Iraq: State of the Disunion

Scott Horton: All right my friends, welcome to the Weekend Interview Show for December 3, 2005. I’m your host, Scott Horton. My Web site is

My first guest is the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who broke the story of the My Lai massacre, Seymour Hersh. Since 9/11, he has been writing an alternative history of the War Party for the New Yorker magazine. His books include: My Lai 4: A Report on the Massacre and Its Aftermath, The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House, The Samson Option: Israel’s Nuclear Arsenal and American Foreign Policy, Against All Enemies: Gulf War Syndrome: The War Between Americans Ailing Veterans and Their Government, and Chain of Command: The Road From 9/11 to Abu Ghraib. He has a brand-new article in the New Yorker called “Up in the Air: Where Is the Iraq War Headed Next?” Welcome to the show, Mr. Hersh.

Seymour Hersh: Hello.

Horton: Bush has said just in this last week that he will settle for nothing less than “complete victory,” as pressure mounts in both parties for some sort of timetable for American withdrawal. And as this is happening, the Iraqis are preparing to have an election in just a couple of weeks to choose their new government. I wonder what kind of results do you expect from the election and how you think that will compare to what the administration wants?

Hersh: Well, of course, nobody knows nothin’. But with that caveat – by that I mean, my opinion is my opinion and it doesn’t make it a fact. I think the administration – as I wrote actually, in the article – is pushing very hard for Iyad Allawi, the secular Shi’ite that was interim prime minister, who’s been pretty much in the game as an opposition leader living an exiled life in London. His main opposition is Ahmed Chalabi. Allawi is pretty much the candidate of the CIA, some in the State Department, and some in the White House. They love him because he will do what we want, and if we need someone to give us cover in terms of asking us to leave or asking us to withdraw, or whatever, he’s going to be our man. He’s also pretty tough. At one point, he was running his own militia. In his career, he’s been inside. He has worked very close to Saddam Hussein inside the Mukhabarat Iraqi Secret Army and secret, if you will, the torture police. He’s not an amateur at torture and he is not an amateur to bloody operations, but he is our guy. I don’t think we will get what we want. I think what we are going to end up with will probably be Abdel Mahdi, who’s a member of the Shi’ite coalition. He is now vice president of the country. He lives abroad, he’s… like everybody almost everybody around, everybody involved, none of them seemed to have spent their life in Iraq. All have lived abroad, obviously because of Saddam, in opposition.

Horton: All right, everybody. I am sorry sir, we are coming up on this break here. Real quick, I just wanted to ask you real quick, you have basically reported that they tried to elect Allawi as the prime minister in January, and that didn’t work then, so you don’t think they have a very good chance of pulling it off this time?

Hersh: No, no, nope, but they sure tried, they played a Chicago-style game in the American White House, but it didn’t work then.

Horton: All right we will be right back…

Horton: My guest this hour is Seymour Hersh. He’s the author of the book Chain of Command and investigative reporter for the New Yorker magazine. And before the break, sir, you were talking about a man who seems as though he may be a front runner in the upcoming Iraqi elections, Abdel Mahdi. And you said that he’s lived in exile for years like Allawi and Chalabi. But I wonder where in exile did he live? Is he one of those guys that’s been living in Iran since back in the day?

Hersh: No, he was living in France and was an economist, but he is very close. He’s the – more or less – one of the major leaders of the SCIRI, along with Da’wa, the two major, very-close-to-Iran parties that now dominate the Shi’ite coalition – at least the religious aspects of it. So basically you are dealing with somebody very, very close to Iran. I think that no matter what happens, whether it’s Allawi or whether it’s Abdel Mahdi, all of this is probably going to be decided in intense negotiations. This election this year is province by province, so you’re going to see, you will see Sunnis, because there are three or four provinces around Baghdad that are very dominated by the Sunni Ba’athist Party and that is where the insurgency is headquartered, obviously. And they will be in the new parliament, and the new parliament will pick its leadership, which will pick the vice president, and all of this is going to take a lot of negotiations. This week it can change – it’s got, what, another two weeks more or not quite to the elections. Mahdi seems to be the guy who is sitting pretty right now, and that just means essentially that the big winner of this whole mess that we’re in is going to be Iran, and the big loser, of course, is going to be Uncle Sam.

Horton: Well, and the people of Iraq.

Hersh: Ah, yes, I agree, absolutely.

