December 14, 2003

Capturing Saddam Hussein: Implications for Geopolitical Scenarios, Debt Restructuring, Competing for Iraqi Reconstruction Business & the American Race for President


With the capture of Saddam Hussein at 8:26 p.m. Baghdad time on Saturday night, in an operation code-named Red Dawn, the dynamics of every question surrounding Iraq was suddenly altered, and the ex-post-facto analysis is a fascinating resurfacing of the field for a number of competitive battles from a business perspective, as well as highlighting a major intelligence success just when it was needed the most.

A member of Saddam Hussein’s Tikriti clan, captured in a raid on a Baghdad safehouse on Friday as U.S. intelligence began targeting mid-level family members and other allies, told interrogators he could be hiding at one of two farms near the town of Ad Dwar, just ten miles from Tikrit and even nearer to Hussein's birthplace, Uja. Curiosly, U.S. troops had searched that same area only two weeks ago. Soldiers first thought they might’ve missed Saddam again, but when they saw two men running away, the C.O. conducted a more thorough search. Hussein was found six feet below a concealed Styrofoam hatch over a ventilated crawlspace.

What will Iraq look like, geopolitically, now that the spectre of a return-to-power by the Iraqi tyrant has been lifted? Since Iraq is a post-WWI artifice constructed from Britain's imperial pull-out in the 1930's, Saddam Hussein fulfilled the role of dictator in a state so culturally schizophrenic because of Kurdish, Sunni and Shia nationalities that perhaps only a dictator could hold it together. The geopolitical question now is whether Iraq will follow the Yugoslavian Model (decades of civil war as the artifical state eventually fails and fractures anyhow) or the Spanish Model (using inherent strengths, such as Spain's unifying religion, to strengthen the political ties that bind them)?

Gen. Raymond Odierno, commander of the Fourth Infantry Division that caught Hussein thanks to "actionable intelligence" created by joint CIA-Special Operations "Task Force 121" described their approach: "We tried to work through family and tribal ties that might have been close to Saddam Hussein," Odierno said, as quoted in the WP. "As we continued to conduct raids and capture people, we got more and more information on the families that were somewhat close to Saddam Hussein. … And finally we got the ultimate information from one of these individuals."

The Bush administration wanted to confirm Saddam Hussein's identity before leaking rumors could steal their thunder or a case of mistaken identity made them look foolish – the former happened after the deaths of his two sons, Uday and Qusay. Hussein’s scruffiness helped from a psy-ops perspective. "Our planning was good," the director of strategic communications for the Coalition Provisional Authority told the New York Times. "But Saddam helped it immeasurably in the long run. He contributed in ways we never dreamed possible - he allowed himself to get into such a disheveled state and to look so haggard."

Meanwhile, the U.S. Army is already making hay of the juicy tidbits of intel found in Saddam's briefcase:

    Saddam Hussein's capture is already reaping dividends for the U.S. military, providing intelligence that allowed U.S. soldiers to capture several top regime figures and uncover rebel cells in the capital, a U.S. general said Monday.

    The U.S. military hopes Saddam will clear up allegations that he had chemical and biological weapons and a nuclear weapons program, said U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Mark Hertling of the 1st Armored Division. "I certainly think some of that will come out," Hertling said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I think we'll get some significant intelligence over the next couple of days."

    Since Saddam's capture on Saturday, U.S. Army teams from the 1st Armored Division have captured one high-ranking former regime figure - who has yet to be named - and that prisoner has given up a few others, Hertling said. All the men are currently being interrogated and more raids are expected, Hertling said.

    The intelligence that led the military to the men came from the first transcript of Saddam's initial interrogation, and a briefcase of documents Saddam carried with him at the time of his arrest, Hertling said. "We've already gleaned intelligence value from his capture," Hertling said. "We've already been able to capture a couple of key individuals here in Baghdad. We've completely confirmed one of the cells. It's putting the pieces together and it's connecting the dots. It has already helped us significantly in Baghdad." The intelligence has also given the U.S. military a far clearer picture of the guerrillas' command and control network in the city, and has confirmed the existence of rebel cells whose existence was previously only suspected, Hertling said.

    From the initial batch of successes, Hertling said it was apparent that Saddam still played some role in leading the anti-U.S. insurgency. "I'm sure he was giving some guidance to some key figures in this insurgency," Hertling said. Hertling said the 1st Armored Division had also received intelligence from other sources on attacks Monday in Baghdad. The division received tips earlier in December that a spate of car bombings would start in mid-December. "We have some intelligence that things are going to happen," Hertling said.

