James Dunnigan, military strategist

James Dunnigan talks infrastructure

James Dunnigan: You’ll note that you never see any pictures of exploding gasoline tankers or ammunition trucks. That’s because those are very well guarded. The majority of the supply routes are patrolled…This is stuff that doesn’t make news because it’s not exciting; it’s boring—they managed to keep the route open—so that’s no headline. You go broke reporting stuff like that. But from the point of view of logistics, that’s critical. That’s how they keep everybody supplied and the majority of the weight of supply is fuel to keep the air conditioners and the generators going, a lot of water—all the water has to be trucked in, most of it anyway. So there’s no problem with the supply routes. They’ve also rebuilt all the bases—major bases outside the metropolitan areas. And they were apparently being built with the idea that the Iraqis would eventually take them over, so it’s simply a question of giving them the keys sooner rather than later.

Mother Jones: The intent was always to hand over the infrastructure to the Iraqis.

JD: Yeah, exactly. But it’s a question of when. And there is some uniquely American equipment that has to be evacuated, for example cryptography. Some computer equipment, but aside from stuff that involves state secrets, they can negotiate. The Army would like to take some stuff back; a lot of it’s new. The army has basically used the war to refurbish considerably. All the talk about the future Army, that’s basically been accomplished by the wear and tear of the war. They’ve simply worn out a lot of the Cold War stuff, which was reaching the end of its useful life anyway, and replaced it with new stuff. So it’s really a negotiation with the Iraqis as to how much stuff we’ll leave there. And basically the troops come in by themselves—the equipment is left in place and replaced as needed. So theoretically you could probably get everybody out in less than 30 days.

MJ: That is so much different from what we’ve been seeing in the papers.

JD: Well, what do they know? They probably haven’t read How to Make War or paid attention to what the logistics actually are. Some of our stringers or military and civilian workers in the logistics establishment—that’s where you get some of your best stuff. I tell them, “As long as it’s not going to violate any operational security, brag all you want,” cause that’s what they like to do. Like that little tidbit that there’s never been a gasoline truck blown up, and there are hundreds of those in motion every day. They’re quite proud of that, but they never get any time on the 11 o’clock news because that’s not news. “Hey, you’re doing your jobs, not letting the tankers be blown up.” Most of the bombs that do go off are in operational areas—in other words, new areas that they’re moving into.

MJ: Which bases have been turned over to the Iraqis already?

JD: That is no secret. I know you’ll find it in the Arab press. It’s a big deal when they get a base turned over to them. And they protect them pretty well. They are developing a professional army, which they’ve never really had except possibly for the Republican Guard—and not a few of those guys are working for us these days.

MJ: If the government is so ridden with sectarian tensions and the sectarian divide, you would assume the army would be a mirror of that.

JD: It is to a certain extent. Now the military adviser teams over there have been pretty fanatic, much to the distress of the Iraqis, about mixing it up. Because in the past the Iraqi armed forces, even before there was an Iraq, were always ethnically based. It was tribe based. You didn’t dare mix guys from different tribes in the same battalion, unless some of them were from dinky little tribes. And when Saddam ran the show they had basically Sunni officers and the senior NCOs were Sunni, and the secret police detachments that were assigned to every unit were all Sunni and then everybody else was Kurds or Shiite. But again, divided by tribe or ethnicity. That has changed.

MJ: How long does it take to move a brigade out of Iraq?

JD: It depends on how far it has to go. Some of them are south of Baghdad and they’re fairly close. These would be tactical movements; you’d find the numbers in How To Make War; those numbers generally apply. The main reason for the relatively slow movement is you’re moving large numbers of military vehicles on the same road; you don’t want them to bunch up. You just want to keep them going. So it averages maybe 20 or 30 kilometers per hour. But they would do this on a schedule that would not have probably more than one brigade on the road per day; a brigade can make it to Kuwait in one day easily no matter where it’s coming from. And once it hits Kuwait there’s an entire infrastructure down there for taking it. They have local civilians who can take military equipment if they’re bringing their heavy weapons out. A lot of heavy weapons are going to be left behind, but they’ll probably bring out all the M-1 tanks and the Bradleys and things like that.

MJ: What types of things would we leave behind?

JD: Trucks. The Iraqis love the armored hummers, even though they’re not as popular with the people who’ve ridden the armored trucks, Cougars, but some of those Cougars would stay behind as well. Probably the rule of thumb would be whatever we rode out in we’d keep, by and large.

MJ: I’ve read that most of the actual personnel, the ground troops, would be airlifted. The heavy equipment would be driven out of the country?

JD: Well, because you need two guys per vehicle—a driver and an assistant driver. The assistant driver is there to operate a weapon if they have one, so you get two men per truck, plus you have security details, which would by and large be MPs, but for an infantry unit you’d simply detail a certain percentage—maybe 20 percent of your troops to operate as a security detail for the equipment, so it would be convoys going out.

