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September 25, 2006


Iraq's New Political Alignment

By Kirk H. Sowell | September 25, 2006

This article is intended to serve as an introduction to Iraqi politics, the basic policy orientations of the important factions and the political evolution which has taken place over the past year and a half since Iraq elected its first democratic government. While the Shi'a/Sunni Arab/Kurd divide is well known, how the various parties and movements relate to each other is not, and this analysis seeks to fill this gap. While violence in Iraq continues to animate from both Sunni and Shi'a sources, a new political center is emerging consisting of factions from all segments of society, and indeed as this article will show, the violence has itself driven this emerging consensus, and on its consolidation rides the future of Iraq.

This article contains three sections. The first section of the analysis is a broad overview of the whole of Iraq's political landscape, including Shi'a, Sunnis and Kurds, not only those inside the government and those in opposition, but those outside the political process, such as al-Qaeda. The second section provides the raw data for the seat distribution first within the Iraqi parliament as a whole, and then within the ruling party. The third section takes a more detailed look at the background and politics of the Shi'a political factions which make up the government's dominate coalition.

Iraq's Emerging Political Center

As we discussed in a preceding report ("Anbar Sunnis Turn on al-Qaeda"), this past week saw what might be described as the last rites of an anti-American coalition which had arisen in 2003-2005 but which was destined to splinter. Those opposing the U.S. military could be broken down into four groups - foreign jihadists, led by al-Qaeda, who sought to establish a globally-focused caliphate based in Baghdad which excluded the Shi’a; Sunni Islamist Iraqis who sought an Islamic state; secularist Baathist Iraqis who sought the reestablishment of the regime of Saddam Hussein; and the Sadriya movement of Muqtada al-Sadr and its militia, the Mahdi Army, which sought a Shi’a-led Islamic state in Iraq. Given that their goals were from the beginning mutually exclusive, the mere passage of time assured that they would turn on each other, and they have. Mahdi Army attacks on Sunnis and al-Qaeda attacks on both Sunnis and Shi'a have convinced most Iraqi Sunnis that as much as they hate having American troops in their country, the Western presence is necessary for the time being.

There have also been suggestions that al-Qaeda in Iraq and the Ansar al-Sunna Army in Iraq are considering uniting. It is difficult to be sure about the significance of this report, assuming it is accurate, since the two have cooperated in the past anyway. Little ultimately will turn on this development, however, because Iraq's security problem arises from the fact that the government faces both foreign jihadists and native Sunni insurgent groups, along with a Shi'a militia, Sadr's Mahdi Army, which is killing Sunnis. Since many of the Iraqi insurgents have indicated their willingness to give up the fight in principle, one major impediment to them doing so is that they need to stay armed to defend themselves against the Mahdi Army. If the latter can be subdued, and the former coaxed into joining the political process, foreign jihadists will come to an end in Iraq regardless of whether they are one, two or three factions. It will simply be a matter of time at that point.

Simultaneous to the changes in alignment on the side of the militants, this past year has also seen the emergence of a new political center in Iraq, committed to reconciliation and the resolution of differences through the political process. By "political center" we do not mean to imply an alliance, or even that the main factions like each other - the main Sunni and Shi'a blocks in fact hate each other, but the change is that now they are shouting rather than shooting at one another. Their support for Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's national unity government varies by faction, but their commitment to the political process appears to be solid as long as certain "red lines" are respected. Following the January 2005 election, the Iraqi parliament was dominated by the Shi'a and the Kurds due to a boycott by major Sunni leaders, but the latter soon realized their mistake, and began organizing for the political process. The December 2005 election which produced the current government saw a sharp rise in the total percentage of seats held by the Sunnis, from almost none to 29 percent. That the three Sunni-dominated parties achieved more seats than the Sunni percentage of the population (about one-fifth) is due to the fact that they claimed to be non-sectarian and had some success in attracting Shi'a Arab voters.

