allowed the Taliban and al Qaeda to effect a rapid retreat to the Pakistan border with only slight losses in casualties and arms and without being hindered by any force.

To this day, there is no answer to the riddle of why the American war command failed to deploy forces to cut off the enemy’s line of escape. This failure enabled Osama bin Laden and his men to escape Afghanistan safely, thereby leaving the Afghan War without a clear resolution – at least in the eyes of the world.

Franks never offered a public explanation for this misstep. Privately, he is believed to have blamed the complexities of US-Pakistani relations for what happened.

Since Khalilzad only came on the scene after the capture of Kabul and the winding down of the main battles, no one found any reason to suppose that he and the general had not worked in complete harmony.

Iraq is a completely different case. Aside from British backing – which may be seen as analogous to Russia’s supportive role in Afghanistan – Franks’ war command’s backing is mostly undercover and unacknowledged, as from Saudi Arabia or Jordan. But this time, Franks is said to be determined not to repeat the errors of the Afghan war. He is keeping his head down, the better to remove the hurdles in the path of his operational plans, in sharp contrast to his conduct in Afghanistan.

His response to the difficulties raised in Ankara derived from this attitude. If the American troops cannot use Turkish ports and air bases, he said the war could be managed – and won – without a northern front, which could be left to the end. When the Kurds threatened to oppose the entry of Turkish troops into their territory, he turned their national problems over to the National Security Council, the CIA, the Pentagon and the man on the spot, Zalmay Khalilzad.

The generals, he said, have their hands full preparing and fighting a war.

This was the moment that the falling out over northern Iraq flared, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources, among Washington, the Turks, the Kurds and the Iranians.

It was triggered by a mysterious flashpoint. To this day, no one in Washington or Ankara will admit to knowing who assured Turkey in the first week of February that the United States would not object to Turkish forces invading northern Iraq ahead of American troops.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly got wind of this assurance first and published it in its No. 96 Issue on February 7. The only other place it was reported was in an article by David Ignatius run by the Washington Post on February 14, under the caption A Whale of a Mess?

He wrote:

Another danger sign is the administration’s invitation to Turkey a week ago to invade northern Iraq. That would allow Turkish troops to suppress Kurdish nationalists and perhaps exert future hegemony over Kurdistan.

Not surprisingly, the Kurds who had committed themselves to a war alliance with Washington felt they had been sold out to Turkey. They swore not only to fight Turkish troops entering Iraq, but to take the battle across the frontier onto Turkish soil.

Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran and the oil emirates were equally furious at what they saw as a breach of Washington’s undertaking to preserve Iraq’s territorial integrity during and after the war and not let Iraq’s oil resources pass into foreign hands.

The entire edifice of secret accords and understandings procured by Washington in months of laborious bargaining – to take the place of an overt war coalition – threatened to keel over, together with the political and diplomatic arrangements Khalilzad had worked so hard to cobble together.

Our informed sources are given to understand that this mess and its fallout account for the zigzags in Ankara’s approach to its role in the American war on Iraq, as well as the mistrustful faces turned to Khalilzad at the gathering of Iraqi opposition representatives in the Kurdish town of Salahuddin on Wednesday, February 26.

The imprint of that mishap has surfaced in various other subsequent incidents. It has strained the working relations between Franks and Khalilzad, as well as forcing the Bush administration into uncomfortable corners.

For instance, for the sake of its understanding with Ankara, Washington very reluctantly acknowledged the validity of the 1923 Lausanne Accords nullifying the Ottoman Empire, to support Turkey’s claims to the oil fields of Kirkuk and Mosul. In respect of this claim, the Americans agreed to turn over $2 billion dollars every year from the oil revenues of post-war Iraq. This represented a short-term saving in the aid allocation to Ankara, but a potential time bomb in the long term.

Under the influence of the same “mess”, Khalilzad’s assurance that the United States would carry out a complete purge of Iraq’s Baath bureaucracy after the war was received with deep skepticism by the Iraqi opposition leaders meeting in Salahuddin. Most were certain that only a small part of Saddam’s party would be sacked and tried for war crimes, while the main body of the regime, including the army and intelligence services, would survive intact.

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