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September 26, 2007

A Surge in Bribes


by Paul Sperry

President Bush failed to see the irony in using a financial metaphor to explain his new benchmark for withdrawing troops from Iraq. He says the more we succeed in places like Anbar province, the more troops we can bring home. He calls the policy "return on success."

Only, "success" in Anbar is really just a return on U.S. financial inducements to tribal sheiks. Instead of dropping bombs in Iraq, we're now dropping bundles of cash in the laps of insurgents who without the crude bribes would no doubt return to ambushing our troops.

If the surge has worked, it's due in large part to a surge in bribes, not troops. And that kind of success cannot last.

But no matter. U.S. Commanding Gen. David Petraeus is now applying the "successful" Anbar formula to other areas, including Shi'ite neighborhoods. "Anbar progress spreads to Diyala," blares a recent lead story in USA Today.

What's spreading, more accurately, is millions in dinars, and they're being used to buy the temporary loyalty of insurgents to give the appearance of "progress" in Iraq. Some 25 tribes in Diyala province now have men once branded "terrorists" on the U.S. payroll.

The neocons dismiss as apocryphal firsthand, on-the-ground reports of U.S. cash payments to tribal sheiks. They say Sunni sheiks switched sides because, as Bush clucked, "we're kicking ass." They also allegedly were "sick" of pushy al-Qaeda foreigners.

In fact, the reports of payments have been confirmed by Petraeus himself. He didn't acknowledge it in his own report to Congress. He let it slip out, ironically, in an "interview" with Fox News.

Only, Fox News anchor Brit Hume was too busy guiding Petraeus through his PowerPoint presentation of propaganda to notice. Let's go to the transcript:

PETRAEUS: The tribes and the sheiks decided to say no more to al-Qaeda. They were tired of the indiscriminate violence, tired of the Taliban-like ideology and other practices.

HUME: And they're Sunnis, right?

PETRAEUS: They are Sunni Arabs rising up against a largely Sunni Arab al-Qaeda Iraq. And, again, you can see just a plummeting [in violence]. From the height back in October, somewhere in there is where one of the key sheiks [now dead] stood up and said, "Would it be OK with you, would you support us, in fact, if we, instead of pointing our weapons at you, pointed them at al-Qaeda?" And we obviously supported that.

But then I will tell you: We have not armed tribes. Initially, the sheiks paid their men themselves. We eventually did help with that. But then we have tried to transition them to legitimate Iraqi security force institutions.

So, the general concedes that "we eventually did" bankroll the sheiks and their men, formerly known as "terrorists." A red-blooded journalist would have pounced on the news, but Hume didn't bother to follow up. Apparently he didn't want such messy details complicating the heroic Anbar success story he was helping sell.

Then in the same "exclusive" Fox interview, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, who had accompanied Petraeus, revealed that the client government we set up in Baghdad has been paying millions in "compensation" to the tribal sheiks in Anbar.

"In the case of Anbar, just a few days ago, when I was out there," said ambassador Ryan Crocker, "central government representatives brought out a package to Ramadi, the capital city, an additional $70 million for their capital budget, a 70 percent increase, and $50 million for compensation for damages suffered in the struggle against al-Qaeda."

So there you have it. This is how Anbar became safe for presidential photo-ops. Dinar by dinar, greenback by greenback, the Bush administration has quietly been expanding the green zone.

Again, Hume didn't seize on the news from Crocker and moved right on to Iran and Syria, the next areas of propaganda.

Bush followed Petraeus with a press conference, in which he repeatedly praised "the success in Anbar" and the "blow" it delivered to al-Qaeda, which he made sure to mention no less than 12 times.

The local sheiks "pledged they would never let al-Qaeda return," the president said, and "they can count on the continued to support of the United States."

What he didn't say is that they'd signed contracts to cooperate with our operations in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars each, paid in bricks of dinars worth $40,000 each, so that they can eventually finance their own personal armies.

He also neglected to mention suspicions shared among U.S. commanders in Anbar that those who vowed never to let al-Qaeda return were aiding and abetting "al-Qaeda" all along. This explains the sudden drop in attacks more than anything. No wonder they were so confident of their pledges.

"They used to want to kill me," said Army Capt. Henry Moltz, who has passed out bricks of cash to Sunni tribal leaders. "Now they want to sign a contract with me."

"It's hard to get your head around," he added, "but it is working."

Sure, as long as we keep stuffing their pockets. But what happens when the protection money dries up?

How long before these Sunni fighters, who formerly resisted the American "crusaders," turn on us as a fifth column in the Iraqi police and army, where they'll be read in on intelligence concerning troop movements and gain access to secure areas?

This is the devil in the details of the success story we're being sold about the surge. The assertion that al-Qaeda is the main source of violence, the principal enemy, in Iraq is more sleight of hand.

According to former Pentagon analyst Anthony Cordesman, so-called "al-Qaeda in Iraq" (as opposed to al-Qaeda central in Pakistan) was responsible for only 15 percent of this year's attacks there. He got the figure from a recent U.S. military background brief in Iraq. Even then, the military uses a loose definition.

But don't listen to me. Let Gen. Petraeus tell it in his own words. Here's another moment of unexpected candor from that Fox interview.

HUME: Is this, in an ultimate sense, turned out to be, more than anything else, a war with al-Qaeda?

PETRAEUS: Well, it is al-Qaeda and associated movements, I think, or affiliates, if you will.

In other words: No, Brit. The general went on to describe the larger battle with "insurgents" and "resistance fighters."

Where Petraeus was not candid was on the subject of Iranian interference in Iraq. Over and over, he suggested Tehran was fighting a proxy war in Iraq.

But if the general were really a straight shooter, as the Right claims (and not Bush's political poodle, as the Left charges), he also would have mentioned Saudi Arabia's support for the insurgency in Iraq. Every commander on the ground in Anbar province and other Sunni hotspots knows that most of the foreign fighters and suicide bombers attributed to al-Qaeda in Iraq are really young jihadists streaming across the border from Saudi Arabia. They also know that the bulk of money funding the insurgency is coming from the Kingdom, not Iran.

U.S. Central Command has just as much evidence, if not more, that our Saudi "allies" are fighting a proxy war in Iraq against us and the Shi'ites as it has on Iran.

Yet Petraeus failed to mention Saudis' role in either his interview with Fox or his report to Congress.

In fact, the U.S. military is currently in a bidding war over Sunni insurgents with the Saudis, who are raising millions at mosques and charities and sending it into Iraq by the bus and truck load. We're paying them to stop the jihad; the Saudis are paying them to wage it.

If there's any success in Iraq, we've bought it with good old-fashioned bribery. Add that to the $2 trillion tab annexing part of hell is expected to cost us in the final analysis.

Meanwhile, Osama bin Laden, the real and proven terrorist threat, sits and laughs unpunished six years after ordering the murder of thousands of Americans.

Where's the surge to get him? Red-blooded journalists and true patriots want to know. Partisans like Hume, not so much.

In the middle of Petraeus' dog-and-pony show in Washington, America's Enemy No. 1 reared his ugly head again after three years of silence, issuing an ominous threat.

"We take revenge on the people of tyranny and aggression, and the blood of the Muslims will not be spilled with impunity," bin Laden threatened. "And the morrow is nigh for he who awaits."

Sounds like a go-ahead signal to sleeper cells for the next "blessed" attack. Yet all Hume or anyone in Washington could talk about was the phony surge in the false front of Iraq.

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Sperry, formerly Washington bureau chief of Investors Business Daily, is a Hoover Institution media fellow and author of Crude Politics: How Bush's Oil Cronies Hijacked the War on Terrorism (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003).

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