An interview with Ken Timmerman by Mike Bates and Jerry Gordon (April 2016)
Donald Trump with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, South Carolina Townhall, February 18, 2016
Following his South Carolina victory, GOP Presidential front runner Donald Trump was on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace on February 21, 2016 when the subject of the War in Iraq came up. Trump contended it was a disaster. He pointed toward the result, Iran taking over Iraq and its oil reserves, something he alleges would stop if he were elected President. Trump was on record in an interview with Howard Stern in September 2002 tentatively supporting the Iraq war, but later questioning its cost. Wallace’s question was triggered by an exchange with Anderson Cooper of CNN during the South Carolina town hall on February 19th. His comment about WMDs in Iraq caught a wave of attention. In the exchange with Cooper he said:
“There are a lot of people that think that – look, bottom line, there were no weapons of mass destruction, and there were none, and they knew there were none,” he added. “There were no weapons of mass destruction.”
Watch Trump’s interview with FoxNews’ Chris Wallace on this YouTube Video.
Dr. Jill Bellamy
Dr. Jill Bellamy, noted bio defense expert, member of the UN Counterterrorism Advisory Council and Founding Director of Warfare Technology Analytics was a featured guest on The Lisa Benson Show on Sunday, February 28, 2016. The subject of Saddam Hussein’s bio WMD came up. In our first NER interview with Dr. Bellamy in December 2007 we raised this issue. Here was our exchange with Bellamy:
Gordon: We heard that some of the late Saddam Hussein’s Bio-warfare research and pathogens may have been transferred to Syria during Operation Enduring Freedom. Is that accurate to your knowledge, and who facilitated the transfer? What types of bio-warfare agents and materials might have been transferred?
Bellamy: Yes. It is important to remember that the Iraqi programs were far more advanced at the time than what the Syrians had, and were developing. The delivery of certain pathogens in a ‘weaponized’ form taught the Syrians new techniques they previously had not mastered. This is very problematic. I am less concerned about the types of pathogens or specific pathogens as these were available to Syria from other sources. What Hussein’s transfer taught the Syrians was more sophisticated ways of weaponization and dispersal. I believe Russian special ops- their Spetsnaz teams – transported sections of the programs.
In response to that question she drew attention to one of the major figures in the late Ba’athist dictator’s bio-warfare program, Dr. Rihab Taha, a UK trained microbiologist and expert in plant toxins. Bellamy also addressed ISIS and their possible acquisition of scientists and technicians for creation of laboratories to weaponize viral agents. She mentioned Dr. Taha as someone who was engaged in bio weapons work for the late Saddam Hussein. She was released by the interim Iraqi government. The question arose as to what she was involved in as a devoted Ba’athist nationalist in Iraq and where she might be now.
In 2004 Dr. Taha had explained to US officials what had happened to 1,800 gallons of anthrax which had been unaccounted by UN inspectors. Dr. Taha told inspectors the chemicals had been stored close to a presidential palace. After the anthrax was deactivated, the affair had been hushed up out of embarrassment at the chemical being stored close to one of Saddam Hussein’s residences.
We asked Dr. Bellamy where Dr. Taha might have gone after her release. She replied, “I think she’s working for the Syrians.” We speculated it might be at the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center in a highly secure facility near Damascus.
The question remains as to whether Dr. Taha had a “better offer” from her former Ba’athist colleagues now part of the ISIS command and security echelon. Perhaps Taha is weaponizing BW agents to raise havoc against the West.
This writer and host Lisa Benson of the eponymous Radio Show on National Security later on Sunday, February 21, 2016 interviewed Ken Timmerman, investigative journalist, President of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran, author of New York Times best seller, Countdown to Crisis, Shadow Warriors and Dark Forces: The Truth About What Happened at Benghazi. We brought up Trump’s assertions about Saddam Hussein’s WMD.
