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Murtha Returns to the Attack

by ALEXANDER COCKBURN

On the heels of the second in Bush’s series of four speeches on the war in Iraq, Rep John Murtha returned to the attack in a press conference, responding to Bush’s claims. Armed with graphs, bar charts and intimate knowledge of what is actually happening on the ground in Iraq, the former US Marine shredded Bush’s claims, blazing a path for his fellow Democrats, which most of them continue to shun.

Once again Murtha relayed what the four star generals are telling him. Among his disclosures.

Logistical planning and supplies for US forces has all but disintegrated. Murtha:

“We had National Guard security people without radios — couldn’t talk to the front, the back of the convoy, endangering their lives… Forty thousand troops didn’t have body armor.”

Substandard recruitment and poor training have produced an army incapable of fighting or even defending itself effectively. Murtha: “we have 112,000 shortages in critical MOSs. Now, what are those shortages? Number one, they’re in demolition experts; number two, special forces people; number three, intelligence experts, which are absolutely essential; and fourth is translators. Now could there be any more important specialties than that? And we’re short in every one of those fields.

* The Army’s manpower crisis has resulted in unsustainable budgetary outlays. Murtha:

“They are now paying $150,000 for somebody that’s in special forces, in one of the specialties, in order to get them to re- enlist. They missed their goal. And one of the biggest reasons that I’m so concerned about this — and I talk to the military all the time — is the future of the military. They missed their goal in recruiting by 6,600 this last time. “

The political impossibility of reviving the draft has produced an army overloaded with substandard recruits. Murtha:

“They’re accepting 20 percent last year in category four. Now, this is a highly technical service we’re dealing with, And yet they lowered the standards to category four, which they said when we had the volunteer army, that would eliminate all the category four. “

* Venturing on ground normally shunned by his fellow Democrats, Murtha derided Bush’s description of resistance in Iraq as terrorism. He insisted it is an insurgency, powered by the US military presence and by US tactics. Murtha:

“For instance, in Fallujah, which happened about the same time — the first Fallujah happened about the same time as Abu Ghraib — we put 150,000 people outside their homes in Fallujah. If you remember in Jordan, the bomber said that the reason she became a bomber was because two of her relatives were killed in Fallujah. We lost the hearts and minds of the people. “

Murtha dismissed the claims of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld that the resistance in Iraq comes primarily or even substantively from outside the country. Murtha:

“We [ie US intelligence estimates inside Iraq] think that foreign fighters are about 7 percent — might be a little bit more, a little bit less. Very small proportion of the people that are involved in the insurgency are terrorists or how I would interpret them as terrorists.”

Murtha reiterated the view he put forward at his first bombshell news conference on November 17 that withdrawal on an accelerated schedule is a certainty, and one that will entail continuing heavy casualties. Though he did not characterize it as such, Murtha is predicting a bloody rout for US forces, to which there is no alternative. Murtha:

“They’re going to withdraw. There’s no question they’re going to withdraw. I predict a big proportion of the troops will be out by next year. But the problem is they’re just as vulnerable. The biggest vulnerability we have in Iraq is the convoys. Every convoy is attacked. When I was in Anbar, at Haditha, every single convoy was attacked that goes there to bring the logistics and supplies that they need. That’s the most vulnerable part of our deployment. And if you have half the troops there, you’re going to still have to supply them, resupply them on the ground and they’re going to be attacked. When I said we can’t win a military victory, it’s because the Iraqis have turned against us.”

The full transcript of Murtha’s remarks follows.

Let me start by going through a timeline and then get to what the president said.

In May 1, 2003, the president declared it was a major — end of major operations. Then he sent John Hamre to Iraq. John Hamre was undersecretary of defense in the Clinton administration. And he found all kinds of problems. He said: You got three months, three critical months to get this thing under control if you want to control the security; 12 months at the most, but three months are crucial, the first three months.

He said small things like sewage and water and things that a lot of people don’t pay attention to — I pay attention, because in my district that’s important. But a lot of people paid no attention to that report.

I went there — now this was July that Hamre made his report and it was a very prescient report. I mean, it was a very accurate report about the predictions of what was going to happen. And we have a copy of it here for you.

In August 16th, I went to Iraq, from August 16th to the 20th. When I came back, I said to Secretary Rumsfeld: We require immediate attention of body armor. They said they were prepared. They said they had what they needed.

Forty thousand troops didn’t have body armor. They needed armored Humvees. They needed jammers and Kevlar blankets they asked for. This was all levels of people in Iraq at the time.

And then I wrote to the president on September 4th and I said, “I believe you have miscalculated the magnitude of the effort we are facing. We should energize, Iraqitize and internationalize this effort.”

And we have copies of that letter in there.

Then we had the $87 billion supplemental in October of 2003.

I said on the floor that I felt the most important part of that supplemental was the construction money. A lot of people voted against it because they didn’t think we should be spending money in Iraq for construction when Wolfowitz, Assistant Secretary Wolfowitz, had said: It’s going to be paid for by oil money.