Horton: It seems like the entire election would be in doubt when you look at the results of the constitutional referendum in October where you had some provinces reporting 99 percent turnout for the constitution. Those are Saddam-Hussein-election-type numbers, aren’t they?

Hersh: Oh yeah, I thought that, look… If you have any stake or… Look, I think this is all a game that the Americans basically are interested in playing. You know it’s a check-off list for us, for President Bush and his policy to announce that we moved another step on the road to democracy, which is this fantasy land that he thinks he can achieve in Iraq. No, there is no question, the constitution, if you remember the constitution, the three provinces that – according to the actual rules, the three provinces voted against the constitution – you had to have a two-thirds majority against it – it was defeated, and there is no question that in two of them this happened, and the third, Mosul province, the amount of fraud and jiggering of election ballots and manipulation was just outlandish. I do know, at least I have been told that, before the… if you remember the election day, I think it was initially supposed to be August 15th. The election day…

Horton: October 15th, I think, right?

Hersh: Right, right, October 15th. It was extremely quiet, and it’s my understanding that the resistance actually had been talking to the UN – the UN had an advisory role in the election process, which it still has – and they had made it quiet not because intimidation of coalition forces and the American government but because they decided, they said, “The UN will do it straight. Because if it’s a straight, honorable election, you won’t get your constitution through. We’ll defeat you in three provinces.” There was a great, a great deal of agitation among the Sunni resistance about the fraud that was involved. I don’t know what’s going to happen. Nobody knows. I think the Sunnis… I think the election will take place. That won’t be spoiled by rioting and distress and disturbances, but I think afterwards – I think the Ba’athists are sort of curious, the Sunnis, to see what happens – but afterwards, I think we could even see a significant escalation, already, of the kind of damage we’re having.

Horton: When you speak of the check list of the different things that Bush says that we have to go through one step at a time, that cuts right to your current article in the New Yorker magazine, “Up in the Air: Where Is the Iraq War Headed Next?” I read in a few different places where people expect major changes after the New Year, maybe after the State of the Union speech. And you’re saying in this article that the plan is to begin to bow to the pressure and to pull troops at least to faraway bases rather than occupying the cities as they are now, and replacing American boots on the ground basically with air strikes. Is that right?

Hersh: Yep, I think that’s the… Look, air has always been the X factor in this war, unlike in Vietnam, when everyday the American authorities reported publicly how many sorties – that is one flight by one bomber – took place and how much tonnage was dropped. We have no idea what’s going on. We don’t have embedded reporters at our bases, whether they’re in Doha or off the carriers that operate in the Gulf, or whether they are in-country, and I think that is where many of them are. I think many of our bases are now in-country, so that’s probably… that seems to be a secret. We fly from Kirkuk, I think, somewhere in that area. We also fly from bases close to the Sunni triangle where all the action is right now, but we don’t know. There are all sorts of anecdotal reasons to think bombings have gone up enormously because we hear about it more. Bombers this, bombers that, and Fallujah, the great battle last year, last fall, everyday there were comments and talk about bodies in the street being killed by bombs and bombing everyday.

Horton: Sure, and in the year since then – you’re right, we don’t really hear about it in terms of tonnage, all the time, and sorties flown – but occasionally, we hear about it because a bunch of civilians are killed, woman and children, and that ends up making the foreign press at least…

Hersh: And you know, the American press, here is the way they describe it, “A battle took place near Syria and the Americans claimed 70 insurgents were killed.” You know, the body-count business, and the American press corps and the international press corps, not that… you can’t fault them because it’s too dangerous to do otherwise, they’re locked into a few places in Baghdad, get briefed there, rarely go out, can’t go out – again, they would if they could – don’t know, all they can do is parrot what is being said, and the next day sure enough if you were to read al-Hayat, or look at some of the Arab news media, the news channels, television channels, you would see insurgents are basically, significantly anyway, women and children beginning to flood the nearby hospitals. That’s the definition, the real definition for “insurgents,” but we just don’t know. You know, one statistic that I and a lot of people at the New Yorker – and my researchers tried to find some specific data about bombing – and the one number we got came from an air wing in the Marine Corps, in which there is one air wing. The Marines fly their own close air support for combat on the ground and they are doing a lot of it. And the air wing reported in the fall, in November of ’04, that the previous, I’d say 15 or 16 months, they had dropped 500,000 tons of ordinance, bombs, rockets, etc. Five hundred thousand tons. And I just, in the article I did, we let that number stand and I should have translated it. It was really stupid of me not to, because 500,000 tons of bombs, most of the close air support is in the smaller bombs, the 500. The bombs we use are 500-, 1,000-, and large 2,000-lb. bombs which are dropped by the larger Air Force planes. But the Marine tactical bombers use 500 mostly. That translates into, get this, 2 million 500-lb. bombs.