This emerging political center has three elements, (1) Shi'a religious factions, (2) Sunni factions which draw some support from secularist Shi'a, and (3) the Kurdish factions. On the Shi'a side, this includes two of the main factions of the ruling United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) plus most if not all of the UIA's independents. Together they account for roughly two-thirds of the ruling party's seats (a detailed look at the Shi'a factions is below). Of the predominately Sunni factions (all claim to be non-sectarian), the Iraqi Accord Front, led by Adnan Dulaimi, the National Iraqi List, led by former prime minister Iyad Allawi, a secularist Shi'a, and the National Dialogue Front, led by Salih Mutlak, are most important. When there is a split between the Sunni factions and the UIA in parliament, Allawi's group tends to align with the Sunnis.

Outside the political process there are still armed insurgents among the Sunnis, and many of their individual members voted but nevertheless as groups they still maintain their arms. Many of these insurgents groups - precise numbers and percentages are not known, but they account for the bulk of the Sunni population in many areas - have entered into the conferences arranged by the prime minister's national reconciliation and amnesty initiative. Some of them are making demands that the government will not consider accepting, such as the release of Saddam Hussein and the immediate withdrawal of coalition forces from Iraq, yet the fact that they are indicating a willingness to join the Shi'a-led government in the political process is significant.

There are also three Kurdish factions, although they ran as two groups for electoral purposes. The Kurdish Coalition is the main Kurdish faction in parliament, and it is composed of several factions, the two most important of which are the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), headed by Kurdish provincial leader Masud Barzani, and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), headed by Iraqi President Jalal Talibani. It is the second most powerful group in parliament after the UIA, and its support is indispensable to an Iraqi prime minister. The Islamic Union of Kurdistan ran on its own electoral list over disagreements with the other main factions, and although smaller, it is large enough that its support for the government - or refusal thereof - is meaningful.

The Division Of Political Power

Following is a precise breakdown of the division of political power in Iraq, beginning with the national parliament on top and then below looking at the seat totals of the factions within the ruling party. The seat percentage is given first, then the number of seats in parentheses:

Seats in the National Parliament (275 total; see Appendix 4, IMIE Final Report [PDF]) -

United Iraqi Alliance: 47% (128)
Kurdistan Coalition: 19% (53)
Iraqi Accord Front: 16% (44)
National Iraqi List: 9% (25)
Iraqi National Dialogue Front: 4% (11)
Islamic Union of Kurdistan: 2% (5)

There were six other parties which have three or fewer seats; four of them have only one seat each.

Division of Seats Within the UIA (ruling party seat distribution) -

SCIRI: 23% (29)
Sadrist: 22% (28)
Independents: 22% (28)
Dawa Party: 20% (26)
Fadhila Party: 13% (17)

The Shi'a Factions

The United Iraqi Alliance is a coalition of Shi'a religious parties and like-minded independent candidates. It was blessed by the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani prior to both the January and December 2005 elections. Shortly prior to the most recent election, Sistani publicly called upon Shi'a voters to not fragment their votes but to concentrate them on factions within the UIA. This effectively destroyed the chances of secular Shi'a parties like Ahmad Chalibi's Iraqi National Congress.

Although Sistani's teachings on religion and politics are deliberately vague, they are usually interpreted to limiting the role of clerics to that of advisors rather than any direct or overt political role. Sistani, who is one of only a handful of scholars holding the title of marja, the highest authority in Shi'ism, usually refrains from making statements on narrow policy issues, limiting his pronouncements to general principles, but when the call is made, most Shi'a faithful follow. When in early 2006 Sunni Arab and Kurdish parties were blocking the renomination of Ibrahim al-Jaafari as prime minister, Sistani called upon the UIA to make unspecified "concessions" or lose his support, and Jaafari withdrew the following week. All of the factions within the UIA save one claim to follow Sistani's authority. Understanding of the political dynamics in Iraq requires examination of the factions within the ruling UIA and their relative power.