Timmerman said that Trump had erred by repeating “a massive media lie.” As evidence to support this he pointed out that evidence of WMD, especially chemical weapons had been uncovered in the opening stages of Operations Enduring Freedom. Moreover, months before the March 2003 conflict with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq began; convoys of trucks were seen on satellite imagery crossing the frontier into Syria. “We knew,” Timmerman said, “because none other than current Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, formerly the director of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, said in 2003 that he believed materials had been moved out of Iraq in the months before the war and cited satellite imagery.”
Further in 2008, NBC reported secret US Operation McCall transferred more than 550 metric tons of “yellow cake” uranium discovered in Iraq that was to be used for higher grade enrichment to Canada. Good thing, because if not transferred it might have ended up in the hands of ISIS courtesy of those former Ba’athist officers.
Timmerman also drew attention to Saddam Hussein era connections to ISIS’ use of chemical weapons in both Iraq and Syria against Kurdish Peshmerga and Syrian Kurdish YPG forces. Our colleague Ilana Freedman asserted that ISIS may have perpetrated the 2013 Sarin gas attack in a Damascus suburb killing over a thousand Syrian civilians. Timmerman said that ISIS is a “blend of former Iraqi Ba’athist officers and Al Qaeda in Iraq Jihadists. Those former Ba’athist officers knew where those WMD caches were located in both Iraq and Syria.”
As to who may have perpetrated the media lie about there was no WMD in Iraq, Timmerman’s 2007 book, Shadow Warriors (see pp. 285-286) suggests that it was the late Tyler Drumheller, former European division chief of the CIA’s Director of Operations, who went on 60 Minutes with the late Ed Bradley and lied about information obtained from a Saddam Hussein era, Foreign Minister, Naji Sabri.
Corroboration of former Iraqi Ba’athist WMD experts involvement with ISIS came in February 2016, when US Special Forces captured Sleiman Daoud al-Afari. A Christian Science Monitor article on March 10, 2016 wrote:
al-Alfari as having “worked under Saddam Hussein as a chemical and biological weapons expert, is being questioned by American military officials in Erbil, Iraq, Mr. al-Afari has told American interrogators that ISIS is weaponizing mustard gas by loading the powder into artillery shells. ISIS likely hopes to frighten Iraqi troops by threatening to employ the gas on the battlefield but does not have the logistical expertise or resources to carry out the kind of chemical attacks that terrorized the anti-Assad Syrians or the Kurds under Saddam Hussein.
ISIS has used mustard gas in 12 confirmed cases and three suspected cases, but information from al-Afari has aided US plans to locate and destroy two weapons centers.
Against this background, this writer and Mike Bates, host of Northwest Florida Talk Radio program “Your Turn” on 1330amWEBY interviewed Timmerman on the back story on Saddam Hussein’s WMD.
Mike Bates: Good afternoon and welcome to Your Turn. This is Mike Bates. This first hour of today’s edition of Your Turn, we’ll be speaking with Jerry Gordon, who is in the studio with me. Jerry is the senior editor of the New English Review and its blog, The Iconoclast. Welcome, Jerry.
Jerry Gordon: Glad to be back, Mike.
Mike Bates: And joining us by telephone is Ken Timmerman, author of the book Dark Forces: The Truth about What Happened in Benghazi, Ken Timmerman, welcome.
Ken Timmerman: Thanks for having me on, Mike. It’s a pleasure.
Bates: I would like to begin with what might sound on the surface to be a really old story but it was resurrected in the South Carolina primary. That is the question about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Republican candidate Donald Trump said that there were no WMDs in Iraq, and as a result, George Bush went to war under false pretenses. You have investigated that over the years. What is your reaction to Donald Trump’s claim?
Timmerman: Kind of the way Ann Coulter reacted. My head exploded when I heard him say that. It was so outrageous because this is the big media lie that we were given in 2004, and forever after that. I think Donald Trump should have said, “Well, you know, I didn’t investigate this myself. It’s what the media reported, so I was reporting the media’s big lie and now I will cross-examine the media and find out the truth.” It really is astonishing that this myth that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has persisted for so long, that it is so deeply ingrained in the American psyche. Most of the media who listened to that exchange in South Carolina between Donald Trump and Jeb Bush, and the moderators where Trump went on and hammered it home that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and that President Bush had lied his way into war. None of the moderators seemed to think that was an unusual thing for him to say except that he was a Republican. They all believed it was true. I wager that a large number even of our listening audience thinks that it is true. That is how deeply ingrained and how hard media has beaten this into the national psyche.