Horton: Whoa.

Hersh: That means if you had, actually the number of ordinances is more because often they are using a lot of rockets – planes with flying rockets, which are lighter, which means the numbers are greater. But 2 million bombs. In 16 months or something like that. You are looking, if you break it down, to, oh, roughly 100 bombs being dropped an hour. Twenty four hours a day for the last 15, 16 months. That’s a hell of a lot of bombs.

Horton: And the “15, 16 months” preceding a year ago… then that means that they’re counting beginning at least a half a year after the major combat operations had ended, right?

Hersh: Right. It begins probably, I would guess they began to start doing a lot of action… it would have been September-October of ’03 until October – the fall of ’04 – this statistic was to the fall of ’04. So if anything, it’s gotten more intense, plus in the last year things have gotten much harder for us. Plus also, there is only one Marine wing. I don’t know Air Force wings or units are flying, and I don’t know how many Navy units are flying, but the Navy and Air Force are doing many more missions than the Marines. So there you are. It adds up to… look, it’s not the kind of tonnage we had in the Vietnam War when B-52 planes were dropping, but most of the bombing we do is done in urban areas – that’s where most of the combat is. You know, land mines go off etc., it’s not [out] in the country. So even before we begin this whole process, the number, the amount of bombings seems to be greater than anybody had any reason to anticipate. And now the plan is, as we withdraw American troops – and yes, hurray, that’s good, we all want American boys out of harm’s way and less, fewer, American casualties. But that does not mean (a) that the war is going to be ended, (b) that Bush is thinking of losing or finding a way out, or (c) that the violence will go down. All that is going to happen as we pull out American troops is we’re going to increase the bombing in support of Iraqi units. The violence will go up, and much of my article dealt with the fact that there is sort of a huge doctrinal fight, inside the Air Force, anyway, over who’s going to be telling us where to bomb? The Air Force pilots do not want to be dropping bombs that are being targeted or guided by Iraqi ground units because there is just no confidence that the Iraqis won’t be penetrated or won’t be completely involved in tribal fighting or other kinds of…

Horton: Which, of course, they already are. The Iraqi army is nothing but the different religious militias dressed up in American clothes, right?

Hersh: Well, I mean, I wouldn’t say “nothing but,” that may be hard, but certainly overwhelmingly dominated by militias, I think much of the training, the wonderful training we talk about… The Sunni and Ba’athist forces – those forces supported by Saddam – don’t need the training. The training mostly was giving to Shia forces, who came in, got a gun, a couple weeks of training, and went off to join the militia.

Horton: All right, everybody, it’s the Weekend Interview Show. I’m talking to Seymour Hersh from the New Yorker magazine. We’ll be right back…

All right, my friends, welcome back to the Weekend Interview Show. I’m Scott Horton. I’m talking with Seymour Hersh from the New Yorker magazine, author of the book Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib. His new article in the New Yorker magazine is called “Up in the Air: Where Is the Iraq War Headed Next?” And that’s just what we were talking about before the break: the idea that American forces, the boots on the ground, will be pulled out, and different factions of American air power will be the ones deployed to fight against the insurgency, only, if all the American boots on the ground are out of the country, then that means it’s locals directing the air strikes. Mr. Hersh has written in his article “Up in the Air” that there is a big fight within the military because they don’t want to go around dropping bombs wherever someone from the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution might happen to point them, isn’t that right?

Hersh: Well, you know, ultimately, one of the realities is that the insurgency certainly… Look, the Iraqi army is penetrated, everybody knows. That’s the reason we have so many horrible incidents already. A bomb will go off in the middle of an area that is secured. Certainly, the Iraqi police is a mess, and so obviously, there is the fear of insurgency, and you also said something that is very true and very complicated for a lot of Americans to believe, but the pro-Iranian faction inside the SCIRI and the Da’wa Party which were so dominant in the coalition and will be dominant in the coalition that is probably going to win the election and become the prime minister. Whether it is Mahdi or somebody else, we could end up with Iranian operatives helping to guide and direct American bombs against targets that are against our interests. This is all in the realm of possibility. Yes.