The largest and most powerful faction is the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI. Led by Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, who has a dual role as head of SCIRI and as chairman of the UIA, SCIRI has 23 percent of the seats within the coalition. As is clear from the numbers above, SCIRI's seat total is barely larger than that of the other main factions, but its strength is augmented by the fact that the large group of independents within the alliance regularly align with it. This has happened repeatedly in parliamentary votes; when the Sadrists have split with the UIA leadership over an issue, they have done so alone, or in a few cases, with support from Fadhila. In the recent debate on the SCIRI-backed federalism bill, for example, the Sadrists alone among the Shi'a opposed it. A contemporaneous vote demanding a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops likewise drew support only from some Sunnis, but it doesn't appear that any of the independents supported them (they got 104 votes, which is less than the total of the three Sunni parties plus the Sadrist representatives). So even when the Sadrists disagree with SCIRI, the position of the UIA is always reported as being the same as that of SCIRI.

The alignment of the UIA independents with SCIRI has been even more notable in the context of internal UIA voting. After the election in December, internal votes for the award of proportional seats reflected this. The Iraqi electoral system works by awarding seats to coalitions on two bases, geography-based seats and "compensatory seats" awarded to the coalition as a whole, the winners of which are able to distribute based on their own strength. The UIA won 109 seats based on districts, plus 19 proportional seats, with the Sadriya having a slight plurality and SCIRI being a close second. The Sadr faction, Dawa and Fadhila each were awarded proportional seats roughly approximate to their seat total within the coalition, but SCIRI was awarded nine out of 19 coalition seats, or 45 percent, a share which is identical to the percentage of SCIRI and independent members combined. The seats which would have been voted to the independents had they belonged to a separate party were shifted to SCIRI.

A second example of this took place in the internal coalition election for prime minister. When former prime minister Jaafari was nominated by Dawa, the party he led, he reportedly beat the SCIRI candidate by a single vote. Since the Sadrists and Fadhila both backed Jaafari, the independents must have voted with SCIRI to acheive such a close vote (having the vote be that close would have also required a handful of abstentions among either the Sadrists or Fadhila, and dissension within Fadhila over the issue was noted in some news reports).

This is not to suggest that UIA independents are closet members of SCIRI, or that they might not abandon Hakim in the future. During the Baathist era, SCIRI was supported by Iran and it espoused the principle of velayat e faqih, or rule of Islamic jurists, which is the guiding principle of the Iranian constitution. The doctrine is not held to by Sistani or the other factions, and SCIRI has been quiet on the issue while making clear that its senior religious figures would not take government positions. Yet if SCIRI were to begin advocating velayat e faqih for Iraq, it is reasonable to assume that it would face a revolt within the UIA.

Dawa, the party of both of Iraq's elected prime ministers, Jaafari and Maliki, is the oldest Islamist party in the country. Its dominance has been eroded over the years first by a series of internal splits and then last year by the rise of the Sadriya. Dawa and SCIRI dominated the January 2005 elections, but as is clear from the numbers above, the rise of the Sadr faction left Dawa's two electoral lists with the third largest total even combined, and the Sadrists drew support directly from Dawa's ranks. This fact may explain why Dawa has acted as the most moderate of the UIA factions in recent months, with good relations with the U.S. and the Sunnis; Sadr's radicalism has naturally attracted those of a more radical bent, leaving Dawa more moderate.

The erosion of Dawa's electoral base has also made Maliki even more dependent upon other factions, both within and without the UIA, especially SCIRI. The two Dawa factions each received 10 percent of the UIA's seats, so the prime minister's faction only has about five percent of the total in parliament.