    Hertling said he hopes Saddam will divulge secrets on everything from mass grave sites to the whereabouts of missing regime figures and "past sins of the regime we may not even know about." "We certainly can gather intelligence he has on the organization of the insurgency, who their leaders are, how the cells are performing, how they're being commanded and controlled, who's funding them and what their connections are to crime," Hertling said.

And, the American intelligence community has been vidicated after a long couple of years of less-than-stellar performance:

    For American intelligence agencies, the capture of Saddam Hussein is a much needed vindication after many months of failures and frustrations, Bush administration officials and members of Congress said Sunday.

    The agencies' standing was brought to a low ebb by a long line of setbacks, including the failure to anticipate the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001; the unsuccessful search for unconventional weapons in Iraq; and the inability to find Mr. Hussein or Osama bin Laden. But that string has ended in the dirt hole where Mr. Hussein was finally found, not far from his birthplace.

    Although it was American soldiers who unearthed Mr. Hussein, it was the intelligence community, including the Central Intelligence Agency and its military counterparts, that set them on the right path, beginning with a new analytical effort begun in late November to draw up a list of just who might be hiding him.

    As American generals, diplomats and President Bush himself announced the capture in Washington and in Baghdad on Sunday, intelligence officials, including George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence, were nowhere to be seen. But Mr. Bush himself used his televised address in part to praise what he called "the superb work of intelligence analysts who found the dictator's footprints in a vast country."

    Behind the scenes, the C.I.A. and its counterparts have scored some important victories, including work that has led to the killing and capture of high-ranking members of Al Qaeda. But since the Sept. 11 attacks, the intelligence agencies' public record has been checkered at best, beginning with what a Congressional review called a failure to connect the dots in analyzing intelligence that could have provided warnings of the hijackers' intentions. Mr. bin Laden, the Qaeda leader, has succeeded for more than two years in eluding a hunt by the military and intelligence agencies.

    The intelligence agencies are now widely seen as having overestimated the threat posed by Mr. Hussein's government before the war, in particular saying that it had stockpiled prohibited weapons, which so far have not been found. During the war itself, two failed attempts to decapitate Iraq's Baathist leadership with airstrikes aimed at Mr. Hussein on March 19 and April 7 underscored the limitations of information provided by the agencies.

    Against that backdrop, senior members of Congress who have been critical of the C.I.A. in recent weeks went out of their way on Sunday to give the intelligence agencies what they called their due.

    "Saddam's capture is a direct result of unprecedented cooperation and joint effort on the part of our intelligence analysts, operators in the field and our military," said Senator Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. He said they "deserve a great deal of credit and our gratitude."

    Senator John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, described the capture as both "a remarkable achievement" and "a classic intelligence operation of persistence and analysis."

    C.I.A. officers have played a major part in the supersecret military Special Operations teams, including Task Force 121, that were given the leading role in tracking down Iraqi leaders. In recent weeks, the information gathered by the C.I.A., the Defense Intelligence Agency and the intelligence arms of the military services has been closely shared among the agencies through a new cooperative arrangement in Baghdad.

    It was human intelligence, rather than the kinds of information gathered by spy satellites or eavesdropping, that led the United States to Mr. Hussein, the senior American officials said.

    Human intelligence was always the weakest link for the United States in Iraq, American officials say, and that capability deteriorated during the 1990's as a result of deep budget cuts. Before the United States invaded Iraq last March, the agencies drew up lists of the Iraqi officials whom they most hoped to capture. But it was apparently not until last November, after months of work in developing new intelligence about Iraq, that a new list pointed the American search effort in the direction that finally proved fruitful.

    "I suspect that it will be some time before a settled peace resides in Iraq," said Representative Porter J. Goss, a Florida Republican and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. "Nevertheless," he said of the insurgents, many of them loyal to Mr. Hussein, who have been attacking Americans, "this is the beginning of their end."

Saddam’s capture comes even as President Bush was defending a policy stance last week to prohibit prime contracts – or even competition for them – in the lucrative post-war Iraqi reconstruction from going to countries that opposed the Iraqi war.

Indeed, this policy recently drew the ire of Germany, France and Russia, as James Baker, the supremely qualified deal-making friend of the Bush family, takes to the road to restructure Iraq’s international debt (Baker’s potential conflicts of interest in this new role were explained in a NYT editorial last week).