Horton: In fact, in your book you say Cheney [Editor’s note: meant Chalabi] promised, “Oh, Iran will help us with the war.” I guess it turns out he wasn’t lying after all, huh?

Hersh: [Laughs.] Well, you know, think about those guys Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Bush, this is the trio that really run things. I think Condi’s not the first cut here. What is scary is how much they really believe what they are doing. They really believe… They really do believe [laughing]. I can tell you that when Mahdi was here – the vice president of Iraq, the SCIRI guy – was here in Washington about three weeks ago, at that time some very serious people, not in the Bush administration but very close to the family, very close to the Republican Party, very close to the power elite that runs this country, visited Mahdi, and basically said to him, “Look, you’re probably going to make it, but we have to tell you something: It’s our belief that it’s over. Maybe everybody in Washington, in the White House doesn’t know it, but it’s over. You guys have to start planning. You in Iraq have to plan and anticipate a shutdown of American support and perhaps even a shutdown of American funds by the Congress. The American people have given up on this.” And these people who are certainly inside-the-Belt operatives, Washington insiders, were stunned because Mahdi then trotted off to the White House for the meetings that he had been promised with Cheney and others, and came back and reported, “Well actually, the White House thinks they’re winning.” Which they just may.

Horton: Well, and that’s part of your story here, “Up in the Air,” your new article for the New Yorker. You say that the people who call the president by his first name and are invited to hang around with friends at Camp David, that they say, or Bush, at least himself, really does believe that everything is going fine. You said in your article that he says, “Oh, don’t worry, 20 or 30 years from now everyone will look back on this in hindsight and know that I did the right thing.”

Hersh: Well, yes, it’s not everybody that’s at Camp David, but you know some people who are friends with him… This is complicated for me, because I can tell you what I’m writing is accurate, it’s just hard to get to too many details. Obviously, I don’t want to get anybody in crosswise with a long relationship, but people who’ve had long relationships with the president and I guess call him “George” on the weekend, they, at least one or two, are concerned – came away from one weekend concerned – and I think it’s fair to say at least two were very concerned, because the president is privately very confident. And although these have been hard weeks for him – everybody in the press tells us that, one body blow after another, his polls are low etc., etc., he doesn’t travel except on military bases, and is sort of a captive. But this guy is very serene and sanguine in private, and does talk in terms of being judged not by today but by history. Which means, I’ll tell you what I think it means to me, which is very alarming, that this war is… The troops will pull out, there will be more bombing, and the answer to future increased insurgency activity, and it’s going to increased, there will be more bombing, and we will see just an escalation inside Iraq with more and more civilian casualties and etc., etc., collateral damage. I think we’re just facing an escalation without any way to stop it. By that I mean, hell, he doesn’t care what I write or my colleagues in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the mainstream press. He doesn’t care what the networks say, he doesn’t care what Europeans say, he doesn’t care what the Republican congresspeople say.

Horton: He doesn’t even care what Scowcroft says…

Hersh: Well…

Horton: …apparently.

Hersh: Well, he certainly wasn’t bothered by what Scowcroft said. When you’re talking about Brent Scowcroft, the good friend of the president’s father, who publicly weighed in. And also don’t forget Col. Wilkerson, who worked for Colin Powell, who weighed in. I think we may see more people who served in the first [George W. Bush] administration perhaps doing things publicly.

Horton: But it doesn’t bother him at all, he’s just “serene,” they say…

Hersh: The impression I have is that he certainly isn’t bothered by any insignificant degree.

Horton: Well, you know, they say that it’s the religious fervor, but I tend to think that’s just cover so we think he’s crazy, so he can get away with even more. Anyway, we’ll be right back. It’s the Weekend Interview Show with Seymour Hersh on the line…

All right, my friends, welcome back to the Weekend Interview Show. I’m your host, Scott Horton. I’m talking with Seymour Hersh from the New Yorker magazine, author of Chain of Command: The Road From 9/11 to Abu Ghraib, and I wanted to ask you about Bush’s religious-nut act in a minute, but I wanted to go back to Iraq for a second and ask you about this Cairo conference that took place a couple weeks back, and, whether you think that… Well, basically, for the audience, there was a meeting where all different religious and ethnic factions in Iraq all went to Cairo and basically seemed like they had in mind creating some sort of peaceful resolution to their conflicts rather than continuing their problems into full-scale civil war. So I want to ask you, Mr. Hersh, if you think there is really much hope in what came out of that meeting for some sort of, you know, Bush’s dream to come true: that you have some sort of multi-ethnic republic set up there?