So a lot of people opposed it on the floor, but it passed handily.

Then I went back to Iraq and I told Ambassador Bremer, General Sanchez and General Odierno and the young general that was their public relations guy, “You guys are way too optimistic about this. You’re not being honest with the American people.”

They took umbrage. I got some nasty letters, as I usually do when I say something like this.

Now, you remember, I wrote to the president in September 4th of 2003. I got a letter back in April 6th, 2004. The president didn’t write back. I received a response from a deputy undersecretary — paints a totally rosy, unrealistic picture, saying 200,000 Iraqis — now, hear what I’m saying — 200,000 Iraqis under arms, reconstruction projects and 70 percent of Iraqis feel — or 2,200 reconstruction projects — 70 percent of Iraqis feel life is good.

The irony is that this was the month with the most U.S. deaths; 137 were killed. But that’s what they wrote to me.

Then we have Abu Ghraib that very year.

Now I said to the secretary of defense: You have got a shortage of people in specialty, MOS specialties, that’s a military specialist. We had truck drivers who couldn’t back up a truck. We had security guards who weren’t trained in security at all. We had National Guard security people without radios — couldn’t talk to the front, the back of the convoy, endangering their lives.

We got radios over there and we tried to address this very problem. And we had a press conference. Nancy Pelosi and I did. We said, “the military’s overstretched and there’s poor planning.” And I said at that time I did not think we could win this militarily.

I got a lot of criticism. DeLay got up on the floor and said I was a traitor. What I said to him, publicly, I won’t tell you.

Now, here’s the way I measure progress. The president said we got slow progress. We want to help the government of Iraq — this is the State Department — provide essential services, crude oil production.
Now, the green line you see here is the goal — and they got charts here that you can get copies of. This is what we actually had in oil production.

Now, you remember, Secretary Wolfowitz said, we’re going to have oil — going to pay for this. And this is all we’ve gotten. We didn’t get up to prewar level in oil production.

Today they said we’re making progress.

I can only measure progress by what I see and the things that I can actually measure, not by what they say are brigades and so forth and so on.

Now, water production: We put $2.1 billion into water production. They’re short of water all over the country. And they have only spent $581 billion — or $581 million.

Now, that’s why Hamre’s report was so important. You had to get this insurgency under control immediately. You had to win the hearts and minds of the people. That’s the key in a guerrilla-type war.

This is electricity overview. This is the demand. The yellow line is the demand. The red line is the prewar level. And you can see that occasionally you got up to prewar level. That’s the way I measure progress.

Now, there’s one other area where I measure progress, and that’s incidents. Incidents have increased fivefold in the period of time that — well, a year ago. A year ago there were five times less than today.

And at Abu Ghraib — now, again, we didn’t have the right people in the right kind of specialties. We didn’t have them trained. So at Abu Ghraib, we had people untrained that were taking care of prisoners. And you see the result of that.

The secretary offered to resign at that time. I would have accepted his resignation, because I think this was a Defense Department responsibility. And we had many other (inaudible).

Right now, GAO says in a report of November — November? — November — we have 112,000 shortages in critical MOSs. Now, what are those shortages?

Number one, they’re in demolition experts; number two, special forces people; number three, intelligence experts, which are absolutely essential; and fourth is translators.

Now could there be any more important specialties than that? And we’re short in every one of those fields.

And you know what? We’re paying someone to go into the Army. When I was in, they paid $72 a day. I volunteered in the middle of the Korean War. They are now paying $150,000 for somebody that’s in special forces, in one of the specialties, in order to get them to re- enlist.

They missed their goal. And one of the biggest reasons that I’m so concerned about this — and I talk to the military all the time — is the future of the military. They missed their goal in recruiting by 6,600 this last time.

But you have to look at that, because there’s a retention, there’s a stop-loss, plus the problem that we had with the people not in the right specialties. And they enlisted people in the higher levels who were probably going to enlist anyway that they wouldn’t normally have re-enlisted.

They have lowered the standards. They’re accepting 20 percent last year in category four. Now, this is a highly technical service we’re dealing with, And yet they lowered the standards to category four, which they said when we had the volunteer army, that would eliminate all the category four.

Now, let me tell you the major problem we have. You heard the president talk today about terrorism. Every other word was “terrorism.”

Let me separate terrorism from insurgency. When I was in Iraq in 1991, president — or King Fahd said to me — this was an early morning meeting, like two or three o’clock in the morning, when he normally met with people during the air war.

And he said: Get your troops out of Saudi Arabia the minute this war’s over. You’re on sacred ground. You’re destabilizing the whole region. I reported that back to the State Department and, as you know, we didn’t get our troops out of there. We left our troops there.

Bin Laden said he attacked the United States because of the troops in Saudi Arabia. That’s terrorism. Terrorism was in London. Terrorism was in Spain. Terrorism was, obviously, in the United States.

