Iraq: The reliable sourcing of David Ignatius?

Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki and Iranian President Ahmadinejad meet in Baghdad in March 2008 (Ahmad Al-Rubaye-Pool/Getty)

Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki and Iranian President Ahmadinejad meet in Baghdad in March 2008 (Ahmad Al-Rubaye-Pool/Getty)

Reading David Ignatius’s scary column on how Iran is going to takeover Iraq if we leave, three thoughts came to mind. First, no shit Iran is trying exert influence on a neighbor/historic rival who they share a long border with–it’s what nation states do to their neighors. (See: U.S/Mexico.) Second, perhaps foreign policy expert David “My Gut Tells Me This War is Worth Fighting” Ignatius should have thought of this before he helped promote the war a few years back. (“Who’s to blame for the carnage?” he asks in his column today, looking around the room, perplexed. Hmmm…yes, who is to blame…) Third, it seems the scariest accusations are made by an unnamed Iraqi intelligence official.

Anonymous source accusation #1:

But forensic evidence points to a possible Iranian role, according to an Iraqi intelligence source who is close to Shahwani. He said that signatures of the C-4 explosive residues that have been found at the bomb sites are similar to those of Iranian-made explosives that have been captured in Kut, Nasiriyah, Basra and other Iraqi cities since 2006.

Anonymous source accusation #2:

Iran’s links with Maliki are so close, said this Iraqi intelligence source,that the prime minister uses an Iranian jet with an Iranian crew for his official travel. The Iranians are said to have sent Maliki an offer to help his Dawa Party win at least 49 seats in January’s parliamentary elections if Maliki will make changes in his government that Iran wants.

A little context here. Gen. Mohammed Shahwani, the excuse for writing the piece, has been one the CIA’s men in Iraq, running the Iraqi National Intelligence Service.  Ignatius points that out, so all good so far. Journalists like Shahwani because a) he’s the CIA’s man, as mentioned b) he speaks English, so he can talk to American journalists c)he’s very cloak and dagger-like, which gives us journos a visceral, sexy, Body of Lies-type espionage feel to our profession.  (Last time I tried to interview Shahwani, he was in Amman at the Four Seasons–he refused to say anything over the phone because he was worried he was being spied on. Exciting!)

My question is, how are we supposed to take those two accusations from this unnamed “Iraqi intelligence official?” Are we supposed to take them as fact? Or as another “conspiracy theory” for the sectarian violence, as Ignatius hints. Because Ignatius makes it clear that he doesn’t really buy Prime Minister Maliki’s version of who is responsible for last week’s bombing. (“Maliki’s Shiite-led government last weekend broadcast the alleged confessionof a Sunni Baathist named Wisam Ali Khazim Ibrahim, who said the truck-bombing plot had been hatched in Syria and that he had paid security guards $10,000 to pass through checkpoints.”)

So, while Maliki has presented only a flimsy video confession of the perpetrator as evidence, Ignatius says that his unnamed Iraqi intel official has the much more serious “forensic evidence” of C4 that could possible have been made in Iran. (But Sunni Baathist insurgents could probably also get their hands on Iranian C4….Anyway…) Not only that, Maliki flies on a private jet with Iranian flight attendants! Case closed.

What I’m saying here is that those two accusations are pretty politically loaded–the intent is to stoke American fears about Iran’s involvement in Iraq. (It worked. This story is getting a bunch of pick up.) So why couldn’t Ignatius confirm those accusations, even with another unnamed source? Shouldn’t some of his U.S. intel friends know what kind of private jet Maliki flies on? And I was under the impression that we journalists weren’t supposed to rely on single unnamed intel sources for stories anymore.

Anyway, the accusations are being made by someone “close to Shahwani”–might be Shahwani himself,we don’t know really–who see Maliki as their political enemy. Shahwani has, of course, relied on U.S. support, and by saying that Iran is everywhere, he’s making the case that he continues to need/want U.S. support. Shahwani works with U.S. spies, Igantius tells us, while Maliki works with/tolerates, gasp, Iranian spies. Unacceptable. So somebody has got to keep an eye on Maliki when we leave.

Not to say that this unnamed Iraqi intel official’s accusations are without merit. I just think when it comes to Iraq we might want to be a bit more careful before we start writing columns that rely on a single, unnamed source, pushing a hidden political agenda.

To really scare us, though, the source tells Ignatius that in five years, if the U.S. leaves, “Iraq is going to be a colony of Iran.”  So if we don’t leave, does that mean Iraq can stay an American colony? My gut tells me that sounds…

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About michaelhastings

Journalist
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2 Responses to Iraq: The reliable sourcing of David Ignatius?

  1. Mr. Hastings,

    Your blog is very interesting and raises important points. However, just like Mr. Ignatius’s column, I don’t where this all leads. I think it is pretty clear that the big winner in the Iraq war is Iran and not just because they have now acquired a new and potentially power ally in Iraq. What is to be done however? No one is officially acknowledging that this problem even exists. Neither Tehran nor Baghdad think there is anything amiss and Washington doesn’t seem concerned, everything is going according to (Bush’s) plan. What could anyone do anyway? Regime change? Not likely! Slow the withdrawl of US troops? What would that do, even if the political will existed to do that, which it does not? It is like one of those Greek tragedies, everyone knows exactly what is going to happen but no one can do anything to change the course of the plot.

  2. Michael Peck says:

    This is why I like reading your blog, Michael. You know the players in the game. You’re probably right that this is all a ploy by ambitious Iraqis who want U.S. support. Makes you wonder what the other Iraqis are spinning to their Iranian patrons (“support me or Iraq will become the 51st state”)

    I’m not that worried about Iraq as an Iranian “colony.” I’ve heard that Iranians have made themselves less than popular in Iraq, and I’m curious to see whether Shia brotherhood will trump traditional Persian/Arab rivalry.

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