Hersh: Well, you know the Shia didn’t participate fully in that.

Horton: Oh. Well, there goes that.

Hersh: There goes… I mean they didn’t. So what you have is… Basically what’s going on, I think, above and beyond… I don’t know, you know it’s funny, I only know what I’ve read. I actually haven’t heard from anybody about the Cairo conference yet. But it was very interesting that everybody did call – all the various partners – for American withdrawal. That seems to be including some Shia delegates, but there was some tension [among] the Shia there. I think the issue is, what’s going on now in the… You know, 90 percent of the Islamic world is Sunni, if you add in Indonesia and Southeast India. The Sunnis are very dominant in Muslim culture, and there is a lot of anxiety about the spread of, the only nation that’s dominated – Middle East or Islamic nation – that’s dominated by the Shia is Iran, right now, since the ayatollah took over in the coup there two and a half decades ago. So here you have Iranian-style Shi’ism spreading clearly into, at least the southern portions, much of Iraq if Mahdi wins the elections. And that is alarming to Sunnis. What’s happening, and this is something that just doesn’t get reported very much, is that the Sunni world, particularly, even the neighbors, particularly Saudi Arabia, which has a Shi’ite minority that is quite agitated (most of them concentrated in the eastern provinces where the oil fields are), you have Egypt where, which is Sunni-dominated Egypt, and even Jordan, all of which are very concerned about the spread of Shi’ism into neighboring Iraq. So right now, I’ve been told, that there is, for example, that there is a major construction company in Saudi Arabia that doesn’t… contributes some funds to charities or other groups that funnel money into the Sunni resistance. The resistance is not short of money and arms because they are being supplied by the Sunni world. What we don’t understand is, though it’s right in front of us, is as we fight this war, this seemingly internal war is an external war. The Sunni world does not want to see the Shi’ites get control of Iraq. And so you have that on top of everything else, which is enormously complicated and difficult.

Horton: That’s what the Americans are really worried about too, it seems like. Obviously, we’re up against the fact that our policy has installed the Iran-backed SCIRI and Da’wa types in power. But if you think back just a few months, when Jaafari and Barzani offered the Badr brigades and the peshmergas to go put down the Sunni resistance and the U.S. says “No… Uh-uh, thanks, but no thanks.” Basically, now the U.S. is in the position of protecting the Sunni “terrorist” enemies from the majority that we’ve installed in power…

Hersh: Talk about irony of ironies. But one of the things that’s happening is that there’s also tension. You mention Barzani and Talabani, there’s tension in the Kurds, among the Kurdish population, too. And Talabani who’s always been more pro-Iranian and very hostile to Barzani has thrown in his lot, pretty much, with Mahdi, and the SCIRI group, and the coalition, which I think dooms any chance for Allawi. Of course, everything is fluid and flexible, but really it’s a powder keg, and we may not have a hell of a lot of control over what’s happening. I like to think we can through the political process. We think that if we can get an election and gerrymander enough votes for Allawi, a significant percentage, maybe in the bargaining we can probably foist in Allawi or at least force him to get into some major roll. But it doesn’t look good. It looks like, you know, as I said at the beginning, more and more Iran is the winner. Does this mean that at some point this administration will get realistic and begin to talk to Iran in a significant way? No. We don’t talk to them.

Horton: No. “Faster please,” they will just move on and invade Iran then next, I guess, right?

Hersh: Well, no, I think a year ago there was a lot of talk and I even wrote about the fact that there were many people inside the government who were predicting some sort of activity by the summer, but that was before… This time a year ago there was a lot of hard talk about doing something about Iran, but that was before oil boomed up. You know, you had the problems with the oil that you have now, with the price going up so high and the crunch on oil production. As we keep consuming, and there are no new supplies, Iran is now a significant force in the oil world. Produces almost 4 million barrels a day, mostly to Japan. It’s just, it seems like this administration, by talking to Iran in a significant way could really improve his position, but Bush doesn’t talk to the Iranians, he doesn’t talk with Syrians, and he gets away with it. There is very little heat on him. You know, if two three-year-olds were fighting in the school yard, the history teacher would say, “Okay, you two little boys full of energy and feistiness. You two talk to each other.” We don’t talk to people we disagree with. It’s pretty amazing.

Horton: So you really think the political situation here in America then, will prevent the war from being expanded? Besides the oil prices, I’m thinking the politics of Hurricane Katrina and that kind of thing?

