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Jewish World Review June 28, 2004 / 9 Tamuz, 5764

Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald
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Iraq: ‘Mission impossible’ ... 10 minutes with terror expert Yossef Bodansky | Yossef Bodansky by himself has as many credentials for knowing what's going on — and what's going wrong — in Iraq as a think tank full of Middle East experts.

A former consultant for both the Defense and State departments and the current director of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, his books include the No. 1 New York Times best seller "Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America" — which the Israeli-born Bodansky wrote in 1999.

His latest book, "The Secret History of the Iraq War," (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.) documents the active cooperation between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida and argues that the war in Iraq — which he supported — was doomed from the start by massive U.S. intelligence failures. I talked to him by telephone this week:

Q: What, in the print equivalent of a sound bite, is the most important information contained in your book?

A: These sentences from the introduction are on the back cover: "While a majority of the American government and public considered the war in Iraq an effort to disarm Saddam Hussein, the entire Arab and Muslim world saw it differently. And today, while the United States is attempting to shape a postwar government in Baghdad, the Muslim world is preparing for a fateful jihad over the shape of the postwar world. ... The conflict to come will be a total war for all involved."

Q: Could this coming world conflict have been averted if we had gone into Iraq better prepared?

A: Not completely. The level of hatred between us and the Muslim world kept deepening and widening. It was there before 9/11, and 9/11 aggravated the situation and it keeps deteriorating.

However, had we prepared before going to Iraq to not only address the Saddam challenge, but also to deal with radical Islam, extremist nationalism and tribalism and all of the other stuff that Saddam Hussein had suppressed through the sheer brutality of his regime, then we could have reduced the level of the quagmire that we are in today — a quagmire that is getting worse and worse.

Q: What in your book ought to be most shocking to Americans?

A: I think the most important message to the Americans is that we have only started. The real war has just begun, and it is escalating and will continue to escalate because a lot of forces and countries and ideologies are using Iraq as a battleground for what they consider to be fateful confrontations with the West over what, to them, is of extinctional (life or death) and vital interest. Iran is probably No. 1 on this list.

Q: What's your definition of the Bush Doctrine, and do you support it?

A: I don't have a definition of the Bush Doctrine, and I don't know if it has been defined properly. The issue of U.S. internationalism, of the U.S. using its might to free people, in principle, is correct, but you need to know how to do it.

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The main criticism that I have ... is that our intelligence community provided tremendous disservice to the administration that was so blind, that was so profoundly misunderstanding of the dynamics in the Muslim world, that even if we went out to do what's right, implementation has been so wrong that it blew up in our faces and it will continue to blow up in our faces.

Q: In your book you said you felt the U.S. should have gone to war with Iraq and Syria and Iran in 2002, specifically because of Iraq supplying "operational weapons of mass destruction to bin Laden's terrorists." Can you elaborate on that?

A: The Iraqis started to train bin Laden's people with weapons of mass destruction in the fall of 2002, specifically Unit 999 of Iraqi military intelligence, who were doing it in Salman Pak (a military base near Baghdad).

We learned about this first because Israel arrested three Palestinians who were also in Salman Pak and they talked about the training that bin Laden's people were provided with. Then subsequently the Turks captured somebody from that group ... and the French and other Europeans captured some of the trainees. So there's a full circle.

There's a lot of talking, living bodies who confirmed each other's stories, so that provided a casus belli, to my mind. ... Saddam Hussein had crossed the unthinkable threshold — the one of handing over operational weapons to somebody like bin Laden — and this is a development the civilized world could not tolerate.

Q: What happened to the weapons?

A: The ones terrorists were given? We don't know. Saddam's weapons? Some were stored in Iraq in bunkers that we don't know where they are, along with a large portion of Saddam's own arsenal. We cannot find tanks and artillery and artillery shells and rocket launchers and rockets and a whole host of other items that we know existed. ... In the case of tanks and others, more than a division of Iraq's Republican Guards moved to Syria during the final phases of the war, just as Baghdad was falling.

Between this and that, we are still missing a lot of weapons. There are weapons of mass destruction buried in Iraq, and there are weapons that have been transferred to Syria. The book describes in great detail the units and facilities in Syria that are holding these weapons today. ...

Q: Why don't we hear about this?

A: That's a question that should be pointed to you guys — the reporters. I don't know. I cannot speak for the administration. I do not know why they are not publishing or trumpeting these issues. But some of this material was reported in regional media, in the Arab media. A Syrian opposition journalist was one of the first to raise publicly the issue of Syria taking hold of Iraq's WMD. And it's been ignored by the Western media.

Q: How do you define success in Iraq now?

A: Oooff! Mission impossible.

Q: So what do we do?

A: The key to pacifying the country eventually is allowing the people to live as they want to, which is fracturing the country. And as we fracture the country, we'll be fracturing the other artificial countries created at the end of the First World War, which means Syria and Lebanon and Jordan and in all likelihood Saudi Arabia as well.

So the question is, do we want to deal with that traumatic change in the Middle East? It will make the local people very happy. If we facilitate it, they may even be somewhat grateful to us for facilitating it. But we've got used to dealing with countries. Countries, nation states, have seats at the U.N., and that's the way we do all of our international relations and contacts.

So I don't see us embarking on as drastic an undertaking as this one (in Iraq), and anything in between would be like putting a Band-Aid on cancer. So we put on another Band-Aid, another Band-Aid, and the cancer will continue to spread.

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JWR contributor Bill Steigerwald is an associate editor and columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Bill Steigerwald