Bates: If you tell a lie often enough, it will be believed. Ken Timmerman, the belief that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq came from a very vicious attack from the Democratic opponents in 2004 led by John Kerry and the media. I can think of two examples off the top of my head that would prove that there were in fact weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or at least the precursors to them. One was yellowcake uranium shipped out of Iraq to Canada, that is a known fact. Clearly, they had yellowcake, and ISIS found a chemical weapon depot in Iraq. These are two examples. However, there has to be more. What other instances were there that Saddam Hussein’s government did in fact have either stockpiles of WMDs or active programs to develop WMDs?
Timmerman: The first thing is Saddam Hussein never really dismantled the scientific teams that he had assembled over many years so carefully at such great expense to build nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, biological weapons, and missiles. Second of all, at the very moment the United States and our allies were going into Iraq militarily in March of 2003, there were still United Nations arms inspectors in the country destroying missiles that weren’t supposed to exist because they were weapons of mass destruction. Saddam had not declared them. Ultimately at the very last minute, he said, “Okay, I’m going to come clean on this.” Nobody paid any attention to several hundred of these missiles. They were being destroyed by the U.N. at that very moment. You mentioned stockpiles that were found. There were several hundred tons of chemical weapons precursors found after the war. I think it added up to something like 5,000 chemical rockets that were found after the war. You would read the New York Times, mention this in passing and say, “Well, nothing new here. These were left over from the first Gulf War.” Well, isn’t that exactly what we were looking for – what they pretended they had destroyed but they had not destroyed, in fact? That is what it was all about. It was about weapons and precursors that Saddam Hussein claimed that he had destroyed after the first Gulf War so U.N. inspectors couldn’t find it. However, he couldn’t give any accounting for where they actually went. That is why even the United Nations concluded that he was hiding them. Intelligence services, not just in the United States, in France, in Britain, in Germany, in Russia, all concluded that he was hiding these weapons. That is why most of the United States Senate, including then Senator Hillary Clinton and then Senator Joe Biden voted for war because they believed that the weapons were there because that is what the intelligence said.
Gordon: Ken, what is the story behind the U.S. transfer of Saddam’s stock of yellowcake uranium in something called Operation McCall?
Timmerman: Now that is very interesting and was not part of the earlier intelligence as far as I’m aware. That was done very secretly in 2008, years later, right at the end of the Bush Administration. It was done without much fanfare, shipped out secretly and finally sold to a private company in Canada, so it could be reprocessed. These 500 tons of natural uranium were probably part of a much larger stockpile that had gone missing. This is exactly the kind of uranium that would be used in a plutonium production reactors similar to the one that the North Koreans were building in Syria that the Israelis bombed in 2007. In other words, the year before the natural uranium was taken out of Iraq.
Gordon: You talked about the example of a famous columnist for The Wall Street Journal who said it couldn’t possibly have been enriched there.
Timmerman: It’s really astonishing that nobody has paid attention to that. Nobody thinks it is significant. Five hundred tons of yellowcake is a huge amount. It is several bombs worth of material when it’s enriched. The thing is this came from Iraqi sources. I remember when my first book on Saddam came out. It is called The Death Lobby: How the West Armed Iraq, published in 1992. I had a passage in the book about how Iraq was extracting natural uranium from phosphate ore at a factory which I identified in the book. There was this reviewer from The Wall Street Journal, Gerald Seib, who is still around. He said, “This guy, Timmerman needs a science editor because nobody would ever process phosphates to get uranium. There is so little in it. It cost so much and uses so much electricity, we gave it up after the Manhattan Project in 1945.” He ridiculed it. It was the only bad review the book received. I gave the information to Swedish Ambassador Rolf Ekeus, who was the head of the U.N. Arms Inspectors at that time in 1992. He sent his inspectors to the site. It was called Alqaum and guess what they found? In the center of a phosphates plant, they found a uranium processing facility exactly as I had written. So Saddam was doing things that nobody expected, that the wise men, the smart people said could never happen, could never exist. That is the media mindset that led to this notion there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Bates: Ken, I have a question for you on the weapons of mass destruction. It stems from it being so difficult to find an objective truth that we can just accept as objective truth. Saddam Hussein, according to FBI Special Agent George Piro, who was his interrogator when he was in captivity, said that Saddam Hussein feared an Iranian attack more than he feared an American attack. He didn’t have weapons of mass destruction but he lied about it because he wanted his enemies, specifically the Iranians, to believe that he did so that they wouldn’t attack. Is there any truth to that? Because if that is true, then how could he have had the weapons that he didn’t have but he said he did just to fool the Iranians?
