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CIA & State Wrong Again.

New Alliances In Iraq Cross Sectarian Lines
Political Jockeying Suggests An Emerging Axis of Power

By Anthony Shadid
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, March 20, 2009; A01

BAGHDAD, March 19 — Six weeks after provincial elections, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has allied himself with an outspoken Sunni leader in several provinces and broached a coalition with a militant, anti-American cleric, suggesting the emergence of a new axis of power in Iraq centered on a strong central government and nationalism.

Negotiations are still underway in most provinces, distrust remains entrenched among nearly all the players, and agreements could crumble. But the jockeying after the Jan. 31 elections indicates that politicians are assembling coalitions that cross the sectarian divide ahead of parliamentary elections later this year, a vote that will shape the country as the U.S. military withdraws.

“There is a new political map,” said Anwar al-Luheibi, a Sunni adviser to Maliki, who is a Shiite. “And I anticipate this map will be far better than the one we had before.”

The negotiations and dealmaking mark a departure from politics that have hewed almost exclusively to ethnic and sectarian lines, fomenting the discord that brought Iraq to the precipice of civil war in 2006 and 2007. They represent the first round of a great game that may resolve a question unanswered since Saddam Hussein’s fall in 2003: What coalition of interests will find the formula to wield power in Iraq from Baghdad?

What’s significant about this article? First is that The Washington Post actually bothered to publish any good Iraq news on page one. Had McCain won the presidency one wonders if that would have been the case. But even more significant is that it undercuts the pre-war notions championed by the Central Intelligence Agency and State Department that “externals” or Iraqi exiles and exile groups would never have the popular support needed to lead the country after Saddam Hussein’s removal from power.

In his memoirs, Former Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith labeled the notion a “prejudice” against externals. What’s interesting is that neither the State Department, nor especially the CIA, had any factual evidence to support their claim. It started prior to the War in Afghanistan when a former CIA operative named Milton Bearden made the argument in a end of year 2001 Foreign Affairs magazine that the U.S. should not utilize the Northern Alliance because they were seen as too outcast in the eyes of common Afghans. Feith reminds us that “our partnership with the Northern Alliance neither pushed the Pashtun tribes into the Taliban’s arms nor rekindled a civil war” that Bearden and others argued would occur.

Fast forward in time to the debate on the Iraq War. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage moved preemptively to disenfranchise whatever possible voice Iraqi externals might have when he shut down the Information Collection Program, the program with which the Iraqi National Congress (INC) provided American intelligence services with both physical and human intelligence (spies). The INC was the most prominent of Iraqi external groups, but it was headed by Ahmed Chalabi, who decided in the mid-1990s to follow through with a CIA-prepared coup attempt against Saddam Hussein, even though the Clinton administration pulled U.S. (and CIA) backing right after learning about it. Fortunately the Defense Department would later start the ICP back up. Even so, Armitage continued to argue that the externals in Iraq had less “weight” than, say, in Afghanistan.

According to Feith, “This was a momentous conclusion to reach on the basis of a vague metaphor — without supporting evidence.”

In light of the insurgency, it is remarkable that key U.S. officials believed that the Iraqi externals were the chief danger the United States had to guard against in post-Saddam Iraq. Yet the main idea behind the transitional civil authority was precisely to guard against the externals dominating the post-Saddam political scene in Iraq.Why should that have been a goal of U.S. policy at all? When challenged on this point, top State and CIA officials responded that all the leaders of the external groups were not skilled enough and, moreover, lacked legitimacy.

Calling this view “presumptuous and dangerous,” Feith remarks that within a few short years after Saddam’s removal those very external leaders were indeed elected by popular majority to rule Iraq, which “belies the influential CIA theory — one might call a prejudice — that the externals would be incapable of winning electoral support inside Iraq.”

The leaders included:

President Jalal Talabani (elected and reelected)
Prime Minister Iyad Allawi (appointed in June 2004… later elected twice to parliament)
Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi
Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari
Abdulaziz el-Hakim (leader of Iraq’s main Shia political party)

In light of the Washington Post article last week (that began this post), one wonders at what point the CIA and State Department will ever concede their inaccuracy. If ever.

Then again, since we’re keeping score, it appears that the Obama Administration’s declaration that we’ll “save” money by “ending” a war in Iraq that appears already won — or at least won with continued management started by General David Petraeus — is far off base, as the Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded recently that will “increase rather than lower Iraq-related expenditures during the withdrawal and for several years after its completion,” according to the report.

Finally, who was right or wrong and on what argument will become all for naught should this foolish release of detainees from Iraqi prisons occur with too much haste or without proper vetting. This report seems the equivalent of our border catch-and-release program, despite the gains of our surge, dangerous men such as Mohammed Ali Mourad are let go either by incompetence or for more nefarious reasons.

In other words, victory and defeat in Iraq can be a somewhat self-fulfilling prophecy.