Mother Jones: If and when a decision is made to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq, what is a realistic time frame for doing so?
Colonel Douglas Macgregor: That depends very heavily on a number of different factors. The generals who seem to be dragging their feet will argue 18 months to two years. Frankly, I think that if you made the decision to completely withdraw and you made some prudent choices with regard to the equipment you’re retaining and shipping back, you certainly could be completely out within 12 months at the most. What I am worried about is that we will not make the decision to leave. We will postpone the inevitable requirement to get out to the point where we are swimming in a sea of constant hostility, and then we will make a lot of bad decisions.
MJ: And which factor is the most important when we think about withdrawing? Is it the moving of equipment or the withdrawal of troops?
DM: The number one priority has to be the protection of the force as it leaves, because it will undoubtedly be under attack. A pullout would consist of collapsing from the outside fringes of the country into Baghdad and then moving south to Kuwait. Just to secure a route that has that much traffic on it is going to be challenging.
MJ: If we were to move everything out, would it all have to go through Baghdad?
DM: Well, certainly an awful lot of it would. I’d be very surprised if 70 or 80 percent of the troops themselves and much of their equipment does not ultimately pass through Baghdad. And then you would secure one or two routes, probably routes that parallel each other so you can probably regard them as virtually one, that reaches a lifeline from Baghdad down into Kuwait and Kuwait city. Again, you would have to use the roads, you would have to have a very strong rear guard of American combat troops, primarily tanks and Bradleys, armored forces, along with a great deal of air power, to provide for protection as you fell back from Kuwait and moved south to the Euphrates River. Obviously once you’re south of the Euphrates River you’re effectively secure because the distance between the Euphrates itself and Kuwait is open. There’s simply nothing there. It’s just empty desert.
MJ: I see. And that movement, going past the Euphrates River, what is the time frame for that? Are we talking about just a continuous flow of items and troops throughout that time span that you said, 12 months?
DM: A lot of your supply troops, your logisticians and so forth, would have to go first. You would end up essentially removing yourselves from many of these large fortress bases that we’ve constructed. And your last elements to pull out would be combat troops. So you’d move the supply units, logistics out first. This would include a lot of trucks carrying vast quantities of ammunition, supplies, repair parts and so forth. They would be your lead elements out of the country, followed by the heavy combat units, the armored units. Then it would all be lined up and wait removal on a ship, and so conceivably, moving the troops and equipment and people and supplies out of Iraq and getting them south of the Euphrates river is something I think you can accomplish far faster than most people think. That can be done certainly under twelve months. That can even be done in six to eight months, but then you have this enormous buildup of equipment and supplies in Kuwait, and that has to be loaded on board a ship. That could take another year, to move that matériel on board a ship, and then back to the United States.
MJ: What are some logistical considerations that go into moving a brigade out of Iraq?
DM: Well, defining a brigade these days is difficult because they’re all much larger than they were originally intended to be—they’re all significantly augmented, and brigades vary in composition depending upon what kind of brigade it is, whether it’s armored, motorized infantry, Strykers, or a National Guard formation augmenting an existing brigade. But let’s just say for discussion purposes the tonnage is 200,000. And then you just simply do the math and figure out, what are your equivalents over there? And if you say you’ve got 5 or 6 equivalents at 200,000 tons, then you know what kind of lift that you’re going to need. That involves heavy equipment transport, wheeled transports, the giant tractor-trailers. You have to load those up. You’ll probably need a lot of commercial trucking. And again, in order to get those out, you’ve got to secure those routes. And right now, the Air Force is trying to fly in large quantities of water as well as soldiers and repair parts into the fortresses because they can’t land outside of the large fortresses and bases anymore without being attacked. That’s how hostile the country has become.
MJ: And in terms of equipment, what stays and what goes?
DM: Certainly some equipment will be turned over to the so-called Iraqi Army. Then you’ve got equipment that may be simply so worn out and damaged that it doesn’t merit removal and repatriation to the United States. Some of that will have to be destroyed on-site. And some of it, I suspect, will just be left sitting somewhere. Obviously you’re not going to leave your tank rounds there; you’re not going to leave sophisticated artillery rounds. You’re not going to leave missiles. In other words you’re not going to leave things that your former friends in the Iraqi Army are going to have access to. You may have some very damaged equipment that is beyond repair, in which case you can pull parts and pieces off of it and ship those and simply destroy the rest or leave it. But those are decisions that have to be made on-site by the chain of command to determine how much of this do we ship back and how much do we simply write off. In other words, we are already in trouble but in another year it could be a great deal worse. Somebody said to me, the argument is that casualties were down in July, because instead of losing 110, we lost 84, not casualties, but killed in action. I pointed out that in July of 2006 we lost 43 killed; in July of 2007 we lost 84 killed. The only thing we can say for any certainty is that in each passing year we have sustained more and more casualties, because conditions in the country have worsened. We have to assume that next year will be far more hostile, far more dangerous, and far more problematic than this year.
MJ: To whom are we going to hand over the keys for key infrastructure such as power plants, dams, etc., along with the other reconstruction projects?