Timmerman: These are mind games. I have no doubt that Saddam Hussein said that to Mr. Piro when he was interrogating him. That doesn’t surprise me at all. It would be a perfect Saddam Hussein ruse. Remember, this was a guy who had lived clandestinely for decades before assuming power. He was a clandestine organizer. He was organizing stay behind networks for after he left power. Remember, we could not find him for almost nine months after the invasion in 2003, and those stay behind networks are still active. They are still operational in Iraq. By the way, they joined forces with the jihadis and are now known as the Islamic State. Would Saddam Hussein want to tell his FBI interrogator that he had actually destroyed all those weapons stupidly without keeping any trace of it? That was the problem. I think what happened is that he was setting up stay behind networks. He wanted the stay behind networks to have access to what residual supplies they still had. Those weapons are turning up on the battlefield today where all the precursors; chlorine gas and mustard gas precursors are turning up on the battlefield. The Director of National Intelligence in the United States has stated this publicly. He stated it in Congressional hearings. They are also now finding thousands of these chemical rockets that had been tucked away by Saddam Hussein’s allies in Iraq, for a rainy day. The rainy day has come.
Bates: That is a good explanation for why Saddam Hussein lied, but that begs the question then of why didn’t George W. Bush tell the truth? His Administration, I believe, was so heavily ridiculed over “the Bush lied, people died,” false weapons of mass destruction claim, that we shouldn’t have gone into Iraq. I believe that the Bush Administration, the entire eight years, will go down in history at this point that he went to war searching for weapons of mass destruction and there weren’t any. That is going to be, in my view, the Bush legacy. So if that is not factually true, why isn’t George W. Bush defending himself?
Timmerman: Well, you’re right. I think it is tragic, because the truth matters. Karl Rove wrote an op ed in The Wall Street Journal after the 2004 election explaining why they essentially gave up on the truth. He said that they had been battered so badly, beaten by the national media that it wasn’t worth it. It wasn’t worth the effort to try to correct the record. He said, “Look, let them believe whatever they’re going to believe and history will write the story.” The problem is that if you don’t correct the first draft of history, which is journalism, history is going to take an awful long time to be able to uncover the truth. I think Bush, Rove, and others missed a huge opportunity to correct the record when it was still easy to do so.
Bates: There is no higher standard than truth. Truth must be sought and defended at every opportunity. If that is the reason that they stopped just because they gave up because they didn’t think people would ever believe them. That is about the worst possible explanation I’ve ever heard. Karl Rove just wanted to cave to the lie and let the lie stand. That’s absurd.
Timmerman: Now, to his credit, he blamed himself for doing that. He said, “We made a wrong decision, but that was the decision. The decision was lost in the court of public opinion. We were not going to regurgitate the war in Iraq over weapons of mass destruction.” Now that information is coming out during the war with ISIS. I wrote a whole book about this called Shadow Warriors. Bush was sabotaged from inside his own administration by the CIA and the State Department. It is an extraordinary story. He did not understand that the man he appointed to be his representative in Iraq, Paul Bremer, was a State Department official, who actually undid his entire strategy and turned the liberation of Iraq literally overnight, into an occupation. Bremer arrived in May of 2003 in Baghdad. Instead of handing over the reins of government, which had been the strategic plan of the United States that had been devised by the Pentagon and the State Department. The plan was to go in there, smash Saddam, smash his armies, and hand over government to an Iraqi governing council and get out. Instead of doing that, Bremmer fired the Iraqi governing council and became the viceroy of Baghdad. Meanwhile, there were 300,000 Iraqi young men who he also fired from the army without pay were running around the country with guns. All of a sudden a month later, there was an insurrection, and Bremer was sitting there scratching his head and saying, “Oh, gee. What happened here?” It was so predictable, so obvious, and Bremer just jettisoned the whole strategy and he never got reprimanded by the President and he should have been.
