- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 23, 2004

The “new” national intelligence estimate touted last week by the New York Times is drastically out of date.

According to the Times, the report from the National Intelligence Council “outlines three possibilities for Iraq throgh the end of 2005, with the worst case being developments that could lead to civil war.”

Wake up the Beltway bureaucrats: The Iraqi civil war started in summer 2003, when some hard-core Ba’ath (and Sunni-dominated) holdouts decided their personal survival — and possible track back to power in Bagdad — was relentlessly savage violence.

Savage violence is the daily routine of the criminal gangs who run dictatorships large and small, so virtualy everyone expected some post-Saddam thug resistance. However, no one knew the Ba’ath hard core had so much money.

The biggest mistake of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, however, was underestimating the power of criminal arrogance. That’s a mistake we Americans make repeatedly — whether the thug is Adolf Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Saddam, Osama bin Laden or one of our own mob chieftains like John Gotti.

First the money: Saddam stole billions. How much of the trove remains? I don’t think the answer is known by the Swiss, Persian Gulf and Asian bankers who helped him stash it. Recall the crisp $600 million U.S. soldiers found in a building in Baghdad. No doubt stockpiles of Ba’athist cash remain hidden in Iraq and elsewhere in the region.

The Baghdad rumor mill says Ba’ath warlords pay bombers anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 per attack, so even $1 million can buy a lot of bang. It also buys TV time. The thousands of trucks that deliver goods in Iraq don’t make CNN. The one the mercenary bomber blows to bits does. It’s a strategic weakness every PR operative knows: TV demands drama. TV magnifies the thug’s bomb.

And it also feeds the arrogance of criminal elites who never believe they’ll be held accountable for their crimes. Here’s an example: In late August, Iraqi cops and Coalition forces cornered one Ahmad T. Tahir (also known as Mohammad Bogy) at the wake of a man Tahir murdered. Tahir formerly worked for Saddam’s regime (possibly as an “enforcer”).

When the police arrived, Tahir tried to flee into his victim’s house and even tried to hide behind his victim’s daughters and wife. But the women began slapping Tahir and shoved him toward the security troops, who then arrested him. The women told the police “he [Tahir] didn’t think we could do anything to him, and that’s why he was here.” In street slang, Mohammad Bogy was strutting his stuff because he believed the fear he instilled put him beyond any law.

Thug arrogance is an all-too common feature of the world’s hard corners, where the criminals have dominated for so long they are certain their iron wills and unmitigated violence will eventually cow all opponents. Scholarly strategists describe war as a clash of wills. The world’s Mohammad Bogys have a lot of willpower — and all too often it only breaks when Free World troops jam a rifle barrel into their cold, amazed eyes.

“The Shi’ites are sheep,” is an Iraqi Sunni refrain. “The [Ba’ath holdout] Sunnis say they’ve been in charge and they intend to stay in charge [in Iraq],” a U.S. analyst told me in July 2004. While the Sunni resistance isn’t tribal in any strict sense, “It’s like our tribe always beats your tribe. If they just continue to do what they’ve always done [i.e., murder wantonly], eventually they prevail. That’s what they think will win this [civil conflict] for them.”

However, every month that passes the new Iraqi central government gets stronger. Prime Minister Iyad Allawi (a Shi’ite) has proven he isn’t a sheep.

When does arrogance turn to desperation?

I don’t know — perhaps Mohammad Bogy could give us an opinion. I do know the Ba’ath Party thugs are trying to manipulate the U.S. political cycle. If they continue murdering, they believe America will wilt and leave the new Iraqi government in the lurch.

Austin Bay is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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