WP: Dana Priest on Iraq and Afghanistan

Just pulling out interesting tidbits:

Princeton, N.J.: A high probability scenario seems to be that our troops are withdrawn from Iraq within a year and the country falls into chaos—civil war, what have you. I think we should at least be thinking about this. Some questions:

  1. Will Turkey invade the North?

  2. Will Iran invade the South?

  3. What will happen to Baghdad?

Dana Priest: If the scenario plays out, then yes on one and two unless we can get some sort of deal going now–which is probably more likely in the north than with Iran. Since Turkey still wants to be considered a good actor in the European context. Iran is much more problematic. They may well believe a war is inevitable, but they will eventually win a section, so it will be worth it. Baghdad, under that scenario, would eventually go to the Iranian/Shiites too unless we see the Sunni neighboring states jumping in and then, who knows. But it’s the worst case scenario and right now it does not seem out of the question, unfortunately.

Baltimore, Md.: From your reporting, do you get a sense whether anyone of authority in the administration really knew the history of Iraq? That it was an artificial state created from the leavings of the Ottoman Empire, much as Yugoslavia was created after the Austro-Hungarian empire fell apart. Both “countries” were only held together by ironwilled dictators, although Tito was a hell of a lot more benign than Saddam. I really get the sense that Rumsfeld, Rice, et al. slept through their modern history classes, if they took any.

Dana Priest: Basic facts and analysis, which was easy to come by and all around the Washington think-tanks, etc. before the war, appeared to have been totally ignored. It was stunning at the time, and remains so today.

Los Angeles, Calif.: CBS recently aired footage of a training camp somewhere in Pakistan or Afghanistan. They also aired footage of Taliban soldiers burning a new school down in Afghanistan.

What does all this mean? Are we even making a dent over there?

In Peter Bergen’s book Holy War, he states there were approximately 4,000 soldiers loyal to bin Laden before 9/11.

What is our intelligence community saying about that number now?

Thank you.

Dana Priest: It says things are on a downward spiral in parts of Afghanistan and certainly the border areas of Pakistan. Poppy crop production at record highs. Taliban and Al Qaeda finding new safe zones. Not good at all. For the 4,000 pre-9/11 I think you’de find a hundred-fold increase beginning somewhere in 2004, with the insurgency in Iraq. Check out the CIA’s website and its 2020 report. The agency’s view that Iraq is the new front on terror and source of recruiting is now common wisedom. They aren’t necessarily followers of bin Laden as much as followers of his ideology.

Bethesda, Md.: A new Zogby poll finds that 85% of our soldiers in Iraq believe they are there “to retaliate for Saddam’s role in the 9-11 attacks”. This is of course largely due to the conflation campaign Messers Bush and Cheney waged on America once they had decided to invade. How do journalists who resolutely stood silent as that was happening feel now about their tacit complicity? Is this what they mean by “support the troops”?

Dana Priest: I don’t know any journalists writing on national security who did this. But I do know lots of people who make that accusation and who, coincidentally, don’t seem to have read any of the dozens of stories printed at the time that pointed out there was not connection between Saddam Hussein and 9-11.



Denver, Colo.: Do you think The Washington Post story today about the underreporting of execution style deaths in Iraq since the Samarra bombing is an indication of an escalating civil war?

Dana Priest: Looks that way, yes.

Arlington, Va.: It could be debated the the intelligence community is fundamentally chained to the administrations policy goals and implementation. This was greatly exemplified by the Iraq war and the gross misuse of intelligence information. Do you think steps are being made to alleviate this dilemma or is the problem merely growing?

Dana Priest: Briefly, I think the problem is growing.

Fair Oaks, Va.: Where do you see the “incursion” of Special Forces into present/former CIA activities playing out in the “War on Terror”? Does CIA leadership have to “power” to force a pullback?

Dana Priest: Evergrowing, and by the time the CIA realizes what’s hit them, it will be two years too late. It’s already too late. I don’t think Goss makes much of these issues with Rumsfeld.