Surveying the Security Conditions for American Forces in Iraq

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Robert Malley of the International Crisis Group talks with Steve Inskeep about President Bush's characterization of the threat to American forces in Iraq. Malley and his colleagues recently published a review of propaganda by Iraq's insurgents.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Okay, let's examine one more statement the president made yesterday: it's his description of the enemy's motivations.

President BUSH: The enemy has said that it's just a matter of time before the United States loses its nerve and withdraws from Iraq. That's what they have said. And their objective for driving us out of Iraq is to have a place from which to launch their campaign to overthrow modern governments and, moderate governments in the Middle East as well as to continue attacking places like the United States.

INSKEEP: One person who's been listening to the enemy is Robert Malley. He's part of a team that studied Iraqi insurgent statements on the internet. He told us about the findings last month and he's joined us once again. Good morning Robert.

Mr. ROBERT MALLEY (Program Director, Middle East and North Africa, International Crisis Group): Good morning.

INSKEEP: Does the President have it about right when he describes the enemies--the insurgents' motivations?

Mr. MALLEY: Well, it's not clear which insurgents he's talking about. I mean, as we discussed last time, there's an assortment of divergent, disparate insurgents--insurgent groups--with different longer term goals. Some of them are nationalistic, others are jihadi. Others are simply based on resentment among Sunni Arabs and they've coalesced, for now, around one goal which is to get rid of U.S. troops, coalition troops, in Iraq. But to reduce it to one goal, which would be to launch attacks against the U.S. around the world, I think that's taking, perhaps, one strand of the insurgency--not necessarily the most significant one, although clearly one of the most lethal ones--and then ascribing that goal to the rest of them.

INSKEEP: Is it important to make that distinction between what different insurgent groups may really want?

Mr. MALLEY: Well, it certainly is important if, as the president himself says, he needs to listen and to understand the enemy. If you assume that that's one goal, then you clearly have one strategy and one tactic. If in fact you have some people who are motivated by more nationalistic goals, who want to get rid of the U.S., who are more motivated by sectarian goals in the Sunni/Shiite conflict, then clearly we would have to adapt our tactics to that enemy.

INSKEEP: So now Iraqi politicians, as we've seen in recent weeks, are having trouble agreeing on their vision of a future for the country--or even agreeing on a government. Are Iraqi insurgents divided in the same way arguing amongst themselves?

Mr. MALLEY: They're not arguing amongst themselves, at least not openly, at least in a way that they could argu--which is through the Internet or through their communications. They seem to have made at least a tactical decision that, for now, they're better off by focusing on their common goal--which is defeating the coalition forces; defeating those that have been put into power, as they see it, by coalition forces. I think the divisions will come up later, if and when they feel that they've prevailed, and then you'll see tensions between those whose goals are more strictly Iraqi and those whose goals are pan-Islamic.

INSKEEP: Is there an opportunity here for the United States?

Mr. MALLEY: Well, there may be although--and it clearly was in the earlier stages of the insurgency, before you saw this convergence between the more jihadi strand and the more nationalistic strand. Now that they've come together, now that they feel emboldened, now that they feel that victory is a shorter-term prospect, it may be harder to play on those divisions, unfortunately.

INSKEEP: Mr. Malley have you continued to monitor these websites since we spoke last month?

Mr. MALLEY: We've continued, immediately after the Samarra bombing, just to see precisely whether those divisions between the Zarqawi jihadi-types and the more nationalistic types would come up with some saying: how could we attack the holy Shiite shrine? There was nothing of the sort. In fact, immediately after the attack, all the groups came out, denounced the attack, said that it was the work of foreign agents--either Persians, or Americans, or others--and then they pivoted, and focused on what they claimed were the--and what we know were the attacks that were launched against Sunni Arabs--and they said this is a foretaste of the genocidal warfare that our enemies are trying to wage against us if we don't resist.

INSKEEP: Coordinated propaganda here.

Mr. MALLEY: Absolutely. This was a homogenous discourse that came out from all of the insurgent groups.

INSKEEP: Mr. Malley, thanks very much.

Mr. MALLEY: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Robert Malley is the Middle East and North Africa Program Director of the International Crisis Group.

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