I believe the reconstruction lockout and the debt question is intimately linked – it’s a bargaining chip, rather than an irony. Baker can use it to negotiate debt restructuring in return for allowing German, French and Russian firms access to competition for reconstruction contracts.

The New York Times also has a really interesting account of a meeting Sunday afternoon between Saddam Hussein, L. Paul Bremer III, the American civilian administrator of Iraq; and Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top military commander in Iraq, along with four Iraqi leaders: Mowaffak al-Rubaie, a Governing Council member ; Ahmad Chalabi, a council member and head of the Iraqi National Congress; Adnan Pachachi, a council member who was the foreign minister before Hussein came to power; and Adel Abdel Mahdi, who represents the Shiite religious body, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

Finally, Saddam's capture also opened an opportunity for other Democratic candidates for President to slam Howard Dean, who has based much of his campaign on opposition to the war in Iraq. "The fact is that if Howard Dean had his way, Saddam Hussein would still be in power today, not in prison," said Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, a leading Democratic backer of the war.

This was the second big event in a week that shook up the Democratic race. Just Tuesday, former Vice President Al Gore endorsed Dean, citing his opposition to the Iraq war. Missouri Rep Dick Gephardt said in a statement, "I supported this effort in Iraq without regard for the political consequences because it was the right thing to do... I still feel that way now and today is a major step toward stabilizing Iraq and building a new democracy." But, retired General Wesley Clark still thinks going to war in Iraq was unnecessary. "It seems to me that all of the concerns that I have voiced about Iraq remain I stand by every concern," Clark said in a conference call from The Hague, where he was testifying in the U.N war crimes trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Democrats have been slamming Bush for failing to capture Saddam and Osama bin Laden, in spite of months of manhunting. Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich and activist Al Sharpton said the United States must now focus on getting our troops home and out of Iraq.

The LA Times had a nice analysis of how the Democratic pack will try to use Hussein's capture against front-runner Howard Dean longer-term. Having Hussein in custody could cause problems for the Democrats if their presidential nominee is, like current front-runner Howard Dean, defined by opposition to the war. This all follows a steady upswing in economic indicators, with the stock market and overall growth increasing substantially this fall, strengthening President Bush considerably. Greater stability in Iraq and a recovering economy would provide for a peace and prosperity environment that will make him very tough to beat. Here's an excerpt:

    But its reverberations could be felt immediately in the Democratic race for the nomination, where Dean has surged ahead over the last six months in part by stressing his opposition to the war in Iraq.

    Since Bush declared the end of major combat operations in Iraq in May, the Democratic race has been heavily influenced by a complex dynamic: Any reversal in Iraq that strengthens the Democrats against Bush also has strengthened Dean, the most vocally antiwar of the major candidates, against the rest of the field.

    The question now may be whether the reverse is true — whether good news in Iraq will be bad news for Dean. The candidates chasing him quickly made clear that they hoped so.

    Kerry, who only days ago was stressing the similarity between Dean's views and his own in the period before the war, insisted Sunday that the capture raised questions about Dean's foreign policy judgment. Kerry suggested that Hussein's capture validated his 2002 vote for the congressional resolution authorizing the war.

    "This is a time that underscores that, if we are going to beat George Bush, we need somebody who has experience and who got this policy right," Kerry told reporters in Davenport, Iowa.

    Without criticizing Dean by name, aides to Clark also insisted that Hussein's capture showed the need for a candidate with credentials to compete with Bush on foreign policy.

    "Today's development reinforces that the major issue in the 2004 election is going to be national security," said Chris Lehane, a senior Clark strategist. "The Democrats need a candidate who can meet the commander-in-chief test in next year's election."

    Lieberman took the hardest line, denouncing Dean, praising the capture in unqualified terms — "Hallelujah, praise the Lord," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press" — and calling for Hussein to be tried before a body that could sentence him to death.

    On his campaign plane during a flight from Palm Beach to San Francisco on Sunday afternoon, Dean declined to respond to the comments made by his rivals. "Today is not a day for politics," Dean said. "Today is a day for celebration."

It should be telling to see where this takes us in the months ahead. For the Iraqi people, it really is a day to celebrate. The spectre of Saddam has been lifted and, psychologically at least, the country can begin to heal from a generation of murder, theft and lies at the hands of a tyrant.

- Arik

Posted by Arik Johnson at December 14, 2003 03:39 PM | TrackBack