Investigating the Truth of the War on Terror: A Reporter’s Journey to Iraq

In this video, Frontline correspondent Martin Smith investigates the truth behind the Iraq War and its consequences. Smith travels to Iraq and interviews various individuals, including Iraqi exiles and US officials, to examine the pre-war justifications, the intelligence used, and the aftermath of the war. The video raises questions about whether the Bush administration knew what they were getting into, the issue of weapons of mass destruction, the looting and lawlessness after the fall of Saddam Hussein, and the challenges faced in post-war reconstruction and security. It also highlights the differing perspectives on the war’s success and the future of Iraq.

Author Icon

Our Summaries are written by our own AI Infrastructure, to save you time on your Health Journey!

How does this happen?

Key Insights:

  • The war on terror involves more than just chasing Al-Qaeda; it also involves Saddam Hussein.
  • The Bush administration’s approach to the war was to wait and make recommendations based on the situation instead of planning in advance.
  • The looting in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein was widespread and had a significant impact on post-war reconstruction efforts.
  • There was a lack of planning and coordination between different branches of the US government regarding post-war Iraq.
  • The administration’s claims about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction were not supported by evidence. The intelligence was cherry-picked to fit the desired narrative.
  • The establishment of a provisional government in Iraq faced opposition from both the State Department and some Iraqi politicians.
  • The violence and instability in post-war Iraq were not adequately addressed, leading to a deteriorating security situation.
  • There was a growing divide between the US military and civilian officials regarding the handling of post-war Iraq.
  • The US occupation of Iraq faced challenges with rebuilding infrastructure, establishing security, and winning the trust and support of the Iraqi people.
  • Ahmed Chalabi, an Iraqi exile, played a significant role in advocating for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein but faced criticism for his handling of post-war Iraq.


the war on terror is not confined strictly to the al-qaeda that we’re chasing the war on terror involves saddam hussein

the president said the war would make the world safer but did the bush administration know what it was really getting into their basic approach was that they couldn’t really foresee exactly what was needed so they’re going to wait until they got there and then they were going to make recommendations did the administration listen too much to this man saddam hussein was a threat to the west and he was the most dangerous threat saddam hussein now has weapons of mass destruction and were we told the truth the administration made statements which i can only describe as dishonest tonight frontline correspondent martin smith travels to iraq to investigate truth war and consequences

