Foreign policy expert and military historian Kim Kagan on the surge and Iranian meddling in Iraq.
HH: It’s now my pleasure to welcome for the first time to the Hugh Hewitt Show Dr. Kimberly Kagan. Dr. Kagan is a military historian, she has taught at the West Point, at Yale, Georgetown. She is currently with the Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard University. Dr. Kagan, welcome back, good to talk to you.
KK: Thank you so much.
HH: Dr. Kagan, you were recently in Iraq, were you not?
KK: Yes, I was. I was there at the last week of July and into the first week of August.
HH: Now I want to cover some specifics about that with you, but I also want to attach it to this amazing piece that you’ve got posted at the Weekly Standard called Iraq Report, Iran’s Proxy War Against the United States and the Iraqi Government. And I’ll begin by urging people to go there. I’ve linked it at Hughhewitt.com. How much about the Iranian interference in Iraq did you pick up during your time in Iraq this summer?
KK: I have actually gathered most of my information from publicly released press statements by Multi-National Forces, Iraq, and other elements of the command in Iraq. So there has been a large dossier of materials that the command has released over the past six months, and it informs us enormously about the extent of Iranian influence in Iraq, and what the Iranian government has been doing within the country.
HH: Now I asked General Simmons earlier today, and he confirmed that not only are the Iranians meddling in Iraq, but that they have surged their interference, even as we have surged our troops. Is that your…do you concur with that assessment?
KK: I do indeed. One of the pieces of evidence for this is that we have seen an uptick in the number of ESP’s, explosively formed penetrators since the beginning of this year, reaching an all-time high in July, 2007. In addition, we have also seen the increase in training and support by Iranian Quds force operatives of rogue Shia militia elements within Iraq, in order to fight Coalition forces.
HH: Now can you explain for people who really don’t understand the basics what the Quds force is, and their role in Iraq?
KK: The Quds force is the military wing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard corps, the elite military wing, and the purpose of the Quds force is to export the Islamic revolution from Iran to other countries. They are the elite force, they have in fact trained and armed and equipped Hezbollah in Lebanon, and now they are training, arming and equipping some of these Iraqi militias through Hezbollah operatives who have met with Quds force leaders in Tehran, and who have been assigned to monitor the various Shia militia groups who receive funding and weapons from the Iranian government.
HH: Now Dr. Kagan, in your report, again, it’s over at www.weeklystandard.com, the Iraq Report on the Iranian involvement, you note that both the Quds force and Hezbollah have got independent efforts going to assist Iraqi insurgents and the Shia radical movement to kill Americans. Do they operate jointly? Or are those two separate expressions of Shia fundamentalist radicalism?
KK: Well, the evidence that’s been put forth by Multi-National Forces, Iraq suggest that in fact, these are quite coordinated efforts between the Iraqi Shia militias, the Hezbollah elements in Lebanon, and then finally the Iranian Quds force. We, the Coalition, arrested Ali Mussa Dakdouk in March of 2007. He was a senior Lebanese Hezbollah operative who was working for the Quds force, and who in fact was training, arming and advising the Iraqi militias at the request of the Quds force.
HH: Now you mentioned in the timeline you provide in your article today, Dakdouk was arrested on March the 20th. Are we holding him in Iraq?
KK: I do not know where we are holding him, although Multi-National Forces, Iraq continues to mention the results of interviews with him, and with the two other operatives with whom he was found in Basra, namely Qais al-Kazaali and Ali al-Kazaali, who are Iraqis. The former is actually the head of the secret cell network of Iranian-supported Iraqi militias. And he therefore runs and coordinates a variety of cells that have seen to the increase in violent attacks on Iraqi government and Coalition forces over the past few years. And he responds also to the Quds force.
HH: Now earlier today, I was watching CNN’s Michael Ware, and you quote approvingly of some of Michael Ware’s work before in the report you put out today, arguing that everyone is connected to a militia in Iraq, and that the Shia militias are just waiting and maneuvering around, and that the United States is hated by them all. Is that your assessment of Shia opinion generally about the American and the Coalition forces?
KK: I’m very impressed by the range of opinion that I’ve seen in Iraq, and one of the most heartening experiences I had in Iraq was spending time with the 8th Iraqi Army Division, commanded by General Othman who…which is based in Diwaniyah, one of the important Shia southern cities. And what was so impressive about the 8th Iraqi Army Division is that it was fighting Shia militias, regardless of what Shia militia group they were throughout the central-south area of Iraq. And so indeed, I think although there is widespread support for some militia groups within Iraq, there is also an important segment of Iraqis who reject militia influence, and who would prefer to see the government of Iraq actually govern Iraq. In addition, I think we have further evidence that some of these militias are working very hard to intimidate Baghdadis and other Iraqis into participating in militia groups, and they have done this by going into neighborhoods in a variety of cities as armed gunmen, and enforcing their vision of what governments should look like, in a gang-like fashion, in a variety of areas. Needless to say, not all Iraqis approve of this, but they are often compelled to participate in the militia groups’ agenda.
HH: I want to test a couple of theories off against both your researches and your experience when you were visiting Iraq, Dr. Kagan. I had Thomas P.M. Barnett on yesterday, and Dr. Barnett, of course, the author of The Pentagon’s New Map, is of a couple of opinions, one of which is that look, we’re in the middle of a conflict between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran, and they’re going to have to go at it with each other, and there’s an inevitable clash here that’s going to cost hundreds of thousands of casualties, minimum, and it’s just got to happen, maybe we’d be best to get out of the way. Your assessment of that?
KK: First of all, as a military historian, I would have to say that there’s no such thing as inevitability within a conflict. One of the things we learn about war is how much chance and decision making plays in the outcome of any particular diplomatic or military negotiation. That said, the point is that within Iraq, I think that we have a much more complicated situation, and the one thing I’m sure of is that U.S. forces were to withdraw prematurely, then we would see a rise in sectarian conflict, and a rise in regional intervention within the state of Iraq. And so I think actually that U.S. forces, working with the government of Iraq, are preventing rather than promoting conflict between Iraq and its neighbors.
HH: Now let me ask you about Dr. Barnett’s second proposition, which is that George Bush has failed to do that which could have been done to bring Iran into serious peace negotiations. When I finished reading your piece today at the Weekly Standard, I concluded, as I had previous, there’s just no evidence that they want to genuinely negotiate with us. Am I wrong?
KK: You are correct. The U.S. embassy within Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, have conducted diplomatic talks with the Iranians, both at the end of May, and also at the end of July. And although it is certainly worthwhile to engage in certain kinds of discussions to find out what Iranian aims are, it seems as though the Iranians have not actually admitted that they are supporting violent activities and militia groups within Iraq, despite the evidence that Ryan Crocker and others have presented to them. And so that really indicates that they do not seem to be willing to negotiate on this point, but rather are looking toward the diplomatic talks as some way of circumventing having a real discussion.
HH: And a last question with about 45 seconds left, Dr. Kagan, and thank you for joining us, come back again, do you think the surge is working?
KK: I think it is undoubtedly establishing security for the people of Iraq. We’ve seen that from Anbar Province into Baghdad, up into Diyala Province, and that was the first goal of the surge of forces. It has made possible the turning of different local groups away from al Qaeda and toward the government of Iraq. And they are now working to secure local spaces with Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces. It’s been a dramatic change.
HH: Thanks for that assessment, Dr. Kagan, as well for Iraq Report at www.weeklystandard.com.
End of interview.