The political faction of Muqtada al-Sadr does not have a formal party name - the Iraqi press simply refers to it as al-tiyar al-sadri, the "Sadr movement" or "tendency" - but its members in parliament are identifiable as a bloc and are not independents. In addition to the 28 Sadrist seats within the UIA, there are two seats on a separate list outside the UIA which are loyal to Sadr, and this would give him the largest voting bloc were it not for the alignment of UIA independents with SCIRI. Although a young cleric who is sometimes derided for taking up politics before completing his proper education (some Arab writers refer to him as al-shab Muqtada al-Sadr, "the young man"), Sadr hails from a clerical family of great prestige, and his forebearers helped found and lead the Dawa Party when it was the strongest force opposing Saddam Hussein during the Baathist era. In addition to his Mahdi Army militia, Sadr's movement commands a significant network of schools, mosques and medical clinics which give it strong standing among the poor. Although like his forebearers Sadr does not advocate the Iranian doctrine of velayat e faqih, geopolitically he is aligned with Tehran and Damascus, and has been the most vocally pro-Hizballah voice in Iraq. While Sadr still claims to follow the religious authority of Sistani, he in fact has been at variance with the revered marja time and time again the past two years.

Fadhila is the smallest Shi'a faction within the UIA, and is distinguishable because its separate existence is based upon allegiance to the Ayatollah Muhammad Yaqubi, while SCIRI, Dawa and the Sadrists all claim to follow the authority of Sistani. Because Fadhila chose not to participate in the new government, it is a negligible force at the national level. Yet it remains a force in Basra, which is Iraq's largest Shi'a-majority city, and the city's problems with violence and corruption are largely related to the struggle for power among the UIA factions there. Fadhila has defied Maliki's leadership on a range of issues, from cooperation with the United States to the government's attempt to bring federal security control to Basra. Fadhila controlled the Iraqi oil ministry under Jaafari, and was desprived of it under Maliki due to corruption; this is what caused the party to stay outside the government. On any given issue where Maliki and Sadr part ways, Fadhila is often found siding with Sadr.

The federalism debate is a major factor bearing on the internal Shi'a power struggle. While SCIRI's provincial autonomy plan is usually presented in the Western media as a plan to partition Iraq, that is mainly the Sunni Arab angle. For the Shi'a factions, it is a power struggle (for a detailed look at this issue, see our report, "Federalism Delayed Amid Sunni, Sadrist Opposition"). Local elections have shown that SCIRI dominates in the Shi'a heartland of southern Iraq except Basra, where the Sadrists and Fadhila are stronger. So whereas Hakim's autonomy plan would engulf Basra in a larger south Iraq governate, knowing that this would favor SCIRI, Sadr opposes the plan entirely and Fadhila advocates an autonomy plan with a much larger number of provinces -16 - which would allow them to govern where they are strongest. Meanwhile, Dawa is divided on the issue, but Maliki himself was a lead negotiator in the constitutional negotiations which produced the federalism clause, so he can be counted as an ally of SCIRI on this issue.

The Coalition Calculus

All of these factions come down to a fairly simple equation; Maliki's reliable supporters include his own Dawa Party, SCIRI and like-minded independents, along with the Kurdish parties, which give him 141 seats - a three-seat majority. This is if every independent Shi'a supports him, even without Sunni support. As a practical matter, however, some significant support from Sunni Arabs is necessary for governance. As noted above, Fadhila has not joined the government and the Sadrists have joined it but frequently vote against it on specific issues. Thus there is a balance; Maliki needs some Sunni Arab support regardless, but if Sadr is against him he needs more than otherwise, whereas with Sadrist support his government could function with simply the largest Sunni faction on board. This is why when all three Sunni-dominated factions leave parliament it cannot function, but if the Sadrists walk out - or if only a single Sunni party walks out - Maliki can still do business. Where the Sadrists and the Sunnis agree - such as on the issue of federalism - they are able to effectively impede the government, even though they are a minority.

The Iraqi governing coalition will for the forseeable future revolve around the trade-off that Maliki faces between the Sadrists on the one hand and the Sunni factions on the other. To the extent that Sunnis blame Mahdi Army death squads for the killing of Sunni civilians, the more that Maliki approves military operations against the Sadriya, the more Sunni support he is likely to have. The same is true to a degree of SCIRI, Maliki's most important supporter; when coalition forces attack Mahdi Army cells there are always criticisms, but never from SCIRI, and the silence is deafening. Hakim is very outspoken when he believes that the U.S. has gone wrong, and as the UIA's most powerful figure, attacks on the Mahdi Army would not proceed without his quiet approval. All of the factions of the UIA are competitors, but only SCIRI and the Sadriya have exchanged gunfire - through their militias - since the establishment of elected government. Hakim surely feels that every Sadrist that coalition forces kill is one less he has to deal with.