Hersh: Well, you know, Katrina had an enormous impact in a funny way. As you mention, I did the Abu Ghraib stuff and I also wrote the My Lai stories during the Vietnam War, where we had a similar situation, in the sense that it was an impossible war pushed by administration after administration to fight the fact they couldn’t sell the war to the people. My Lai broke the back I think for Bush, er, Richard Nixon, in terms of what they call Middle America’s support for the war. One would think that the continuing stories about torture, not just Abu Ghraib, but the fleet of other accounts, would have had the same impact it didn’t have last year in the election. But son of a gun, all of the sudden here comes Katrina and everybody could see on cable – I hesitate to use the word news – the 24-hour cable news networks, all of a sudden, you could just see, as the White House is blithely pretending nothing’s happening, here are bodies floating in rivers, there are people starting to drown and being, you know, facing lack of water in coliseums that the White House doesn’t know about. And so, the gross incompetence shown in Katrina somehow brought back, I think, helped unsettle everybody – I am talking just vague heuristic thoughts here – helped unsettle everybody about the war. In a funny way, the incompetence we saw renewed everybody’s worry about what’s going on there, renewed the worries about torture in a way. Torture is something that’s come back as an issue for the unpopularity of the war because it’s clear that much of the stuff the critics are saying is true. Because much of the White House doesn’t have their hands on the control of anything. It’s a very dysfunctional place. And it doesn’t really have the hands on the war. And so what happens then? If the president stays firm – be it because of religious fervor, which you’re skeptical about, or be it because he is simply a believer in his own notion of democracy, which is also very possible – if he stays firm on this war and it continues to escalate and it remains as unpopular as it is, it’s going to be a very interesting play. The question will be: will this ridiculously hapless, pathetic, feckless Congress which we have – which doesn’t exercise any of the constitutional powers it has – will they come face to face with their own political survival and do what happened once before, 25, 30 years ago in Vietnam, vote an end to spending for the war? That, I think, is going to be the real issue by end of summer. Will Congress stop this war, this president, by cutting off the funds? They can do it.

Horton: Well, it’s sort of a race then between Congress and the neoconservatives to see whether they can get us into Syria before that happens, right?

Hersh: Well, you know, something happened three weeks ago in Syria that the American press just sort of missed. Bashar Assad, whatever his problems, you know he’s the president that represents the Alawite party. Alawites are about 11 percent, they’re a sect of the Shia that nobody likes, particularly Saudi Arabia – the Wahhabis there. The Saudis have been very much behind a lot of the anti-, along with us and the French, the anti-Bashar stuff that’s been coming because of the bombing and the killing of Hariri, this fella, the billionaire, in February. Remember the bombing in Lebanon?

Horton: Mmm hmm.

Hersh: In any case, Bashar, three weeks ago… The American attacks and the international attacks on him have made him stronger. Three weeks ago he gave a speech in which he said, “Here is the position you in America put me into: you want me to do an assisted suicide. That’s what you want, and I’m not going to do it. I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’m not going to stand here and just die for you. If I have to die, I am going to die fighting. I am going to die with my boots on.” And, he stood up to America three weeks ago, his population is greater then ever inside the country. Oh, you know, we live in a fantasy world about what’s going on there. If we try something there, we will be met with a lot of opposition, and I think we’re going to stick to hit-and-run operations, the kind of which we’re doing now, and a lot of threats.

Horton: Well, sticks and stones, I guess, right?

Hersh: You got it.

Horton: Do you have a good idea who killed Rafik Hariri?

