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Fragile State of Security Remains in Iraq

Aired December 15, 2009 - 15:00:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, focus on Iraq and a surge of bombings and strife there. But will those attacks disrupt the upcoming elections? And what are the lessons for Afghanistan?

Good evening, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to our program.

Three car bombs exploded in the heavily guarded center of Baghdad today, killing four people. It was the latest in a series of bombings targeting government buildings, even as attacks in most of the rest of the country continue to decline.

Today's explosions came despite a security shake-up in Baghdad, which is designed to convince Iraqis that their city is safe. They are also a new challenge to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ahead of elections which are scheduled for next March.

And so tonight, are the focus and the forces shifting too quickly from Iraq? What is to be learned as the U.S. sends another 30,000 forces to Afghanistan?

Joining me now to answer those questions, the former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker. He's now dean of the George Bush School of Government at the Texas A&M University. And the U.S. inspector general for reconciliation in Iraq, Stuart Bowen.

Welcome, General, to you both. Thanks for being on this program.



AMANPOUR: Can I turn to you, Ambassador Crocker -- Can I ask you, Ambassador, what do you make of this surge in violence? Why do you think it's happening? Who are they?

CROCKER: We are seeing the work of a very dedicated, very deadly adversary in Iraq. These attacks are not new, sadly. We saw bombings last week. We saw them in October. We saw them in the summer. It's pretty clear to me that the architect is Al Qaida, Al Qaida in Iraq. Their target is now the government of Iraq, to shake popular confidence in the government, particularly as we move toward elections.

AMANPOUR: So shifting tactics, would you say, because before it was to try to get sectarian strife and civil war? Do you think they're shifting their tactics?

CROCKER: They are very much shifting their tactics. We saw over the last several years vicious bombings directed at the civilian population. Al Qaida was an equally opportunity killer aiming at Sunni, Shia, Turkmen, Christians, Kurds, in an effort to restart sectarian violence, and it didn't work. Iraqis simply refused to be provoked into that kind of widespread carnage that we saw in '06 and '07. So Al Qaida shifted to take on the state, and I don't think that's going to work, either.

AMANPOUR: Well, it -- it obviously must be very worrying, certainly to Iraqis and those looking on.

Let me ask you, Stuart Bowen, how does this kind of political violence affect the development, which you say and everybody says is so critical to progress in Iraq?

BOWEN: Well, part of the reason for this most recent attack was to try and put a damper on the enormous economic success that Iraq realized December 12th and December 13th. Those days are going to stand, I think, in modern Iraqi history as the most significant economically.

AMANPOUR: Explain that.

BOWEN: Seven -- seven contracts were -- were let for the largest fields -- many of the largest fields, the oil fields, and -- and that bodes extremely well for Iraq's capacity to tap into their enormous wealth. There is an economic engine waiting to be unleashed. It's in the ground in Iraq. That oil has to be gotten out and exported. If the Iraqis can do that while fighting corruption and keeping this insurgency down, then prosperity lies ahead.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you along these same lines about development and economic opportunity. The U.S. and others have poured in billions and billions of dollars. Your office has accounted for some of these projects, and there seems to be so much waste. How did that happen? All these wonderful hospitals and things, which seem to be too sophisticated for the people to be able to -- to cope with, especially as a -- as a pullout is underway.

BOWEN: Well, you pointed to one of the reasons. The United States did not develop a reconstruction program in 2003 that was properly matched to Iraqi needs and capacities. We provided them water treatment plants that were beyond their ability to manage.

More importantly, though -- and I think the largest lesson to learn from Iraq -- is that the United States government was not well structured to carry out so large an overseas contingency reconstruction operation. And -- and our reports collectively support that point, and we'll be producing a report in January that makes recommendations on how to remedy the issue.


AMANPOUR: Well, before I turn to Ambassador Crocker again, what do you mean the U.S. is unable to do that? I mean, the U.S. is the nation of the Marshall Plan, the richest, most organized, most logistically sophisticated nation.

BOWEN: The Marshall Plan was an extremely successful overseas reconstruction program. Iraq was not. It took a long time and it wasn't until Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus sort of joined together at the hip for the civil-military elements to carry out an effective reconstruction strategy. We were looking for a strategy for years, and that strategy was difficult to come by, because attacks were impeding us at every turn.

AMANPOUR: Ambassador Crocker, as you listen to what Mr. Bowen is saying -- and you were an envoy in Afghanistan, you were ambassador in Pakistan, you have an awful lot of experience in this region. What lessons, therefore, should there be and should be heeded as the same effort is considered now in Afghanistan, both a military and a civilian surge?