The challenge for Maliki and future prime ministers, then, will be to hold together the two Shi'a factions and like-minded independents, the moderate Sunni-dominated factions and the Kurds. If more elements of Sunni Arab Iraq can be brought into the political process, this will lessen a prime minister's dependence on the Sadrists. Put differently, more reconciliation would strengthen the political center, and make it easier for Iraq's leaders to face down those who use violence to enforce their vision, whether Sunni or Shi'a.

September 15, 2006


Some Phase II Conclusions Beyond Comprehension

By Steve Schippert | September 15, 2006

In the ‘Iraqi Links to Al-Qaeda’ section of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s Phase II Report on prewar intelligence on Iraq, Conclusion 9 - the final conclusion – asserts that “additional reviews of documents recovered in Iraq are unlikely to provide information that would contradict the Committee’s findings or conclusions.” This is a bold statement for many reasons, not the least of which is that this can be interpreted as an assertion that the Committee’s findings hold an air of conclusiveness and/or comprehensiveness.

The Intelligence Community has yet to assemble a comprehensive, definitive report on Iraq’s ties to al-Qaeda. The Phase II Report itself notes “the absence of a single comprehensive Intelligence Community analytic product on Iraq’s links to terrorism” on page 6. Therefore, none of the input data considered by the Committee can be considered comprehensive in nature. Yet, the Phase II Report takes on just such a definitive air, especially when considering Conclusion 9’s bold determination that the millions of recovered Iraqi documents “are unlikely to provide information that would contradict the Committee’s findings or conclusions.”

Yet, there is much collected intel and data outside the publicly available DOCEX collection that does contradict many of the Committee’s findings. The unfortunate reality is that much of this data simply was not considered. While it is impossible to consider every item, prudence and the importance of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s oversight role in the American Intelligence programs would dictate that more information should have been considered than was for the Phase II Report.

Brooks Comment on Salman Pak Field Intelligence Expunged

Some information was removed from consideration, as noted in the Committee Action section (Pg. 135), including the observations of Brigadier General Vincent Brooks upon the US offensive and takeover of the terrorist training camp at Salman Pak. Available in open source, General Vincent told an AP reporter that “The nature of the work being done by some of those people we captured, their inferences about the type of training they received, all these things give us the impression that there is terrorist training that was conducted at Salman Pak. It reinforces the likelihood of links between this regime and external terrorist organizations." This is actionable field intelligence, shared in part by the deputy operations commander in Iraq, which led to the offensive on Salman Pak.

Conclusion 4 reads, “Postwar findings support the April 2002 Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) assessment that there was no credible reporting on al-Qa’ida training at Salman Pak or anywhere else in Iraq.”

There are two issues with this statement. Firstly, the report in Conclusion 4 does not use language to confirm that Salman Pak was indeed a terrorist training camp, but rather seems to skirt the issue by instead stating that it cannot be confirmed as an al-Qaeda terrorist training camp. Even if so, the War is not limited to defending against card-carrying al-Qaeda terrorists, nor should it be.

Secondly, there is much evidence to support claims that al-Qaeda was indeed training elsewhere in Iraq, namely the presence of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi at Ansar al-Islam camps in Iraq immediately following the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan, from where he had fled to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. This will be detailed subsequently in latter installments of this series that will focus on Zarqawi and Ansar al-Islam.

