Was Wolfowitz the Target?
Brig. Gen. Martin Dempsey denied that the rocket attack on the al-Rasheed Hotel was aimed at assassinating Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, arguing that the attack was plotted for two months or so, whereas Wolfowitz’s trip was only recently announced. It seems to me that Dempsey was trying to suggest that the attack was random. But logically speaking, the guerrillas could have started preparing an attack two months ago, without having specified a date for their operation, and opportunistically struck at Wolfowitz once they had the capability and knew that he had shown up. That is, they were planning to hit the al-Rasheed all along, but may have altered their timing in light of his announced visit. The Western press corps, at least, seemed to widely know that Wolfowitz was at the Al-Rasheed, which strikes me as poor security arrangements.
Iraqi guerrillas have ferreted out excellent intelligence on key US installations and personnel. They hit the military intel center at Irbil, e.g. And the recent carbombing at the Palestine Hotel wounded Muwaffaq al-Rubaie, a Shiite member of the Interim Governing Council; and it seems likely IGC members staying at the hotel were targets. I’d say the likelihood is that Wolfowitz was being targeted.
Wolfowitz’s trip was an unadulterated disaster. His announcement that he was sleeping in Tikrit was clearly a dig at Saddam and the Baathists; but then a Blackhawk was downed there while he was at the US base in Tikrit (one US soldier was wounded). And then his hotel was struck in Baghdad, with a US colonel killed and 17 other persons wounded, several of them military. Wolfowitz was visibly shaken, his voice quavering, immediately after the attack. US personnel were forced out of the hotel, perhaps permanently. The colonel was probably the highest ranking officer killed in Iraq so far.
This occupation is not very much like the British India Niall Ferguson puts forward as such a wonderful example for the US. Except for the Great Rebellion of 1857-58, the British in New Delhi mostly weren’t regularly forced out of their nice hotels. (That’s if British India were a nice place, which it wasn’t; the signs at the clubs said “dogs and Indians not allowed.”)
The last time Wolfowitz went to Iraq, he inadvertently provoked huge demonstrations in Najaf and Baghdad by followers of Muqtada al-Sadr, who feared that the extra security measures in Najaf preparatory to Wolfowitz’s arrival indicated that al-Sadr was going to be arrested. Wolfowitz got out of Najaf just ahead of the demonstrations. (Then the Wall Street Journal tried to deny that the tens of thousands of demonstrators had even rallied, chiding the NYT for reporting on them!)
The problem with Wolfowitz’s trips to Iraq is that they are clearly political, requiring visits to touchy places such as Najaf and Tikrit, to make political points about US dominance of the country. But the Deputy Secretary of Defense should only be visiting Iraq for military reasons, and his visits should be conducted secretly so he can see military commanders and troops. If Wolfowitz goes on campaigning to be mayor of Tikrit, he is liable to get himself killed.
Even short of that, every time he goes he makes himself look clownish, and makes the US look like fools. Wolfowitz is the one who wanted 7 wars and kept talking patronizingly about the ability of the US to reshape Iraq and the Middle East, and he can’t even get a good night’s sleep when he is there.