CROCKER: First, to understand the differences, Iraq and Afghanistan are very different challenges. In some respects, the challenge in Afghanistan is going to be even harder against a backdrop of three decades of nonstop violence and -- and almost no infrastructure.

But there are similarities in methodology. I think the troop increase that the president has ordered in Afghanistan was exactly the right thing to -- to do. It will be a surge, if you will, in some respects equivalent to the surge in Iraq, that -- that made a major difference.

We also have leaders out there -- General McChrystal with extensive experience in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and Ambassador Eikenberry in Afghanistan, who served there previously as a military commander, these are men who know the realities. And those realities are going to have to be taken into careful account on the ground so that we can avoid some of the mistakes we did make in Iraq.

AMANPOUR: OK, well, let -- let me ask you about some of the -- the indigenous partners you have to have. Let's just take the Afghan government. You know, we all know that, as your administration dealt with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, you know, there was a -- a certain amount of love/hate going on, until he did demonstrate that -- that he could sort of move to take control of parts of the country, move towards political reconciliation. And as you know, there's a huge amount of tension between the West and President Karzai.

Is there something that can be learned from the relationship that you had with Mr. al-Maliki that the current administration could perhaps put into place with -- with Mr. Karzai, the evolving democracy?

CROCKER: I think that -- I think the first thing is to understand just how difficult the challenges are that face the leaders of Afghanistan or Iraq. There is absolutely nothing easy in their inboxes, and to have a certain appreciation of that.

It's also important to remember that in late 2006 or late 2007, there was a lot of criticism of Prime Minister al-Maliki for being too weak, too unfocused, not up to the job. He has certainly switched around that image, but what he needed was some fundamental changes in the security environment, which the surge helped provide.

And I think President Karzai needs very much the same thing. It's -- it's pretty hard to get on with reconstruction and delivery of services when you're fighting a widespread insurgency. So security has to be the first order of business in Afghanistan, as it was during the surge in Iraq.

AMANPOUR: Right. And -- and, Mr. Bowen, doesn't also the focus and - - and American involvement really need to stay -- I guess I'm asking, is there a risk with the focus and the shift of forces coming off Iraq at this particular time?

BOWEN: Well, I think that is the concern. There is some view that taking our eyes off what was going on in Afghanistan might have led to the eruptions that have occurred over the last year. But I think the difference is, is the investment that the United States has made: $18 billion in the Iraq security forces fund, another $7 billion in other sources into the Iraqi police and army have built a pretty credible force that should be able to keep the peace across the country, notwithstanding these -- these notable attacks.

AMANPOUR: Can I just play this sound bite from Prime Minister al- Maliki about these attacks and about why he thinks they're happening?



NOURI AL-MALIKI, PRIME MINISTER, IRAQ (through translator): They spread chaos and spread hatred and sectarianism and to confront what Iraqis have achieved in terms of security gains as a result of their struggle, efforts and patience. They want to shake people's confidence in their will and national unity and to shake people's confidence in their government, which is able to achieve more gains and goals.


AMANPOUR: So you said, Mr. Crocker, that you believe it's an influx of Al Qaida regenerating in -- in -- in Iraq. A lot of the Iraqis are saying they think it's disaffected Baathists, former Saddam loyalists. And others are saying that it's actually the politicians themselves, many of them involved in the security apparatus, who are actually now vying for political power in the next elections. Is there a problem with this -- with the elections and these different politicians perhaps using the security situation against each other?

CROCKER: The elections are going to be a very important event in Iraq's democratic development. And there will be challenges, including security challenges.

But as I look at these attacks, they seem to me awfully similar in their -- in their organization to the attacks that we've seen in the past that clearly were the work of Al Qaida. So whether there are some former Baathi elements involved in this, entirely likely, I -- I, frankly, do not think that these kinds of attacks are in any way the work of more mainstream Iraqi political elements. This is at its core Al Qaida trying to do the same thing it has been doing for years in Iraq now, which is to bring down the developing order.

AMANPOUR: And how do you think they've managed to get a foothold again?

CROCKER: Well, in truth, Christiane, they never completely lost it. Al Qaida has suffered enormous setbacks throughout Iraq, but they've never lost their ability to carry out specific, targeted attacks. And that's what we're seeing now. They have much less control over territory, much less capability than they did two or three years ago, but they remain a -- a committed, dedicated and dangerous enemy, and neither we nor the Iraqis can lose focus on that.