Forged Documents Mentioned, Others Ignored Entirely

As the SSCI Phase II Report notes and rightly dismisses “a number of forged documents captured in Iraq on a variety of topics” including some regarding Zarqawi, not included among those forged documents – nor apparently among the genuine documents that the Committee considered - are those mentioned by a Jordanian security official within the context of describing the manner in which the Hussein regime ignored repeated Jordanian requests for the extradition of Zarqawi. According to the Jordanian official’s account described in the Washington Post, “documents recovered after its overthrow in 2003 show that Iraqi agents did detain some Zarqawi operatives but released them after questioning. Furthermore, the Iraqis warned the Zarqawi operatives that the Jordanians knew where they were.” The existence of these documents has not been disputed, yet these important potential indicators of high-level Iraqi regime support for Zarqawi before the 2003 invasion are not considered in the Committee’s report.

While understood by most of the American public as the deceased leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq and responsible for attacks on both coalition forces and civilians – including gruesome taped beheadings as propaganda messages – it should be remembered that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was long before connected to the December 1999 millennium plot designed for coordinated attacks in the United States, Jordan and Israel.

Dr Muhammed al-Masari, like bin Laden, is a Saudi Arabian dissident who opposes the royal family's leadership. al-Masari supports bin Laden and his views and, from London, hosts a jihadi website that posts al-Qaeda news and messages. Described in Intelligence circles as a well-connected al-Qaeda front man, al-Masari helps al-Qaeda engage in the Information Warfare battle for the hearts and minds of potential jihadists. He described al-Qaeda’s influx into Iraq through the terrorist group Ansar al-Islam. While described as “anti-Hussein” and “anti-secular,” their primary foe on the ground in Iraq were the Kurds, a common enemy also held by Saddam, who is currently on trial for crimes against humanity for, among other things, using chemical weapons (mustard gas and VX nerve agents) on Kurdish villages.

Noting that Saddam Hussein, fearing a US military invasion once Afghanistan would be decided, began to actively court the “Arab Afghan” al-Qaeda terrorists to come to Iraq and form a jihadi resistance against a more powerful common enemy. It is worth noting at this point that the SSCI Phase II Report gives full credence to Saddam Hussein’s statement from jail that he did not view America as an enemy, and that “Iraq only opposed U.S. policies. He specified that if he wanted to cooperate with the enemies of the U.S., he would have allied with North Korea or China.”

The SSCI Phase II report accepts Hussein’s postwar words and logic at face value to support a conclusion that there were no ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda. However, it fails to carry this accepted logic to support a view that would contradict Phase II Conclusion 6 which finds that Ansar al-Islam was seen only as “a threat to the regime” and that the IIS only “attempted to collect intelligence” on them.

To apply Hussein’s logic accepted by the SSCI Phase II report, if he wanted to cooperate with the enemies of the Kurds, whose civilian population he directly used chemical weapons against, he would have allied with Ansar al-Islam. Rather, the report ignores this and applies his statement to only support their conclusion regarding ties to al-Qaeda proper without presenting it as contradictory to its conclusion that there were no ties between Iraq and Ansar al-Islam beyond adversarial.

Yet, the al-Qaeda front man, Dr Muhammed al-Masari, described how Saddam was paying for the terrorists’ move into Iraq. “According to Masari, Saddam saw that Islam would be key to a cohesive resistance in the event of invasion. Iraqi army commanders were ordered to become practising Muslims and to adopt the language and spirit of the jihadis. On arrival in Iraq, Al-Qaeda operatives were put in touch with these commanders, who later facilitated the distribution of arms and money from Saddam’s caches.”

Previous Intelligence Reports Contradicted

While this relationship is dismissed by the report, it is not merely a spur of the moment relationship of survival or convenience. The SSCI Phase II Report in fact acknowledges a DIA report that states al-Qaeda has “proven ties to Ansar al-Islam.”

