Jewish World Review Dec. 23, 2003 / 28 Kislev, 5764
Stratfor Intelligence Brief by
The capture of Saddam and the dollar war
For once, the media has got it right. The capture of Saddam Hussein is a major event in the war. The importance of Saddam's capture is that it happened at all, as it signals a major improvement in American war-fighting capabilities in general, and in American intelligence in particular.
The greatest intelligence failure of the Iraq war concerned the failure of U.S. intelligence to understand the Iraqi war plan, which in 20-20 hindsight was obvious. The Iraqis knew that the United States would rapidly defeat Iraq's conventional forces, so they prepared a follow-on plan - a guerilla war - that would begin after Baghdad was occupied.
American intelligence about the guerilla war was so poor, it was not until the summer that the administration conceded it was facing a concerted guerrilla war rather than uncoordinated attacks by dead-enders and criminals. Throughout the summer, the United States had trouble defining the nature of the guerrilla force, let alone developing a coherent order of battle or command structure for it. Therefore, by definition, the United States could neither engage nor defeat the guerrillas.
The Iraqis understood the strengths and weaknesses of U.S. intelligence - that it is extremely strong in technical means, including image and signal intelligence. But since the guerrillas avoided electromagnetic communications and were difficult to distinguish with aerial reconnaissance, they were essentially invisible to America's preferred methods of intelligence.
During late summer, the United States began to increase substantially its human intelligence capability in Iraq, particularly increasing the number of CIA officers on the ground. It began a systematic program of penetrating the guerrillas. Recruiting agents able to infiltrate guerrilla ranks was hard to do, and getting them into the ranks was even harder.
The guerrillas understood that recruitment was a risk, and relied on existing forces or recruiting from well-known and reliable reservoirs of forces. The foreign jihadists who entered the country were also difficult to penetrate and, to add to the complexity, operated separately from the main force.
The guerrillas did have one major vulnerability: money. The Baathist regime had long ago lost its ideological - and idealistic - foundations. A culture of self-interest, money and power permeated the entire structure of the Iraqi military, including the guerrilla forces that continued to operate after the conventional force was defeated. Indeed, the guerrillas substituted money for recruitment.
The culture of money made the guerrillas vulnerable in two ways. First, they relied on support from an infrastructure that was fueled by money. Cooperation was purchased with money coupled with intimidation. Second, much of the guerilla's money was currency taken from Iraqi banks prior to the fall of Baghdad.
While some of it was in dollars that continued to have value, most of it was in the old regime's currency. One of the earliest actions of the U.S. occupation forces was to replace that currency. Over time, therefore, the resources available to the guerrillas contracted.
This process was speeded up dramatically during the November Ramadan offensive, which we now know was a surge operation rather than a sustained increase in operational tempo. During the Ramadan offensive, the guerrillas increased their consumption of resources dramatically, burning through men and money very quickly.
This dramatically increased tempo of operations required the guerrillas to expose their assets far more than in the past, increasing the number of prisoners the United States took and the opportunities for purchasing information.
Saddam was, therefore, betrayed by the culture he created. He was found with no radio - not a surprise, since the guerrillas tried not to use them - and with only a pistol and $750,000 cash.
The guerrillas understand precisely what happened to Saddam - someone betrayed him for money. They also understand that in a world where attacks on American troops can be purchased for dollars, the Americans have far more dollars than they do. That is why in the week prior to Saddam's capture, the guerrillas twice attacked banks. They desperately needed to replenish their cash reserves.
This does not mean that the guerrilla movement in Iraq is dying. Rather it means that the leadership of the movement is going to shift away from the Baathists who launched the guerrilla war, to the mostly foreign jihadists, who joined the war for very different motives.
These guerrillas are not motivated by money and are unlikely to betray each other for cash. They fight because they believe and that makes it more difficult to penetrate their ranks. However, since they are foreigners, they are less invisible than the Baathists.
The United States now faces a more substantial challenge, one that has proven difficult to overcome in the broader war. It needs to penetrate the jihadists in Iraq. Given the experience with al-Qaida, this might well prove difficult.
George Friedman is president of Strategic Forecasting, Inc., one of the world's leading global intelligence firms, providing clients with geopolitical analysis and industry and country forecasts to mitigate risk and identify opportunities. Stratfor's clients include Fortune 500 companies and major government. Comment by clicking here.
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