Hersh: Well, no, but I’ll tell you that neither… there is no empirical evidence. Everybody in the world has an idea that the American propaganda of the United States and the French is, of course, is that Syria did it. And then there’s been this alleged investigation by a German prosecutor name Mehlis, M-e-h-l-i-s, who came up with a report that, if one read it carefully, and I mean anyone, there’s no there, there. The report hangs on two witnesses that Mehlis in his report debunks, and one of which, about a week ago, four or five days ago, publicly admitted in Damascus – we, of course, don’t accept [that] anything that’s said publicly there is true – one of the two witnesses said he’d been paid off by the Saudis and been terrorized and been forced to face some of the statements he made through the Mehlis commission. So it’s a very, very less-than-persuasive report played to a fare-thee-well by the United States. My old newspaper the New York Times, I thought, did a terrible job reporting it. The night before the report was officially made public, there was a leaked version, given to the UN – Mehlis was doing this for the UN, the United Nations – and the New York Times quoting a diplomat, not even an American diplomat, not even a Western diplomat, just a diplomat who clearly was either John Bolton or one of his aides, saying this report makes it clear that the leadership of Syria was running a Murder Incorporated – this goes right to the top. The report did nothing like that when it came out the next day. The Times never apologized for the slanderous stuff it wrote based on the sources they did not identify. You know, there is nothing wrong with using anonymous sources as long as once it’s clear they are misleading you, you take a second’s breath. Anyway, the reality is there’s no empirical evidence of who killed him. I can’t rule out Syria. Maybe they did. I can’t rule out anybody. One of the issues going on at the time was there was a lot of money stuff going on. Hariri was involved in intensive negotiations for a multi-billion-dollar cell phone business in Damascus along with the, actually, the president of Lebanon, who is also corrupt. But just who killed him we don’t know, but Syria certainly has been blamed – a major propaganda victory for the White House, and for the French, and for the Saudis. All of who wanted to see this happen, but it doesn’t mean it happened.

Horton: All right, let me ask you about “Plan B.”

Hersh: Ha ha.

Horton: I know that you’ve relied, it’s in your book and some of your articles, you’ve named Philip Giraldi, a former CIA covert operative, as a source of yours. I interviewed him on this show, and I asked him about your article “Plan B.” In fact, I think he was one of your sources in that article.

Hersh: What was the article, remind me?

Horton: Oh, “Plan B,” the Israelis and the Kurds.

Hersh: Oh, yeah.

Horton: Yeah. So Philip Giraldi said to me on this show that “some estimates are as high as eight hundred” Mossad and Israeli military intelligence operatives up in Kurdistan. Not just training Kurds, but buying them up as well. I was wondering if you could elaborate a little bit about the Israeli relationship with Kurdistan.

Hersh: Well, you know, Phil Giraldi writes a, is one of the editors of a newsletter that is done for a number of private clients along with another former colleague of his that is, actually, I think amazingly reliable. Phil worked for the agency for about 20 years and then did consulting work… I’ve known him for a long time, and I do think – we can disagree on a lot of issues – but I do think he has very good contacts, and so indeed in this case… Look, all you have to know is this: there were at one time 400,000 Iraqi Jews – people of Jewish faith living in Iraq – that over the last 40 or 50 years, because of the same thing that has happened everywhere in the Middle East, were pushed out, forced out, because of the Israeli Palestine crisis. And once that began, it made it very hard for Israelis, for Jews to live anywhere in the Middle East. I can’t tell you how many of those Jews ended up in Israel, but a significant percentage did. They went all over, and obviously Israel has an enormous intelligence capability inside Iraq, and there is no question that Israeli operatives can pass for anything. Israel is very competent, at least it used to be very competent. It went through some bad times in terms of intelligence, but I think they are back [to] being reasonably competent. And yes, they have longstanding relationships – Israel and Kurdistan – there’s been longstanding ties and, and the official story that the American government and the Kurdish government will give you is that there is a lot of Israeli investment in Kurdistan. The Israelis are investing in their good partners the Kurds, they support an independent Kurdistan, or at least a strong Kurdistan. And for sure, there are operations going on, Israeli-led operations are going on inside Kurdistan into Iran, Syria, absolutely. The Israelis have a platform there.

Horton: Well, if the Israelis are using the Kurds against the Arabs in Iraq, then…

Hersh: Well, I wouldn’t say that. I think the Israelis and the Kurds are working together.

Horton: Oh yeah, well, but I mean, if they’re provoking more conflict between the Kurds and the Arabs in Iraq, then that makes it more difficult for us if we’re trying to push all these ethnicities together, and hold the country together under a new government, right?

Hersh: Well…

Horton: It seems like we are working at cross purposes with the Israelis, if the Israelis are just teaming up with the Kurds when we are trying to team up with all sides.

Hersh: The Israelis are teamed up with the Kurds. Yes, I would argue, I think common sense would tell you certainly, they are as uninterested in Iran… you know, for Israel, Iran is the existential threat. A nuclear bomb in Iran is an existential threat. They do not want Iran to spread its influence, so they would be working very hard with certain Kurdish units to try and minimize the intrusion, coercion, and incursion of Iran and Iranian influence inside the new government of Iraq – absolutely. It would be in their national interest, and that’s what they are doing. They are also using the closeness of the many Kurds, Iranian Kurds, Syrian Kurds, that remain loyal to a national Kurdish state, and they are obviously people that can be exploited for intelligence collection, etc., running operations. I think all of those things are going on. I think the main issue of Israel’s, of course, is survival.