That’s completely separate from what’s going on in Iraq. Iraq is an insurgency. At one of the hearings early on, Secretary Rumsfeld denied there was an insurgency. He said it was a gang of something or another. But they wouldn’t admit that they were having real problems over there. They kept being unrealistic, illusionary about what was going on in Iraq.

One of the major problems we have in fighting an insurgency is the military and the way they fight. And I adhere to the way they fight. They send in massive force. They use artillery, they use air and mortars. And they kill a lot of people in order to suppress fire and protect our military. I’m for that.

But it doesn’t make you any friends. That’s part of the problem. For instance, in Fallujah, which happened about the same time — the first Fallujah happened about the same time as Abu Ghraib — we put 150,000 people outside their homes in Fallujah.

If you remember in Jordan, the bomber said that the reason she became a bomber was because two of her relatives were killed in Fallujah. We lost the hearts and minds of the people.

Hamre said: You’ve got three months to win the hearts and minds of the people, to get this under control, to get the looting and so forth under control.

We didn’t do that. There’s been poor planning from the start by the Defense Department. The Defense Department fought to keep this planning under their control. State Department had entirely different reasons for wanting it. And we even voted in the House to give it to the State Department.

And finally, in conference, we had to agree to let the president make the decision. He made the decision to give it to the Defense Department.

Now, in an insurgency and nation-building — what did President Bush say when he ran for office the first time? “We are not into nation-building. And we’re not into nation-building because of the way our military has to operate.” It’s that simple. We’ve got to go in and level the place, destroy a place. And when we destroy a place, we lose the very thing that’s absolutely essential to winning the insurgency.

Now, let’s talk about terrorism versus insurgency in Iraq itself. We think that foreign fighters are about 7 percent — might be a little bit more, a little bit less. Very small proportion of the people that are involved in the insurgency are terrorists or how I would interpret them as terrorists.

And we don’t have enough troops to guard against the border. The generals in charge of that part of Anbar said, “I don’t have enough troops. They’ve given me a mission to protect against the Syrian border. I don’t have enough troops to do that.”

They have never had enough troops to get it under control. They didn’t have enough troops for the looters. And they haven’t had enough troops ever since then to get the place under control.

But the key elements, as I see it — you heard him say that 70 percent of the Iraqis were satisfied, in that paper they sent me. Now, you’ll see a document that’s in this package here that told me six months before — well, in the victory document he says we have 212,000 people trained now, Iraqi security people. Last year, we had 96,000.

Yet, they wrote to me six months before the last year’s statement that said they had 200,000. Now, why don’t I believe them when they say anything? They said we got weapons of mass destruction. They said we got an Al Qaida connection. They said we got nuclear weapons. They said we cross this red line which surrounds Baghdad and we’re going to have a war with them.

Eighty percent of the people, according to a British poll reported by the Washington Times, says we want the United States out; 77 percent of the people in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt say there’s a better chance of democracy if the United States is not there because we’re considered occupiers; 45 percent of the people in Iraq think that it’s justified to kill Americans. They even had an official communique that says it’s justified to attack Americans.

So in this country, when I made my initial proposal to redeploy the troops and to make a diplomat effort and the only way I think this will work — I don’t think you can continue to draw down the way they’re talking about. They’re going to withdraw. There’s no question they’re going to withdraw. I predict a big proportion of the troops will be out by next year.

But the problem is they’re just as vulnerable. The biggest vulnerability we have in Iraq is the convoys. Every convoy is attacked. When I was in Anbar, at Haditha, every single convoy was attacked that goes there to bring the logistics and supplies that they need. That’s the most vulnerable part of our deployment.

And if you have half the troops there, you’re going to still have to supply them, resupply them on the ground and they’re going to be attacked.

When I said we can’t win a military victory, it’s because the Iraqis have turned against us. They throw a hand grenade or a rocket into American forces and the people run into the crowd and they — nobody tells them where they are.

I am convinced, and everything that I’ve read, the conclusion I’ve reached is there will be less terrorism, there will be less danger to the United States and it’ll be less insurgency once we’re out.

I think the Iraqis themselves will turn against this very small group of Al Qaida.

They keep saying the terrorists are going to control Iraq — no way. Al Qaida’s only 7 percent of the people in Iraq and doing this fighting. The terrorists — there’s several factions, but let’s say Al Qaida is 7 percent at the very most.

Iraq will get rid of them because they’ll tell the Iraqis where they are and it will be the end of the terrorist activity.

Now, my plan says redeploy to the periphery, to Kuwait, to Okinawa, and if there’s a terrorist activity that affects our allies or affects the United States’ national security, we can then go back in.

I’m not talking about going back in if there’s civil war, because we’re in a civil war right now. We’re caught in between a civil war right now.

And with that I’ll end and answer any questions you may have.

 

Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

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