Bates: I don’t want to put words in your mouth, Ken, but are you saying that he violated a direct order from the president as to what to do?
Timmerman: That is a good question. I don’t want to accuse him of doing that. What he did do for sure was overturn ten years of strategy that had been built up through the Clinton Administration, through the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 in Congress and through the Bush Administration to support the Iraqis to take over from Saddam Hussein. He undid that in two days when he arrived in Bagdad without any consultation. I can tell you, there were people in the Administration whom I knew, and that I worked with at the time – I wrote about this – they were absolutely stunned and didn’t know what to do. Rumsfeld would not go to the mat, would not fight it. However, he said, “Hey, this is not my problem. He is the president’s emissary, not mine.” Rumsfeld caved as well.
Gordon: Ken, in your book, Shadow Warriors, you go into a great deal of detail about who torpedoed the whole question of were there WMDs. The question is who was the rogue CIA agent who basically created the media lie on WMDs?
Timmerman: You are referring to Tyler Drumheller. He was a senior CIA officer first in Italy and then back in the United States where he was running the European desk for the director of operations. I go into great detail about how he falsified reports about Niger uranium, which became one of the accusations against the Bush Administration. That they claimed Saddam Hussein was, going after uranium in Niger. In fact, those were false reports put into the intelligence food chain by Tyler Drumheller knowing that they were false. Because he wanted to trip up the President. By the way, he died recently. This is the guy who went on in 2011 and 2012 to work with Sid Blumenthal in Libya funneling fake intelligence to Hillary Clinton about Benghazi. That is just to let you know that what goes around comes around.
Gordon: Where did Drumheller reveal this lie on national media?
Timmerman: He went on 60 Minutes and all over the place. He was ultimately reprimanded by his boss, George Tenet, then director of CIA. However, it didn’t make any difference. He didn’t care. He was retired at that point.
Bates: When George W. Bush said the Iraqis were seeking uranium, didn’t they cite a foreign intelligence agency for that information?
Timmerman: Yes, they knew that some of the reports were false. The people on the ground, the CIA officers in Italy and their Italian counterparts knew it was false. It was injected into the intelligence slipstream by Tyler Drumheller on purpose knowing that the reports were false.
Bates: The way the president said it was true. I believe it was the Czech intelligence. Am I right on that country?
Timmerman: No, it was the Italians.
Bates: I knew it was a foreign intelligence agency that said he sought this information. Had he just said the Iraqis sought to purchase uranium that would have been perhaps a lie or an untrue statement.
Timmerman: No. It was accurate that they were seeking it.
Bates: Where was the false intelligence that was planted?
Timmerman: It was not accurate that they acquired it.
Bates: Sought is accurate, acquired is inaccurate.
Bates: I see. It all just gets curiouser and curiouser. The thing is, Ken, so few people care anymore and it’s really heartbreaking to me not because I’m a big supporter of President Bush, although I certainly support much of what he did. I support more than anything the truth, the historical fact, the historical record must reflect the truth.
Timmerman: That is absolutely right. I agree with you about that. The truth matters. We have to get the records straight. You’re not allowed to have your own set of facts.
Bates: Exactly. As Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, “Every man’s entitled to his own opinion but not to his own facts.”
Gordon: Ken, back in 2005, the Al Qaeda in Iraq jihadi whose prototype morphed into ISIS, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was chopping off heads of British and American hostages, wasn’t he?
Timmerman: That’s correct, in Iraq.
