Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
February 13, 2007
WAR: Sadr To See You Go
While the Democrats debate the wisdom of the surge and the lefty bloggers deny that Iran could have had anything to do with Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, events have overtaken them:
Al Sadr commands the Mahdi Army, one of the most formidable insurgent militias in Iraq, and his move coincides with the announced U.S. troop surge in Baghdad.
Sources believe al Sadr is worried about an increase of 20,000 U.S. troops in the Iraqi capital. One official told ABC News' Martha Raddatz, "He is scared he will get a JDAM [bomb] dropped on his house."
Sources say some of the Mahdi army leadership went with al Sadr.
I guess those talking points about Sadr not being an Iranian puppet have been rendered inoperative. [UPDATE: Sadr's people say he hasn't left.]
It's almost academic now, but for those critics still obsessing over the fact that the intelligence officers who presented the weekend briefing on Iranian arming of Iraqi insurgents did not give their names or appear on camera, I present excerpts from yesterday's White House press conference, featuring a "Mr. Snow":
MR. SNOW: What it means is that there is evidence that there's been some weaponry coming across the border into Iraq and it's being used to kill Americans. And it explains why the administration -- why our military commanders are doing what they can to try to interdict any movement of weapons into the theaters of battle so we can save American lives. It really is a -- it's a force protection issue.
So why in Baghdad? Because that's where the action is and that's where people are collecting things. Why on background? Because one of the key briefers otherwise could not participate, and we thought it was important to get information to reporters. Why then? Because the information was ripe and it had been scrubbed and therefore was ready for presentation. But I don't want to make more or less of it than it was.
MR. SNOW: Yes.
MR. SNOW: What I first would do is just point you back to the briefing. What they have are a number of serial numbers, and so on. I'd just take you back to the transcript on that. If you're looking for the granular evidence, that's what they presented.
Q But that wasn't direct evidence linking Iran --
MR. SNOW: Let me put it this way: There's not a whole lot of freelancing in the Iranian government, especially when it comes to something like that. So what you would have to do, if you're trying to do the -- to counter that position, you would have to assume that people were able of putting together sophisticated weaponry, moving it across a border into a theater of war and doing so unbeknownst and unbidden.
Q Could I just follow it just one more time? So the direct evidence would be the assumption, then, that it would have to be Iranian --
MR. SNOW: Again, what I would suggest, Victoria, if you really want to go into the details, is you go to Embassy Baghdad, because they're the ones who do the briefing. This really is -- it's a force protection matter. That's why they did the briefing. And I'm not going to be able to give you all the jot and tittles on it. That's why -- if you want to call them, or call DoD, they'll be able to give you more detail on it.
MR. SNOW: Well, number one, again, I would refer you back to the people doing the briefing. And this -- there is no question when you have these enhanced devices, these IEDs, they have them -- they're there. So you do have direct physical evidence that, in fact, the weapons are being used within Iraq. There's no question that they're being used, and they are, in fact, of enhanced lethality. And we are doing our best to respond as quickly as possible to the challenge presented by it.
April, the most important thing to understand here -- again, I think what's happening is a lot of people keep trying to hype this into a casus belli with the Iranians -- no, it is simply a matter of force protection with the United States. Our people laid out what they think -- "our people," that is, the Pentagon -- and the briefers in Baghdad laid it out. They're the ones who have the evidence. And if you want to get into the evidentiary findings, you're going to need to talk to the Pentagon about it.
Q Do you think the American people deserve a little bit more than deduction? I mean, the evidence --
MR. SNOW: I think what the American people -- what our troops deserve is somebody who is going to protect them. Now, you cannot deny these weapons exist. You cannot deny that there is presently no manufacturing capability within Iraq able to produce those kinds of weapons. Beyond that, again I point you back to Defense briefing. What the American people need is somebody who is going to say we're going to protect our people from these weapons. The weapons exist. People have got to look at it, they've got to look at what happens when they detonate. It's hard for me to argue that that's a phantom menace. And it's also a lot harder to argue to our troops, who have been getting hit by them.
Q Tony, I'm not sure you want to go back on this notion of freelancing in the Iranian government, but there's obviously a difference between saying, as they did in Baghdad, that some elements in the leadership --
MR. SNOW: Look, the Department of Defense is doing this. What I'm telling you is you guys want to get those questions answered, you need to go to the Pentagon, because they're the ones who have done the work on this.
Q But they've refused. I mean, you should be able to give us --
MR. SNOW: Well, actually, no. I didn't get briefed on it.
Q Well, there should be some kind of coordination, don't you think?
MR. SNOW: Well, actually, when you've got -- combatant commanders are out doing their work. You can pick up the phone and call the Pentagon. We'll be happy to supply numbers for you.
Q Give me the number --
Q How long have these EFPs been around, that the White House is aware of, in Iraq?
MR. SNOW: Again, I'd refer you back -- I think -- I don't want to fake it.
Q They've been reported for a few years, though.
MR. SNOW: Yes, but they've also been increasingly rather dramatically in use, I believe, if you take a look at it over the last year or so. They're a concern. But on the other hand, you've got to keep in mind, there's an attempt here to try to narrow the focus, so this becomes the grand showdown between the United States and Iran. What you have are weapons making their way in and we're going to try to stop it to protect our people. But there are plenty of other things going on. Al Qaeda is active, and you do have rejectionist cells, and you do have some activity -- you have militia activity.
And all these things need to be addressed in the context of a war. It's sort of a classic case of taking one piece and trying suddenly, boom, to make it the big story of the day or to try to internationalize it. This is what it is. They have found munitions, they've traced them to Iran. And, again, for all those further details, you can call the Pentagon and get what you need.
Q But that's not new, is it?
MR. SNOW: No, it's not -- thank you -- no, it's not new. It's not new. The concern is something that we've had for some time, and it's one of the reasons why, for instance, there's a new generation of armor that's being used for Humvees and other things.
Now, obviously, as Tony Snow repeatedly emphasized, he's not the primary source on this story, the Defense Department is, and the Defense Department is offering the detailed information on this based on evidence developed in the field. But it is nonetheless useful to point out here that this is not a couple of rogue DoD agents leaking to the press - the White House is publicly, on record, standing behind the briefing.