While six US ex-generals and former secretary of state Colin Powell publicly criticized the administration’s conduct of the Iraq war, a second group of ex-generals, veterans of the three-year Iraq conflict, returned home in late April from a three-week fact-finding trip to the embattled country with an encouraging diagnosis: “The war is still winnable,” they said in an otherwise mixed report.
This is disclosed by DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources as one of the group’s main findings. They advised carrying on with the strategy employed by the US commander of US forces in Iraq, General George Casey, which essentially eschews victory over the Iraqi insurgency, while preventing the guerrillas from winning territory or gaining the upper hand. The idea is to make them understand that they are merely treading water.
The visiting officers believe that the war can still be won if US forces persist in this tactic. They suggest that a situation will develop at the end of 2008 when “we will be able to accomplish more with less manpower.” They therefore recommend gradually downsizing the American army in Iraq over the next two years by some 55,000 men, leaving no more than 80,000 at the end of 2008.
But winning the war, they warn, depends on a further outlay of $4-5 billion to improve the living standards of the civilian population. The generals were quickly given to understand from civilian and military decision-makers that appropriations on this scale are unavailable at present.
The delegation of generals also brought back some important discoveries about the Shiite militias and their backers.
They found that most Shiite officers and men do not rely on the Iraqi defense ministry or even their political masters for the bulk of their income or logistical requirements. Their source of funds is dryly described as “Illegal trading in oil.”
This is an understatement. The Shiite militias have developed a roaring trade in oil pirated from Iraqi oilfields and its transport up to Iraq’s borders with Syria, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Iran. There, it is flogged to waiting gangs of oil smugglers. The plunder is large-scale – between 20% and 30% of Iraq’s entire output.
To corner the pirated oil market, Shiites smuggle arms to insurgents
Despite strenuous measures to put a stop to it, the scale of the thieving has increased; the Shiite militias have developed a network for the organized disposal of stolen crude from all of Iraq’s oil fields.
As a result –
1. Shiite militiamen spend more time and energy on their nefarious oil trafficking than on fighting.
2. Their links with the smugglers’ rings run two ways. To corner the market, the Shiite militias have agreed to act as the main channel for smuggled arms to reach Sunni and Baathist insurgents and al Qaeda’s contingents in Iraq. The more weapons they carry to these end-users, the more stolen oil the smugglers are willing to push across the borders.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources in Iraq report that the generals who compiled this report for the Bush administration completed their work in April. Little did they know that one of their key predictions was about to come true. They pointed out that the two-way routes used in the wholesale piracy of Iraq’s primary national resource, oil, would become the most dangerous threat to American troops from the beginning of summer up to the end of the 2006.
During those months, quantities of sophisticated weapons would be easily available to Iraqi insurgents and terrorists for mounting a massive offensive on the scale of the Vietnam War’s Tet Offensive of the seventies – between now and US mid-term elections in November.
The visiting generals warned that the insurgents may well go for the most damaging target of all, the fortified Green Zone of Baghdad, the seat of the US embassy and military headquarters and the Iraqi government. The enemy need no longer confine itself to bomb cars, suicide killers and mortar attacks, but would have the military hardware for seizing the most sensitive sections of American military headquarters. They could also try for temporary takeovers of American bases across Iraq.
Preparing to fight off a “Tet Offensive” type assault
The visiting team of US brass found the American high command in Iraq well aware of this peril. The officers were spending time and effort in gearing up the units and intensive intelligence gathering for repulsing an insurgent assault of unprecedented proportions.
debkafile‘s exclusive military sources reported May 15 (See HOT POINTS below and a separate article in this issue revealing a joint logistics center Zarqawi has set up in Iran to funnel weapons into Iraq) that Iran had pumped into Iraq more than 1,000 ground-air Strela missiles, thousands of Kalashnikov automatic rifles and thousands more of gas-compressed roadside bombs.
This, said the visiting American generals, may be part of the concerted insurgent preparations for the forthcoming grand offensive.
As for their other findings, the visiting generals found a distinct improvement in the operational capabilities and standards of Iraqi army units; some were able to match the performance of US elite units fighting in Iraq. Their main fault, it was found, is that collectively they operate like tribal militias rather than a federal army answering to a central government.
To overcome this shortcoming, the generals recommend planting in each Iraqi unit a small American nucleus that will accompany it night and day wherever it is deployed as an integral element. This device will provide the US command with a better understanding of the internal dynamics of each Iraqi unit and a built-in device for reining in sectarian behavior.
In this context, they mentioned the SCIRI party, its leader Abdel Aziz al Hakim, and its Badr Organization militia. After visiting the Badr command center, the US generals reported signs in both the party’s political and military wings of a distancing from Iranian influence – not as far as severance, but more independent conduct and a lessened tendency to turn to Tehran for decisions.
In contrast, Moqtada Sadr‘s Mahdi Army, defined as the premier militia in Iraq today, is rigidly opposed to any sort of cooperation with the Iraqi government or the US army. The generals recommended paring down this organization’s strength by stages.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources, the administration at large, the defense department and the US command in Iraq have adopted the recommendation to integrate small US task forces in the Shiite militia units of the Iraqi army. The project is slated to go into effect in December 2006.