Gordon: In Iraq there was a strange event, the U.S. was forced, in order to save the life of a British captive to release a number of “high value people.” One of them was ‘Dr. Germ’, Dr. Rihab Taha. You interviewed her husband, I believe. Am I correct in that regard?
Timmerman: That’s correct, Amer Rashid al-Ubaidi. He was the oil minister at one point. His real job was building ballistic missiles and helping the Iraqis to enhance their weapons production capabilities.
Gordon: One of the interesting facets of that whole disclosure back then was his wife, “Dr. Germ” was released. She had been inveighed by the U.S. to identify where 108 gallons of anthrax was stored in one of the multiple residences of Saddam Hussein. I asked a good friend of mine who is an American ex-pat and noted biowarfare defense expert, Dr. Jill Bellamy, where did she go? Her answer was Syria. She went there to essentially replicate what she had been doing heading Saddam Hussein’s biological agent WMD program. The other comment Dr. Bellamy made was the fact that when people talk about where the stockpile of bio agents are – well, they can fit into a suitcase. However, what is more important is the person who has knowledge of weaponizing bio WMDs. That is an interesting story because it shows the connection between the Ba’athists in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, and the Ba’athists inside Syria, under the Assad family.
Timmerman: Correct. Let’s not forget that there were convoys from Iraq into Syria just before the 2003 war. Those were picked up by U.S. intelligence satellites run by the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency at the time, run by General James Clapper, now the Director of National Intelligence. Clapper understands this. He was watching this happen in 2002-2003. The convoys of trucks would show up at known Iraqi chemical weapons plants, biological facilities, missile plants, or nuclear facilities. They would be loaded in the darkness under the canvas. Then they would head across the Syrian border, and disperse into the desert where whatever they were carrying was buried in secret locations. Obviously that equipment is now showing up on the battlefield again. Interestingly, when President Obama drew his red line about the use of chemical weapons in Syria he accused President Assad of using them. I was almost alone among analysts looking at this. I said “Look, it seems to me much more likely that it’s the Syrian opposition that is using these weapons and they had blowback. They were not skilled in using them. In fact, they hit some of their own people.” I think that is what happened in 2013. I think since then that information has proven to be correct.
Bates: The Assad government of Syria does have chemical weapons. What is their source?
Timmerman: They got rid of most of them with the aid of the Russians. They agreed to put them on Russian ships send them out to be incinerated and get rid of them. However did they keep some behind? Undoubtedly, they did. They got rid of the bulk of their chemical weapons stockpiles, not biological agents, if they had them, and not what was remaining of their nuclear program.
Gordon: I have viewed pictures taken inside the Syrian Scientific Research Center with U.S. equipment engaged in fermentation activities with a visiting Russian woman, among their scientists.
Timmerman: I’m not surprised, because they have had that relationship going back to the 1970s. The Russians have always been a sponsor of the Assad regime. The Syrian Scientific Research Center has always been a favorite of mine. I first started writing about it in the 1980s. It was called CERS at that point under its French acronym, the Centre D’Etudes et de Recherches Scientifiques, which is just the French translation. The reason we called it CERS is because the French built the facility in a government to government deal in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Gordon: Where did the equipment came from?
Timmerman: The equipment at that point came from France, Germany, and some of it from the United States before we had export controls.
Gordon: Absolutely correct.
Bates: What is the danger, Ken, that these chemical weapons in Syria, or for that matter, Iraq, will fall in the hands of ISIS?
Timmerman: Some of them already have and ISIS has used them on the battlefield. They have used them against the Kurds. The Kurds understand this all too well. Remember, they were horribly gassed by Saddam in 1988 just at this time of year, the anniversary of the Halabja attacks in March of 1988. They also used them in Syria. I believe that they tried to use them in 2013, but did not have the skills. Some of them blew up in their own faces, injuring civilians in areas that they controlled.
Gordon: Amazing story and nasty heritage between these two countries.