AMANPOUR: And, again, in terms of the development, Mr. Bowen, we see and we hear so much about how development is crucial for -- for -- for political advancement and even for stability and security. What is the lesson again from Iraq? What is going to happen as the civilians in Afghanistan try to build things that the Afghans can actually sustain themselves?

BOWEN: Well, you pointed to the key issue, and that is ensuring that what we construct to Afghanistan -- which has a much more difficult starting point than Iraq had -- is of a sort that the Afghans can operate, that will be sustained. One of the biggest challenges in Iraq has been ensuring that what the United States built and transferred to Iraqi control was maintained. That's an even bigger issue in Afghanistan.

AMANPOUR: But it seems to have failed, by and large, from articles in which you're quoted and documenting hospitals and all sorts of things which neither have the staff, nor the ability to be maintained.

BOWEN: It has not been a success story. You're right. It improved over time. But it's a lesson learned from Iraq. There needs to be careful attention paid to every contract to ensure that there is funding and planning for sustainment of the project once it's completed.

AMANPOUR: OK. And I want to ask you final question, Ambassador Crocker. You know that this week, Tony Blair, the former prime minister of Britain, has been before the Iraq inquiry in London, and he has said that he would have gone into Iraq no matter the evidence of WMD. What do you feel about that?

CROCKER: Well, 2003, late 2002, was a challenging time. WMD was obviously a primary concern, but there were many others, not least of which was the fact that the Saddam regime had emerged as the single largest point of defiance to the post-World War II international order, with a dozen Chapter 7 Security Council resolutions ignored by Baghdad.

Clearly, the current policies of -- of sanctions were not working. International cohesion was -- was dissolving and Saddam, again, a threat to his people, his region, and the international community. So I would agree with former Prime Minister Blair that this was not, should not have been, and is not all about weapons of mass destruction.

AMANPOUR: On that note, thank you so much for joining us, Ambassador Crocker and Stuart Bowen. Thank you very much, indeed.

BOWEN: Thank you, Christiane.

CROCKER: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: And join this debate online.


Go to, where we'll have more about the new Tony Blair admission, and tell us what you think.

And next, the psychological impact of the bomb attacks on ordinary Iraqis who once dreamed of a bright new future.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I ask, who is behind these explosions? Every two kilometers, there is a checkpoint. The political parties who run the country are behind these blasts, as they aim to harm people. In seven years, we have gained nothing from them.




AMANPOUR (voice-over): It's been eight months since the end of the war, she said, and nothing has improved. America is meant to be a great country that can do anything. Why can't it control the violence? And all these months later, 27-year-old Hadi Saleh (ph) is astounded that power cuts can still last for days.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we didn't ask the American government to send us to the moon. No, no. It's very simple. Our problems is very simple, like electricity, the water.


AMANPOUR: What Hadi (ph) said has always stuck in my mind since I interviewed him right after the U.S. deposed Saddam Hussein back in 2003. We didn't ask to go to the moon; we just want water and electricity. And six years later, Iraqis are still struggling for basic necessities.

Joining me now is someone who's lived through all of these years of war, Basma Al-Khateeb, who works on women and children's issues in Baghdad.

Welcome to our program, Basma.

BASMA AL-KHATEEB, CIVIC ACTIVIST: You're welcome, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you, you are standing there in Baghdad. It's late at night right now. How do you feel about the situation there, security?

AL-KHATEEB: Security is definitely quite fragile (inaudible) this morning. And recently, even when I got -- when I tried to get here, it was really impossible for me. For me, I move around with my colleagues of my peers (inaudible) women movement, even during 2006-2007, which are considered the hardest, but now it seems very difficult for me to convince my 11-year-old daughter to get out of the house at 10 o'clock in the evening and cross the bridge to the other side of the river and do the meeting.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you, do you worry, with the withdrawal of U.S. forces and a shift of focus, it seems, away from Iraq, does that concern you?

AL-KHATEEB: I'm more concerned, actually, about building capacity and tools of Iraqis. The occupation and the American and U.S. forces' role is not really one of the major issues that are making trouble here. We have more complex and more complicated issues that we need to solve. In the end, Iraqis will solve it, I am sure, but this is my real concern...

AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask...

AL-KHATEEB: ... whether they leave or stay, it's...

AMANPOUR: Go ahead.

AL-KHATEEB: Yes, sorry.

AMANPOUR: So let me ask you this, then.

AL-KHATEEB: It's up to -- later on, yeah.