DM: Well frankly, right now, you can turn it over to people who at least in theory represent this—what I would consider to be phony—government in the Green Zone. But you have to accept the fact that it doesn’t make any difference what you do as you pull out. Whomever you hand the keys to is not likely to be there for more than 24 or 28 hours after you are gone. You just have to accept that fact, and that’s the nature of the place. This is what we have never been willing to accept—all of the underlying assumptions about exporting democracy at gunpoint was all wrong, because they assumed that you could walk in and change their culture and their society within the space of a few years with enough money and military power. That was never true; it’s impossible. And in fact, one could make a damn good argument that Alexander the Great didn’t have much impact on this wonderful place—and he certainly was more attractive and influential than we are.
MJ: What about the prisoners in U.S.-controlled jails? What are we likely to do with them?
DM: We will probably transfer them over to the so-called Iraqi administration and military. I’m sure if we tried to release large numbers of them, particularly since none of them are Sunni, the current Iraqi government would object. The Iraqi government right now, as I said before, is a Shiite front that is backed by Iran and is very unhappy with what has happened in Anbar Province. They were quite delighted as long as we were killing large numbers of Sunni Muslim Arabs, making their job easier once we leave. Secondly, I think the Shiite militia that are associated with Muqtada al-Sadr will probably be treated no more humanely by the Iranian-backed Shiite government than the [unintelligible] were, since Muqtada al-Sadr is unlikely to play ball with Tehran in the way that Tehran would like. So the bottom line is, these people are somebody, and the question is, how long do they stand in custody? And by the way, to be perfectly frank, the thousands upon thousands of people we have incarcerated in most cases didn’t deserve to be incarcerated anyway. That doesn’t even begin to address the problem of how many people we’ve killed, wounded, or incarcerated unjustly over the last several years. I suspect that information will come out once we’re out.
MJ: I understand that contractors guided the logistical setup of the U.S. operation. How involved will they be in breaking things down?
DM: Well, they’ll be involved in a lot of things if they think they can make money from it. The contractors have lined their pockets and filled their bank accounts with billions of dollars. Most of them are friends of the administration, friends of Bush, campaign contributors and so forth. I suspect they will stay with you as long as they are paid. The contractors have created a lot of difficulty for our troops over there, as you know, both in the way they have treated the Arabs and in the way they have been dishonest and claim to have done things that they never did and took the money for it.
MJ: And is their presence in Iraq likely to decrease post-withdrawal?
DM: Oh it’ll go away. One of the things that you will witness once we are out is that the people and nations that did not participate in the occupation will be invited in to help. In other words, once the situation improves inside Iraq, and it will, what will happen is that you will have regional leaders that establish within the framework of their respective territory some measure of security. And then they will cut deals and make arrangements directly with people from countries that didn’t participate in the occupation. So I would expect the French, Russians, the Japanese, probably some Germans, maybe some Scandinavian firms, firms like Siemens that can come in and rapidly restore the communications infrastructure. It won’t happen instantly, but it will happen. And they will then also be rewarded with, I suspect, lucrative oil exploration and drilling projects down the line as well.
MJ: And in the event of a U.S. withdrawal, what becomes of the Iraqis who have been working with U.S. forces, such as translators, embassy employees, etc.?
DM: Most of the translators are double agents. I suspect that some of these double agents will be fine, but the rest who have profited from our position inside the country are dead. And the Arabs won’t waste time on reeducation camps like the North Vietnamese did. They are going to kill them. And their families.
MJ: The schism that we see between the Sunnis and the Shiites—is that more of a political language dressed up in religion, or is the basis of that friction the fact that they are two different sects?
DM: The Sunnis and the Shiites are definitely going to struggle for a whole range of issues. Religion and culture are part of it, and political power is another feature of it. But no arrangements will be reached as long as there’s an American military presence inside of Iraq. It’s absolutely impossible. You need to understand that it won’t make a difference how long we stay in that country. The Sunni and the Shiite are going to fight it out. My point is the sooner you leave, the sooner that fight will be resolved. The sooner you can get out, the quicker you resolve that conflict inside the country. They will probably maintain the semblance of some sort of framework, but you will effectively have a Shiite Arab state in the south and the center, and then there might be some sort of Sunni lump and then of course you have the Kurds awaiting the arrival of 120,000 Turkish troops, so you are going to have 12 ranks of chaos, violence, and civil war. Whether or not you have any winner is open for debate. What we are going to see happen is that certainly southern and part of central Iraq will become the first Shiite Arab state since the Middle Ages. And then the Sunnis who live in the west will be strongly supported by their brethren in Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the Emirates. I don’t buy the notion that Iraq will become Lebanon for 10 years. I simply don’t buy that. Remember, there are still millions of Arabs in Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, who want to go home. They haven’t been back. Once we are out, they will return. And when they return, the situation is going to change. For the most part, Arabs aren’t interested in fighting at all. So I think if we get out of the way and stop trying to micromanage the situation, the thing will sort itself out. My point is that the longer you wait to make that decision, the tougher the mission of getting out becomes. It doesn’t get easier; it gets tougher.