Timmerman: Here is the bottom line for our listeners to understand that ISIS did not come out of nowhere. We have seen ISIS building for the past eight years. I wrote a novel in 2010 called St. Peter’s Bones. It talks about the relationship between former Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist army and intelligence officers and al-Qaeda in Iraq. It is out of that alliance that emerged what we call ISIS, the Islamic State. It is the Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist people, who have given the jihadis the military and intelligence expertise that they otherwise lacked. That is why they have been so successful.
Gordon: Is that the ultimate stay behind strategy?
Timmerman: That is the ultimate stay behind strategy. That is what Saddam Hussein was trying to cover up, when he was being interrogated by the FBI. That is why his henchman, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, up until he was killed in April 2015 was working with the Sunni tribes and then the AQI jihadis. That was their stay behind strategy. They knew that they could unite the Sunni tribes against Iran. What they really are afraid of is the Iranian encroachment in Iraq, just as Saddam Hussein was. They continued to fight against that. That is why ISIS has gained such a strong foothold in Iraq to bar the door to the Iranians.
Gordon: You’re telling us that the spine of ISIS are the former Saddam Hussein Ba’athist officers?
Timmerman: Absolutely. They are the ones who devised the brilliant military strategy in June of 2014 going into Mosul in Northern Iraq. They captured the city with barely firing a shot. Then they swept across the Nineveh Plain massacring Christians, pushing the Kurds back. The Kurds ultimately just caved and walked away. You know, we have a lot of people in Congress who think we ought to arm the Kurds. You need to give the Kurds backbone first. The Kurdish leaders in the KRG at that point in 2014, were actually doing business deals with the people that we call ISIS today. They thought they had a deal where they would give them Mosul and that would allow the Kurds to take over the Christian areas and the Nineveh Plain. ISIS didn’t stop in their attack, and came right up to the gates of Erbil, which is the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. That is where they started to get very worried in the summer of 2014, and called upon the United States, the French, and others for help.
Bates: So Ken, who do you blame for the rise or creation of ISIS?
Timmerman: We won the war twice in Iraq. We won in 2003 when we defeated Saddam Hussein. Then Jerry Bremer sabotaged the policy and helped to spark an insurrection which lasted up until the surge in 2007. We won the second war in Iraq during the surge. By the time George W. Bush left office in January of 2009, Iraq was pacified. The level of violence in Iraq was dramatically below anything we had since the beginning. It was more or less under control. They had an elected government. They were holding elections repeatedly. Things were working. It wasn’t perfect but it was working. It was working because there was a residual American force of about 30,000 to about 50,000 troops. Bit by bit, Obama drew down our forces and when he finally pulled out entirely in 2011, the inevitable happened. It was obvious what was going to happen. Without a U.S. military presence in Iraq, Iraq went to hell in a handbasket almost immediately. I remember, when I was, stationed in Europe in the 1980’s I was working as a US defense correspondent. I worked with a lot of U.S. military officers and one of my buddies told me a story. He said, “You know, the Germans, they say to us, ‘Please, would you keep your troops, your 250,000 troops, in Germany?'” My American friend turned to him and said, “Well, why should we do that?” He says, “Because your presence makes us Germans better Germans.” Our presence in Iraq made the Iraqis better Iraqis, if you wish, and helped to protect them against their darker angels.
Bates: Barack Obama and those who defend him point to the status of forces agreement, or more specifically, the lack of a status of forces agreement, that was not ultimately negotiated under the administration of George W. Bush. What President Obama has said is, “We had to leave Iraq. George Bush agreed to it. That was the timeline.” Is that true?
Timmerman: That’s absolutely not true. First of all, there was not a formal status of forces agreement in place when Bush left office in 2009. There was an understanding and there was no pressure to leave Iraq. The Iraqis sent emissaries, including the president of the country, to Washington repeatedly in the beginning of the Obama Administration saying, “Please don’t leave. Please don’t leave. We want you to stay.” Obama never really negotiated that deal. He never negotiated the status of forces agreement and he allowed then Iraqi PM Nouri Al-Maliki with the Iranians behind him, to push us around because the Iranians wanted us out. This was an Iranian victory in Iraq.
Bates: Exactly. President Obama campaigned on getting us out of Iraq, and the cost ended up being quite high. We are still paying that price.
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