July 15, 2004


Winning the War: In an exclusive interview with FrontPage, Karl Zinsmeister discusses how the U.S. military is winning the hearts and minds of Iraqis -- and successfully building the first democracy in the Arab Middle East (Jamie Glazov, FrontPage)

FP: Your book focuses on the terrorist insurrection in Iraq, especially in the Sunni triangle. Could you tell our readers a bit about what this threat is and what it entails?

Zinsmeister: Iraq is a big country, and its citizens hold a wide range of viewpoints. There is a large silent majority in Iraq, as in most countries, that is more sensible than most of our readers may imagine. Large swaths of the countryside—for instance the Shiite areas in the southern half of the nation where I spent most of my time during the 2003 hot war—are comparatively quiet and beginning to get on with ordinary life. The Iraqi economy will grow about 60 percent this year, and there is a consumer surge going on. Cell phones are proliferating, about a million cars have been imported, a third of the homes have installed satellite TV, and families are buying up washing machines, air conditioners, radios, and other things long unavailable.

It’s a problem that these relatively stable areas receive so little notice in the West. But on my latest trip I wanted to go right into the Sunni triangle and observe the worst snakepits in Iraq. So I spent most of my time in Fallujah and some rough areas of Baghdad.

The fighters in this region are a mix of former Saddam-ites and religious extremists (Fallujah is a historic center for recruiting into Saddam’s security forces, as well as the center of Wahabi Islam in Iraq), with extensive orchestration from foreign jihadists. The foreigners are not large in number, but Zarqawi’s group is behind most of the more serious and visible attacks, including nearly all of the car bombings.

The high end of the latest intelligence estimates is that there are a grand total of around 20,000 insurgents carrying out violence in Iraq today. They are a dangerous lot, and obviously capable of inducing plenty of instability and fear. This is NOT, however, a broad popular insurrection. Far from it. 20,000 guerillas in a population of 25 million works out to one insurgent for every 1,250 Iraqis. To put that in perspective, realize that, for instance, one out of every 305 Americans is a Hindu. So guerillas in Iraq are four times less common than Hindus are in the U.S.

Now, many of those 20,000 guerillas are well trained in the black arts of terror. And nearly all of them are nihilists who hold nothing sacred as they wage terror. So I’m not denying we are in the midst of a tough and serious guerilla fight in Iraq. But it’s important that Americans understand this is not a mass insurgency.

FP: That’s not something you’d learn from most reporting.

Zinsmeister: The huge, central fact missing from most of the reporting from Iraq this year is that the Shiite middle—who are going to run this country—have so far stuck with us through many travails.

This was demonstrated again when the radical Shiite cleric Moktada Sadr went on the warpath during the spring. Scads of reporters and newsroom analysts declared a general uprising, the loss of majority Shiite support, the beginning of the end for the U.S. in Iraq. I have in front of me, for instance, an April 7 New York Times story written from Washington which announces in its lead sentence that “United States forces are confronting a broad-based Shiite uprising.” A Newsweek headline on April 10 screamed: “THE IRAQI INTIFADA: Suddenly the insurgency is much broader and much more dangerous than anyone had imagined it could become.”

These reports were wrong. Ordinary Shia and Shiite leaders alike subsequently made it clear that the mad cleric does not speak for most of them. They quietly plotted amongst themselves and with the Coalition to neutralize Sadr. Today he remains a fringe figure.

Certainly there are too many dangerous, well-armed fanatics carrying out violence in Iraq today. And much of the rest of the population is afraid cross them: 70 percent of Iraqis believe their family will be in peril if they are perceived to be cooperating with the U.S. Our failure to convince more good Iraqis it is safe to stand up and be counted is a serious problem that needs concerted attention. But fearing the guerillas and supporting them are two different things, and the clear evidence of polling, interviews, and behavior on the streets of Iraq is that most ordinary Iraqis do not admire, aid, or encourage the fighters.

Anyone who hasn't figured out the difference between the Shi'a and the Sunni yet is being willfully blind--unfortunately, that would describe nearly the entire mainstream press.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 15, 2004 5:20 PM

But he makes the case that we have failed in the prime duty of the occupation if 70% of Iraqis feel that their lives are in danger if they are seen helping the US.

Under a successful occupation that number would be low. Hopefully the handover will succeed in lowering it to a level where we can say the war was in fact "won."

In the end, there is no difference between fearing the guerillas or supporting them, if Iraqis believe that allowing the guerillas to win will buy them order.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at July 15, 2004 6:40 PM

The prime duty of the occupation was to end the occupation which was a mistake to begin with.

Posted by: oj at July 15, 2004 6:51 PM

"one out of every 305 Americans is a Hindu" I didn't know that.

Now let me see OJ, Sunni are the ones, who fly Airliners into skyscrapers to kill Americans and blow themselves up in order to kill Jews. When not doing that they behead Americans and beat their wives.

The Shia are the ones who yell "Death to the Great Satan", and hold Americans hostage in Tehran and Beirut, and shoot artillery into Israel in order to kill Jews. And in their spare time put out death warrants on writers they don't like.

Yep, definitely I prefer the Shia. After all there are some writers who deserve it.

Posted by: h-man at July 15, 2004 7:03 PM


What year is it where you are?

Posted by: oj at July 15, 2004 7:24 PM

Darn, you mean I didn't get the answer right?

2001, why do you ask?

Posted by: h-man at July 15, 2004 7:56 PM

The average Western reporter couldn't tell a Palestinian from a Filipino, much less a Sunni from a Shi'a.

Posted by: jim hamlen at July 15, 2004 8:35 PM


Because 2001 would be twenty years after the hostages were released.

Posted by: oj at July 15, 2004 8:44 PM

The chances are stronger every day that Baghdad will be the most cosmopolitan city in the Middle East within 10 years. Of course, Fallujah might be smoking gravel long before then, but it comes with the territory.

Posted by: ratbert at July 15, 2004 9:14 PM

The Shia in Iraq, centered in Najaf, have a less political involvement than the Iranian Shia, centered in Qom. Nevertheless, they are exerting significant influence in Iraq, and it remains to be seen how far they will ultimately stay removed from the political realm. The Iraqi Shia are currently guided by al-Sistani, who is making significant moves to establish relations in various countries, probably exceeding the activities of the new Iraqi government. He and the Najaf clerics advocate this very slight separation that we refer to as between church and state. When al-Sistani passes on, as he is somewhat advanced in age, it would be prudent to have institutional mechanisms in place, possibly similar to those in Turkey, or an Iraqi version thereof, that would continue to regulate the always-tense relationship between the political and religious realms of Islam in Iraq.

Posted by: Bobby at July 16, 2004 12:09 AM

As I cast my wilfully blind eyes about me, to see any distinct differences among the various Muslim states, darned if I can see any that mean anything.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at July 16, 2004 1:52 PM

That's the point.

Posted by: oj at July 16, 2004 3:01 PM