The SSCI Phase II Report also contradicts the 9-11 Commission Report, which documents Iraqi ties with al-Qaeda, including at least one meeting between the Iraqi Intelligence Service and al-Qaeda leaders. Chapter 2 of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States Report (aka 9-11 Commission Report) states in part:

"In mid-1998, the situation reversed; it was Iraq that reportedly took the initiative. In March 1998, after Bin Ladin's public fatwa against the United States, two al Qaeda members reportedly went to Iraq to meet with Iraqi intelligence. In July, an Iraqi delegation traveled to Afghanistan to meet first with the Taliban and then with Bin Ladin. Sources reported that one, or perhaps both, of these meetings was apparently arranged through Bin Ladin's Egyptian deputy, Zawahiri, who had ties of his own to the Iraqis. In 1998, Iraq was under intensifying U.S. pressure, which culminated in a series of large air attacks in December."

The meetings between Farouq Hijazi, at the time head of the Iraqi Intelligence Service's external operations, and al-Qaeda - reportedly at least one with bin Laden personally - cannot be responsibly dismissed as irrelevant in any assessment exploring Iraq/al-Qaeda ties. The SSCI Phase II Report appears to do just this.

Illogical Confidence In DOCEX Success

Many Iraqi documents are not considered by the Committee’s Phase II report while also confidently prophesying that the millions of other recovered Iraqi documents yet to be analyzed will not come into conflict with any of the Phase II conclusions. Considering that the Phase II Report’s conclusions with regard to Iraqi ties to terrorism often conflict with those of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s own Phase I Report and the 9/11 Commission’s final report, this bold statement is even more curious.

The Committee’s Phase II report openly acknowledges that of 120 million Iraqi documents recovered after the 2003 invasion, only “34 million pages have been translated and summarized to some extent” as of early 2006. Precisely how much analysis is entailed in being “translated and summarized to some extent” for those documents is also unclear.

The documents recovered in Iraq are part of the DOCEX efforts and the task of analyzing them is nothing short of daunting. The ‘documents’ include paper files, government and private hard drives, diskettes and CD’s as well as audio and video tapes. The number of documents – in paper, digital and other media forms – is in the millions, a staggering number. Many of the unclassified documents recovered in Iraq are made publicly available through the US Army Foreign Military Studies Office.

Just how many of the documents have been analyzed is classified information, but to be sure it is a very small percentage. A January 2006 article by Stephen Hayes suggested that there had been at that time only “50,000 documents translated completely out of a total of 2 million.” The Phase II Report rightly points to the fact that the initial wave of analysis focused on WMD, and said one former military intelligence officer quoted in Hayes’ article, "At first, if it wasn't WMD, it wasn't translated. It wasn't exploited." While indicative of a concerted effort, it remains to be seen just how effective these efforts were, especially considering a focus on terrorism came along only later. It cannot be known until all of the documents have been properly translated and vetted.

Speaking to the sheer volume of documents yet to be exploited and the linear approach currently employed to tackle them, Michael Tanji, former chief of the media exploitation division in the office of document exploitation at the Defense Intelligence Agency said to The Weekly Standard, “As most of this material has come to us without any context (‘hard drives found in Iraq’ was a common label attached to captured media) that approach means our great-grandchildren will still be dealing with this problem.”


With these considerations, Conclusion 9 appears to be included in the SSCI Phase II Report for the limited purposes of buttressing the previous eight conclusions while dismissing the value of the remaining millions of documents that may well provide data to support conflicting views. With regards to DOCEX, there are millions of documents yet to be translated and reviewed.

The SSCI Phase II Report in its current form is banking on perfection in US Military and Intelligence procedure and execution in vetting WMD and terrorism related documents written in Arabic, often by hand. Considering the intimidating volume of documents and the relative dearth of Arabic linguists to perform the work, this confidence is misplaced. But this misplaced confidence is through no fault of the analysts and linguists combing though mostly mundane documents, as Michael Tanji puts it, by “brute force.”

With the current linear process for achieving a full review a task requiring years to achieve, Conclusion 9 seeks to assure us that “our great-grandchildren” will have found nothing to contradict the conclusions of a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Report that utilized select non-comprehensive reports to arrive at purportedly indisputable conclusions. This assertion in Conclusion 9 falls outside the scope of logic and reason, existing data outside the scope of DOCEX notwithstanding.

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