Horton: I am talking with Seymour Hersh from the New Yorker magazine. He’s the author of Chain of Command: The Road From 9/11 to Abu Ghraib. We’ll be right back to wrap up after this…

All right, my friends, welcome back to the Weekend Interview Show. I’m Scott Horton, and I am talking with Seymour Hersh from the New Yorker magazine. He’s the author of the book Chain of Command: The Road From 9/11 to Abu Ghraib. And I’ve got to tell you, Sy, I really wish we had another hour to finish this interview because I have a lot more questions here for you, but I guess I am going to have to settle for asking you about the Niger uranium forgeries. Speaking of Phil Giraldi, who we brought up a minute ago, I basically got it out of him on this show that Ledeen was involved and a couple of former CIA officers. Later, Justin Raimondo, my boss at, named two former CIA operatives, Duane Clarridge and Alan Wolf, as the principle forgers of the documents, and I noticed the name Duane Clarridge in your book Chain of Command as being closely connected to the Iraqi National Congress. So I wonder if you know anything more about that that you could add to my jigsaw puzzle I am trying to put together here?

Hersh: No, I don’t. I know that story that’s circulating that it all happened, and there has been a number of stuff, a long series of articles published in La Repubblica in Italy, one of the national newspapers there, published, I think out of Rome. And I know the kid who did the writing, Carlo Bonini, who’s a very competent journalist, so I read all this stuff with great interest. I’m not persuaded that anybody really knows who did the paper yet. Alan Wolf was the former station chief. He passed away a few years ago. Very competent guy, you know, and anecdotally I have heard his name mentioned, but I haven’t published it because I just couldn’t confirm what happened. As you may know, I wrote about this for the New Yorker. I wrote a long piece very early about the Niger forgeries long… before Joe Wilson went public. They were obvious forgeries, very bad forgeries. The one thing that makes me a little skeptical is Michael Ledeen is certainly, really smart, I disagree with everything, you know, he and I are on the other ends of the world, but it is such a bad forgery, I mean, it is such a bad forgery. It is a forgery that was discovered initially by officials at the International Atomic Energy Agency, a guy named Jacques Baute, one of their investigators, when they first found the document. When they were first given to them, I think, by us. It took Jacques Baute about 20 minutes, 30 minutes on Google to prove that they were no good. You know at least it began to unravel them, you know, very early on.

Horton: So you think Ledeen would have made sure that whoever was working for him would have done a better job than that?

Hersh: Well, common sense says they would have done a better job than that. It was such a bad job. We just don’t know, but the one thing we should be interested in and remain interested in is the Patrick Fitzgerald investigation. I think he’s formidable.

Horton: You think it will expand to where the forgeries actually came from?

Hersh: Well, the FBI has been actually looking at it, and everyone poo-poos it. But I think the FBI, they may not have made it the most, you know, highest priority investigation, but they looked at it. As I wrote much later, I think I quote a senior CIA or official saying that they are pretty sure it was an inside job. In other words, that would buttress the notion that somebody connected with the intelligence community could have done it for a variety of reasons – one, really to be honest, to embarrass the administration. That’s always been a theory that I’ve had. We don’t know. It’s a lousy forgery. It was taken at face value by these wackos that run our government and it shouldn’t have been, but anyway and there we are, over and out. Thanks for having me.

Horton: All right. Thanks a lot.

Author: Scott Horton

Scott Horton is editorial director of, director of the Libertarian Institute, host of Antiwar Radio on Pacifica, 90.7 FM KPFK in Los Angeles, California and podcasts the Scott Horton Show from He’s the author of the 2021 book Enough Already: Time to End the War on Terrorism, the 2017 book, Fool’s Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan, and the editor of the 2019 book, The Great Ron Paul: The Scott Horton Show Interviews 2004–2019. He’s conducted more than 5,500 interviews since 2003. Scott’s articles have appeared at, The American Conservative magazine, the History News Network, The Future of Freedom, The National Interest and the Christian Science Monitor. He also contributed a chapter to the 2019 book, The Impact of War. Scott lives in Austin, Texas with his wife, investigative reporter Larisa Alexandrovna Horton. He is a fan of, but no relation to the lawyer from Harper’s. Scott’s Twitter, YouTube, Patreon.