Arms Flowing, Heads Rolling in Iraq

Several new developments on the Iraq front in today’s papers, including an investigation of a possible arms smuggling pipeline between Iraq and Syria, the announcements of some substantial shuffling in the senior military leadership in Iraq, and some movements on the diplomatic front. So far, at least, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld’s job appears secure.

Bill Gertz — Iraqi Weapons Pipeline Probed

The Pentagon is investigating reports that Iraqi weapons are being sent covertly to Syria and that they are fueling anti-U.S. insurgents training there, The Washington Times has learned.

The shipments include weapons and explosives sent by vehicles that were detected during the past several months going to several training camps inside Syria, which has become a key backer of anticoalition forces in Iraq, according to defense officials familiar with reports of the shipments.

One defense official said the pipeline was uncovered as part of efforts to discover what happened to Iraq’s arms programs — conventional as well as weapons of mass destruction.

“Everyone seems to have forgotten that there was the prospect of ongoing traffic in munitions … that could then be re-imported into Iraq with quite considerable effect,” the official said. “We are pursuing the extent and location of that.”

The weapons are traveling by covered trucks and unmarked vans along routes that appear to have been set up before the U.S.-led military invasion of Iraq last year.

The night-time deliveries are reported to include small arms, bombs and explosives pilfered from some of the several thousand weapons depots scattered throughout Iraq. The Pentagon has identified more than 8,700 weapons dumps and is continuing to find caches almost daily, officials said.

The arms and explosives come back into Iraq with the Syrian-based insurgents and terrorists, the officials said.

NYT — No. 2 Army General to Move In as Top U.S. Commander in Iraq [RSS]

The top American officer in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, will leave his command this summer, to be replaced by the Army’s second-ranking general, senior Pentagon officials said Monday. The change is part of an overhaul of the American command structure in Iraq that will put a higher-ranking officer in charge.

Pentagon officials said that replacing General Sanchez with the Army vice chief of staff, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., in no way reflected on General Sanchez’s handling of the widening prisoner-abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib prison, outside of Baghdad, which was under his authority.

While the move may not have come purely as a result of Abu Ghraib, General Sanchez has been under pressure recently in Iraq, especially as the insurgency has posed increasing military challenges in the central town of Falluja and in several southern towns.

His intended new assignment, which was to lead the United States Southern Command in Miami, may now have been given to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s senior military assistant, Lt. Gen. Bantz J. Craddock, leaving it unclear where General Sanchez will be assigned, one defense official said. Other officials said, however, that General Sanchez might not yet have lost that prize.

Some lawmakers have criticized General Sanchez, among other top officers, for failing to give Congress an early warning about politically explosive photographs of American military police officers abusing Iraqi prisoners that were turned over to military investigators in January.

A spokesman for General Sanchez said the general “stands by his testimony before Congressional committees” that he did not learn of the abuses until January, months after they began. But sending General Craddock to Iraq could have given critics of Secretary Rumsfeld a target of convenience.

Generals Sanchez and Craddock are both three-star officers who would have needed Senate approval for promotion to a higher rank, and either might have faced a lengthy confirmation process. General Casey is already a four-star officer, and presumably could be installed in the new position more rapidly.

Pentagon officials noted that General Sanchez had spent more than a year in command in Iraq, and it was natural for him to leave sometime soon after the transfer of sovereignty to an Iraqi government on June 30.

LA Times — Pentagon Intends To Replace Ground Commander In Iraq

Under a scenario advocated by Army Gen. John Abizaid, the head of U.S. Central Command, Sanchez, a three-star general, would be replaced by a four-star general, elevating the status of the U.S. presence in Iraq to a new regional command, defense officials said. That move would require congressional approval.

“Sanchez being replaced has been the plan forever,” one senior defense official said. “The entire time there was a plan for Multinational Forces Iraq. The plan was for Sanchez to stand it up and then turn it over to someone else.”

“He’s been there going on 14 months now,” another senior defense official said. “Anybody trying to draw a line between the natural progression of looking for somebody to rotate into that position to the alleged abuses at Abu Ghraib would be just wrong. There’s absolutely no connection whatever.”

***

The new command structure is designed to improve oversight of Iraq and communication between the military leadership and the civilian leadership of the occupation. The Coalition Provisional Authority, led by L. Paul Bremer III, intends to hand over sovereignty June 30 to an interim Iraqi government. The top U.S. official will then be John D. Negroponte, who was recently confirmed as ambassador. The new four-star general will work closely with Negroponte on overall political and military planning.

Interesting. It’s unclear to me why an additional four-star general is needed in Iraq, especially after the transition. The timing is obviously suspicious given the prison scandal but the Army routinely reshuffles commanders just as they’re getting settled in. Indeed, many critics have long argued that the personnel management system prizes punching tickets at various assignments over competent handling of those assignments.