In some cases it’s much easier to fly them out of Kuwait because you don’t have to worry about somebody with a SAM, any anti-aircraft fire. I think for a sustained movement if they’re going to move half a dozen brigades out within a month they say, “Screw it; take the ride down the MSR to Kuwait and we’ll fly you out of there.” Plus they can take some of them across the border and fly them out of airbases in Saudi Arabia. The Saudis won’t recognize that officially, but they do a lot of stuff like that unofficially.

MJ: Are there any warning signs that could tell us or give us hints that a drawdown is imminent?

JD: That would be big news. They would make no secret of this.

First of all it’s a big political football. The administration doesn’t want to do a rapid retreat and Congress basically is trying to force it on them, so there would obviously be a huge political and media battle before it happened, including probably overriding a veto. So you know there’d be no secrets involved whatsoever, and it’d be covered in excruciating detail by the media.

MJ: I read that we’ve begun arming the neighborhood watches, the Sunnis…

JD: Yeah, and that’s pissed off the Shiites because they basically want to kill them all. It’s Bosnia all over again; it always has been. Imagine if Yugoslavia were run by a Muslim, by a minority—Bosnia, Yugoslavia was basically run by the Serbs, with a good leavening of the other Croats. But the Serbs are 40 percent of the population. In Iraq it was 20 percent of the population running the whole deal, and what really poisoned the well was that in ’91, when they had the Shiite uprising, the Sunnis were killing entire families, women and children, massacres, murdering people in the street in open view of everybody simply to terrorize people—they went much further than Sunnis had ever gone before. While there is some good will, the majority of Shiites don’t like to wave their dirty linen around to foreigners, but what we’re trying to do now is save the Sunnis. We need the Sunnis because they have a lock on education and experience running large organizations and things like that, and that’s where it might be hopeless. If we leave right away, we’re just signing the death warrants for thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of Sunnis. Most of them will try to flee, but it will be like India during the partition: millions of people in motion and a million got killed.

MJ: Do you think we can avoid that?

JD: Yeah, if we stay there long enough. But basically we’re pressuring and we’re putting them in the spotlight. They have to say the right things—we do live in a politically correct world. And no Iraqi politician would come out in favor of what he privately believes, and that is killing all the Sunnis. They’ve been very easygoing in terms of letting half of them flee—they haven’t interfered with that at all. That’s why you get all these refugee camps in Syria and Jordan, and even some in Saudi Arabia although the Saudis are pretty shrewd in keeping them out. The longer it goes on where they have to live with them, the more difficult it will be for the government to stand by and allow a genocide or ethnic cleansing. And that’s what we’re betting on, and it’s the main reason for justifying keeping the troops there. If they left tomorrow, it would then be on the U.N. to basically go in there and say, “Hey, you can’t do this.” But look at all the good that did in Rwanda.

MJ: How much of a force do you think would be required to prevent that?

JD: The full-scale ethnic cleansing? A couple of brigades. You only need enough troops to intimidate the less militarily capable police and army units. Mainly the police. The police are not heavily armed—some units are, but with heavy weapons, no tanks and artillery.

MJ: The leading plans call for about 40-50,000 troops to be left in the country to guard bases, to maybe station in Kurdistan. Do you think that would be enough?

JD: To stop the ethnic cleansing, probably. But the problem is that if the desire to ethnically cleanse is high enough, if it becomes a popular thing, then there’s no way you can stop it. In other words, if the people decide to drive the Sunnis out, there’s no number of troops that can stop that. You’re playing Whac-A-Mole.

MJ: Are we going to take our Iraqi interpreters and collaborators with us when we leave?

JD: Yes and no. A lot of them are Sunnis. They were the majority of people who spoke English over there. Yes, there’s already a lot of pressure to let them get out. They want to get out anyway, because even if allowed to stay, there’s hardly a Sunni family that doesn’t have a Baathist, heavy-duty Baathist in the family tree somewhere, so it’s guilt by association. But Shiite and Kurdish interpreters, no, they stay. That connection helps them.

We’ll try to get the Sunnis out, but you have to remember that the Sunni community as a whole is very—they hate us, because they had a nice little dictatorship going and we ruined it. They [collaborated with Americans] because it was the best job available. And some of them, a lot of them did believe in democracy. There was a window in late ’03 and through ’04 before the Al Qaeda-Baathist collaboration blossomed when a lot of Sunnis were like, “Hey, we can make this work,” because they know what’s going on in the rest of the world. A lot of them have relatives in the West. They know how democracy works. They like the idea of relatively clean government, efficient government, people not disappearing in the middle of the night, being murdered in the street by the cops. They like that kind of stuff, and they knew it exists elsewhere in the world, but now the vast majority are just being scared shitless and they want to get out. And that’s their own doing. The previous commander of CENTCOM told them in Arabic, “If you don’t stop this, you’re going to reap the whirlwind.” And there’s no going back on that now.