No one could have predicted it

Iraq totters on the brink of civil war. Who knew?

By Tim Grieve
March 2, 2006 2:11AM (UTC)
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When terrorists hijacked airplanes and crashed airplanes into buildings, Condoleezza Rice said that no one could have predicted it. When levees broke and floodwaters poured into New Orleans, George W. Bush said no one could have anticipated it.

The Bush administration was wrong both times, of course. Long before 9/11, the Federal Aviation Administration was warning that terrorists might try to hijack planes and crash them into buildings. And long before Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana officials were warning that New Orleans wouldn't stand a chance if a massive hurricane ever hit.


The "who knew?" defense seems to be a favorite of this White House. So while we're not so big on preemptive strikes, maybe it makes sense to make one here. Before conditions get any worse in Iraq -- at least 30 more people were killed in sectarian fighting today -- let's get one thing straight: Someone could have predicted this, and somebody did.

As former senior intelligence officials tell Knight Ridder, U.S. intelligence agencies "repeatedly warned the White House beginning more than two years ago that the insurgency in Iraq had deep local roots, was likely to worsen and could lead to civil war." What became of those warnings? Nothing, apparently. Robert Hutchings, who chaired the National Intelligence Council from 2003 to 2005, says that Bush and his top aides ignored a "steady stream" of warnings about civil war in Iraq. "Frankly, senior officials simply weren't ready to pay attention to analysis that didn't conform to their own optimistic scenarios," Hutchings says.

Hutchings isn't the only critical voice in the Knight Ridder report, and Knight Ridder isn't the only one unearthing damaging new revelations on the path to what may yet turn out to be all-out civil war. Earlier this week, the Associated Press brought news of a report from the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction -- a report that blames the lack of progress in Iraq on a lack of prewar planning in the Washington. "Pre-war reconstruction planning assumed that Iraq's bureaucracy would go back to work when the fighting stopped," the report says. When that didn't happen -- when Iraqis didn't get right back to work after all those "greeted as liberators" parades -- the Coalition Provisional Authority didn't have the manpower on hand to do what needed to be done. As the Washington Times puts it, whatever plans the Bush administration had simply "crumbled" when coalition forces encountered "an unexpected foreign and domestic insurgency that looted the country, sabotaged electric and water service, and killed hundreds of Americans and Iraqis."


Only the insurgency wasn't exactly "unexpected," either, at least not to anyone who was paying attention. As former CIA official Paul Pillar said last month, the "judgment of the intelligence community" before the war began was that there wouldn't be an insurgency, but only if the United States succeeded in quickly "restoring and establishing" safety, security and a growing economy for the Iraqi people. "Of course," Pillar said, "we did not succeed in doing that."

All of which takes us back to the doorstep of civil war and the predicament the United States finds itself in now. Although the president said Wednesday that he expects Iraqis, not U.S. troops, to take the lead role in stopping sectarian violence, Reuters says Pentagon planners -- and you can insert the inevitable "oxymoron" joke here -- are now scrambling to reconsider the notion of a troop drawdown this spring. Meanwhile, there's the separate but related issue of the insurgency. It doesn't seem to be in its "last throes," as Dick Cheney famously claimed nine months ago; the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency told Congress this week that the insurgency in Iraq "remains strong and resilient," and that "localized" tension between homegrown insurgents and foreign fighters hasn't disrupted its "overall strength."

Who would have predicted it?

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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Dick Cheney George W. Bush Iraq Iraq War Middle East War Room