WaPo — Army Suspends General In Charge Of Abu Ghraib

The Army suspended Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski from her command of the 800th Military Police Brigade yesterday, more than four months after abuses of detainees were discovered at the Abu Ghraib prison under her command.

Karpinski was indefinitely relieved of her command pending the outcome of investigations into treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, but Army officials said the move should not be taken as punishment.

Karpinski was in charge of all 16 U.S. detention facilities in Iraq when the abuses occurred last fall. She has stated repeatedly that she did not know about the problems because a military intelligence brigade ran the section of the prison where detainees were humiliated and physically maltreated. An Army investigation of the performance of military intelligence officers at the prison is still underway.

Lt. Col. Pamela Hart, an Army spokeswoman, confirmed that Karpinski had been suspended and will be transferred to another Army reserve unit. Another officer will be named to take her command position temporarily.

Before yesterday, Karpinski’s duties had not been affected by the prison scandal. She had returned home to South Carolina on leave after more than a year in Iraq.

Reached yesterday by telephone in New Jersey, Karpinski said she had not received official written notice of her suspension but had confirmed it with Army officials. She said she is angry because she believes she has done nothing wrong.

The fact that she believes she did nothing wrong proves she should have been relieved. Indeed, I don’t understand why she’s still allowed to wear a uniform, let alone stars on her shoulders.

USA Today — Rumsfeld’s Time ‘Absorbed’ By Abuse Scandal

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, embattled by the Iraq prison abuse scandal, characteristically defined his own terms for whether he would stay on: He would resign, he said, if he could no longer be effective running the Department of Defense.

Rumsfeld moved quickly to dispel the image of an out-of-touch executive atop an out-of-control organization. In the midst of a complex and costly war, Rumsfeld dropped virtually all his other duties and spent the better part of two weeks working on little besides the abuse scandal. That work included an unannounced visit to Abu Ghraib prison, where photos of U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqi inmates originated.

Publicly, Rumsfeld said the focus on the scandal was important because Iraqis and the wider Arab world needed to understand that the U.S. government did not condone the abusive treatment of Muslim prisoners. Speaking to reporters after one of his many appearances on Capitol Hill in the past few weeks, Rumsfeld was asked whether the prison investigations were diverting his attention from the war effort.

“Yes. That is not to say it shouldn’t. It’s too bad, but that’s life,” Rumsfeld said. “An awful lot of us are spending an enormous amount of time on this subject.”

***

Rumsfeld has accepted responsibility for the prison scandal. “Let me be clear,” he told House and Senate oversight committees. “I failed to recognize how important it was to elevate a matter of such gravity to the highest levels, including the president and the members of Congress.”

WaPo — U.S. And Britain Offer New U.N. Resolution On Iraq Transition

The United States and Britain presented the U.N. Security Council on Monday with a draft resolution that would formally transfer authority in Iraq to a “sovereign interim government” on June 30 but ensure that U.S. armed forces maintain military control over the country for at least another year.

The resolution would authorize U.S.-led multinational forces to “use all necessary measures” to keep the peace and fight terrorist elements challenging the interim government. Its mandate would be subject to review by the Security Council within 12 months or by a transitional Iraqi government to be elected by January 2005.

France, Germany, Russia and China expressed misgivings about the resolution, saying it does not offer full sovereignty to Iraqis. Envoys from those governments said the resolution would not resolve many key political issues, including the extent of Iraqis’ control over their security forces in the months ahead and the duration of the multinational force’s stay in Iraq.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said the new Iraqi government “must be able to make decisions over security issues, or else it won’t be truly sovereign.” Still, Germany’s U.N. ambassador, Gunter Pleuger, said the text represents “a good basis for discussion.”

The 15-nation Security Council will resume negotiations on the draft on Wednesday. U.S. and British officials said they hope to have the resolution adopted by early next month.

Obviously, the transitional government isn’t going to be truly sovereign. Indeed, that’s why it’s called a “transitional government”–it’s a government that is being put in place to make the transition from an occupied country to a sovereign one.

Christian Science Monitor — US Closes In On Deal With Iraqi Cleric

The coalition has declared repeatedly that it will not negotiate with “militias and criminals.” Nonetheless, a deal may be forthcoming with Sadr, said an official close to the talks. The coalition has previously said it wanted the cleric killed or captured.

If the deal pans out, it could bring to an end the seven-week conflict. The hope is that by engaging Sadr politically, the coalition can neutralize him militarily. His militia might also eventually be integrated into the Iraqi national security forces.

Such an accord would reverse previously held coalition strategies – much as happened in Fallujah. In that Iraqi city, the scene of intense fighting in April, militia including many of the same insurgents who were fighting the Marines are now in charge of keeping the peace.

FILED UNDER: Iraq War
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.