AMANPOUR: Sorry. We always have -- we always had this difficult with the satellite so far away. But let me ask you, are you -- do you think that the world is turning away, that you're being forgotten in Iraq?

AL-KHATEEB: No, I'm too busy to think of that, actually. I still think that Iraq is in the heart of events.


No way. Whatever happens in Iraq ripples to the region, and it's for the good of everyone that Iraq stays within the international community and abides by all the conventions.

AMANPOUR: And are you looking forward to the elections? Do you think that that will bring you more progress? Because for all its struggles and for all the difficulties, there does seem to be a creeping, inching, evolving political process, democracy there.

AL-KHATEEB: Yeah, Iraq has not been a democratic country. You know, for 30 years, it's totalitarian. The culture is completely different (inaudible) that came in have this democratic idea. This is more chaos, not our education system, not our services system. Everything is turning into chaos. That's why every Iraqi has lost trust, has lost, you know, faith with this democracy.

But working on the ground with civil society, after six years, and there were times, believe me, that we almost gave up, now we see movements, we see youth moving, and looking for, you know, around and trying to help, not waiting for the government and somebody to help, like they're used to.

I don't believe these -- well, elections will come, and it will have its mishaps. We're not really counting on any change on that, but we are going along parallelly with different activities. We want elections to pass through, but also we expect more political powers, movements to rise from the new generation in Iraq.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask you about that.


AMANPOUR: Let me ask you about that. You work with women and children's issues. You're an advocate and an activist on those issues. Walk me through a typical day, both in terms of security and in terms of what you're able to achieve.

AL-KHATEEB: Well, first of all, we -- if we just calculate risks, we can't get out of the house. This is what -- this is number one. So we just do this and get out of the house and do a calculated risk and low profiling during the hard times. And there's always this network of information that we ask. Is this road blocked? Is this militia controlling this one? And then, of course, the kids will have to go to schools. It's always -- we depend on ourselves. We don't depend on the system. This thing, we -- we were trained to do, actually, since the sanctions, when the government services, you know, just curbed and disappeared, and -- and the whole infrastructure, you know, gradually just vanished.

AMANPOUR: OK, Basma...

AL-KHATEEB: So we have to depend on ourselves.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you about women. Women, compared to other parts of the Islamic and Arab world, in Iraq had more rights and more abilities. What is it like right now for women in Iraq in 2009?

AL-KHATEEB: Well, certainly, the lack of security have had its bad consequences on women. It has curbed its rights. Women before were professionals (inaudible) but they were not given the rights. They were -- they didn't know their rights. They were not (inaudible) more into labor force without being giving any rights in the decision-making or anything.

But now women have this -- yes, they suffer a lot. There are militias, of course, and threats. And if you want to control in Iraqi society, you have to control women first, because this is the key to any traditional society. So you see, whatever these atrocities, they just target women and vulnerable categories.

But, also, women are resilient here. With the -- with the development issues, they just find solutions. There is a chance for Iraqi women now from 0 to 180.


AL-KHATEEB: Because that, there wasn't. This is what we see.

AMANPOUR: On that note -- on that note, Basma, thank you so much, indeed, for joining us. Good luck there.

And for more on this, go to our blog at, where you'll be able to read a post by Basma on what it's like living in Baghdad and the extraordinary security measures that she's just been talking about. Go to there.

And next, a remarkable movie about the weapon of choice for insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan and how the U.S. military is fighting back.



AMANPOUR: Now, our "Post-Script." It's not often that a movie about the war in Iraq wins critical acclaim or success at the box office, but "The Hurt Locker," directed by Kathryn Bigelow, has just been nominated for several prestigious Golden Globe awards. As this clip vividly shows, the movie is about the panic caused by insurgent bomb-makers, terrorists who even force innocent Iraqis to wear suicide vests, and it's also about the U.S. bomb disposal experts who try to help.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Forty-five seconds. You have 45 seconds, Sanborn.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody get back!


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get back! Get back! Get back!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody down!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's too many locks. There's too many. I can't do it. I can't get it off. I'm sorry, OK? You understand? I'm sorry. You hear me? I'm sorry. I'm sorry.



AMANPOUR: That's a terrifying bit of reality of what so many people there lived through. And many of the actors are Iraqis forced to live in exile in Jordan, which is where most of the movie was filmed.

And that's it for now. Thank you for watching. We'll be back tomorrow with a report on the risk of a new wave of violence in Northern Ireland. For all of us here, goodbye from New York.