Intel experts: ‘We are repeating every mistake we made in Vietnam’

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Intel experts: ‘We are repeating every mistake we made in Vietnam’

Time Magazine’s Joe Klein reports in the magazine’s paid-restricted online edition that senior intelligence officials increasingly believe that the Bush Administration’s focus on finding WMDs dramatically reduced their ability to stave off an Iraq insurgency, Raw Story can reveal.

“Five men met in an automobile in a Baghdad park a few weeks after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime in April 2003, according to U.S. intelligence sources,” TIME’s Klein begins. “One of the five was Saddam. The other four were among his closest advisers. Now a U.S. coup had taken place, and Saddam turned to al-Ahmed and the others and told them to start “rebuilding your networks.” Excerpts follow.

More than two years into the war, U.S. intelligence sources concede that they still don’t know enough about the nearly impenetrable web of what Iraqis call ahl al-thiqa (trust networks), which are at the heart of the insurgency. It’s an inchoate movement without a single inspirational leader like Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh–a movement whose primary goal is perhaps even more improbable than the U.S. dream of creating an Iraqi democracy: restoring Sunni control in a country where Sunnis represent just 20% of the population.

     

Intelligence experts can’t credibly estimate the rebels’ numbers but say most are Iraqis. Foreigners account for perhaps 2% of the suspected guerrillas who have been captured or killed, although they represent the vast majority of suicide bombers. (“They are ordnance,” a U.S. intelligence official says.) The level of violence has been growing steadily. There have been roughly 80 attacks a day in recent weeks. Suicide bombs killed more than 200 people, mostly in Baghdad, during four days of carnage last week, among the deadliest since Saddam’s fall.

More than a dozen current and former intelligence officers knowledgeable about Iraq spoke with TIME in recent weeks to share details about the conflict. They voiced their growing frustration with a war that they feel was not properly anticipated by the Bush Administration, a war fought with insufficient resources, a war that almost all of them now believe is not winnable militarily. “We’re good at fighting armies, but we don’t know how to do this,” says a recently retired four-star general with Middle East experience. “We don’t have enough intelligence analysts working on this problem. The Defense Intelligence Agency [DIA] puts most of its emphasis and its assets on Iran, North Korea and China. The Iraqi insurgency is simply not top priority, and that’s a damn shame.”

The intelligence officers stressed these points:

They believe that Saddam’s inner circle–especially those from the Military Bureau–initially organized the insurgency’s support structure and that networks led by former Saddam associates like al-Ahmed and al-Duri still provide money and logistical help.

The Bush Administration’s fixation on finding weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in 2003 diverted precious intelligence resources that could have helped thwart the fledgling insurgency.

From the beginning of the insurgency, U.S. military officers have tried to contact and negotiate with rebel leaders, including, as a senior Iraq expert puts it, “some of the people with blood on their hands.”

The frequent replacement of U.S. military and administrative teams in Baghdad has made it difficult to develop a counterinsurgency strategy.

The accumulation of blunders has led a Pentagon guerrilla-warfare expert to conclude, “We are repeating every mistake we made in Vietnam.”

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