down so

the drive from kuwait city to baghdad takes about 12 hours we made our first trip in late april just two weeks after the fall of saddam we accompanied kanan makiya an iraqi exile who has been at the center of efforts to topple saddam for more than a decade he hadn’t seen southern or central iraq since he was 18. this was once upon a time the fertile crescent sometimes turned it into a desert along the way u.s convoys were busy moving in additional equipment and troops while soldiers manned crude checkpoints the roads are not secure bandits are a common hazard we traveled in a convoy with other returning iraqi exiles with less than 300 kilometers to go they paused for a picture as we drove into baghdad the bombed out hulks of iraqi tanks and anti-aircraft guns littered the sides of the highways in the city center buildings had been blasted by missiles others were destroyed by fire the capital of one of the world’s biggest oil producing nations was also suffering from years of un sanctions as well as under development and neglect at the hands of saddam and his bath party i suppose the shock was to realize just how rundown the city had been allowed to become by the bat i thought of the bat as a modernizing force an ugly brutal deformed kind of modernity but modernizing nonetheless here i entered the city that was ramshackled broken apart buildings cracking at the seams filthy uh smelling garbage on the streets just it was it was it was it was tragic there was a true sense of dilapidation everywhere on top of the dilapidation came postwar looting when you take the lid off of a repressive system of 30 years in the making and you don’t have an alternative law and order system to replace it the population went wild the looting had gone far beyond the stealing of furniture and air conditioners looters had deconstructed entire buildings stripped out wires insulation plumbing stealing any reusable resaleable materials they torched what remained when general jay garner and his reconstruction team arrived they found nearly all the buildings they needed to run post-war iraq demolished did you plan for looting well i knew there would be looting but i didn’t think the looting would have the impact that it did have 17 of the 23 ministries were gone when we got to baghdad and more than that there’s no communications so uh you know i i i didn’t know that the looting would be as i never suspected it would be as as serious as it was we’d heard about shortages we saw what it meant to buy a tank of gasoline the weight could be more than eight hours tempers flared we came upon this station where one man had fired a gun in anger the bullet hit a gas tank and an explosion and fire ensued that killed four including this boy’s brother [Applause] weary residents were calling on the u.s to either take control or go home couldn’t the military have done a better job putting in police patrols or bringing in more soldiers to try to tamp things down a bit you have to have some military well you’re you’re a general what’s your opinion well i think i you’re always better off with more troops so we didn’t have enough troops i think there’s i i think we could have used more troops inside baghdad at the end of the war yes there was still some looting going on when we arrived and when we came across soldiers they didn’t seem sure of their role that y’all don’t need to be here you know what school deal can’t do that what he needs to be doing not following you we filmed these gi’s after they caught a group of iraqis stealing wood we try to stop them from looting they don’t understand so we’ll take that car and we’ll crush it united states army tankers who that’s what you get when you look later the car’s owner told us i’m a taxi driver the car was my livelihood you represent a culture that brought forth civilization it’s your people in your land that brought forth the codification of the law the day after we arrived general garner was speaking to a political conference the u.s had invited 300 iraqis tribal shakes religious business and political leaders kanan makia came with his own ambitions about how to build a new democratic iraq it was important i think for one salient fact sort of emerged from the meeting the sense of the mood of that meeting was we want to government and we want it now we’re asking british and united states to book the principal system for us how to go through democracy and the american officials who were up there on the platform were on the edge of losing control of the meeting because they didn’t have answers the central fact on everybody’s mind was the lawlessness that had taken place the anarchy the breakdown looting was going on as the meeting took place and authority was needed here now immediately instantly has been involved for over 10 years with an iraqi exile opposition group dedicated to the overthrow of saddam hussein we followed him to their new baghdad headquarters the iraqi national congress was founded in 1992 the inc is headed by a former banker ahmed chalabi before the war chalabi was a key player in efforts to help establish the case that saddam was an imminent threat saddam hussein was a threat to the west and he was the most dangerous threat that that could have been envisaged in this time after especially after september 11. but they were set up by the inc according to top pentagon advisor richard pearl chalabi was without question the single most important source of intelligence the u.s had on saddam hussein’s iraq he’s a very capable guy he’s quite brilliant phd in mathematics with a background at the university of chicago and mit committed to secular democracy and is the kind of modern liberal leader that we would hope to see not only in iraq but throughout the arab world people say that there are two men who are responsible for the fall of saddam hussein one is george bush and the other is ahmed shalaby you agree if somebody else said it i’m not going to disagree with them this is this is well you nagged the u.s government for 12 13 years to accomplish this task well i did i worked very hard because i had i came to the conclusion very early on that if the us is not heavily involved in helping the iraqi people get rid of saddam saddam is going to stay and his son is going to come after him when we caught up with chalabi he was no longer preoccupied with making the case for war a steady stream of visitors was coming to his headquarters chalabay was busy navigating post-war politics many people that supported the war no longer do yes they feel that they were suckered yes probably they say so okay i mean i don’t you know i’m not this well i mean you know half the people now feel that the war wasn’t justified on the grounds that it was uh argued for okay do you feel any discomfort with that no well now they are in baghdad now the story of how they got here begins in washington ever since the end of the gulf war a small group of influential policymakers has wanted to rid the middle east of saddam hussein but going to war to achieve it was not politically feasible until after september 11 2001. well i believe there was a strong argument for looking at iraq before september 11. what september 11 taught us is that we can wait too long in the presence of a known and a visible threat on the afternoon of september 11th richard pearl phoned one of president bush’s speech writers david frum i had a conversation with david and what was the content of that that we we are not going to deal effectively with global terrorism if states can support and sponsor and harbor terrorists without penalty the search is underway for those who are behind these evil acts at 8 30 that evening president bush spoke to the nation he laid out his policy echoing the words that pearl had suggested to his speechwriter earlier in the day we will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them four days later the president and his cabinet gathered at camp david to formulate strategy in the war on terrorism president bush told cabinet members that if saddam hussein was to become a target they needed to dig up evidence that he was cooperating with al-qaeda within days deputy secretary of defense paul wolfowitz directed one of his deputies douglas feith to set up a special office inside the pentagon that would examine intelligence regarding iraq’s possible connection with al qaeda it started as a small secretive operation it was very simple it was clear that no one had been looking for for links of a kind that it was reasonable to consider might exist we didn’t know whether they existed and the evidence might have been that they didn’t exist so some people were brought in to take a look and within a very short period of time they began to find links that nobody else had previously understood when it came to iraq the special intelligence office didn’t trust what the cia or even their own defense intelligence agency had to say they did apparently listen to ahmed chalabi according to one pentagon source he visited once every other month across the potomac greg thielmann had analyzed intelligence for the state department for seven years that office was largely invisible to us in the intelligence community because they didn’t they didn’t play in the in the normal bureaucratic process of of making intelligence assessments and reporting on those what did you understand that office to be about i’m still trying to figure out what that office was about the office wasn’t big enough for them to really have the expertise in-house and the mere creation of the office was was odd since the secretary of defense had the entire defense intelligence agency at his disposal so it’s a little mysterious what exactly they were doing let me be blunt about this the level of competence the central intelligence agency in this area is appalling they had filtered out the whole set of possibilities because it was inconsistent with their model so if you’re walking down the street and you’re you’re not looking for a hidden treasure you won’t find it conversely if you look for something you will find it simply because you are are looking and the nature of intelligence is is very often vague and things can be interpreted one way or another of course there’s no absolute truth in this it is not publicly known what intelligence was provided by the special intelligence office but frontline has learned that a report from the czech republic that 911 hijacker muhammad atta met with an iraqi intelligence officer in prague got their attention and was passed on to the white house was that report that has been pretty well confirmed that he did go to prague and he did meet with a senior official of the iraqi intelligence service in czechoslovakia last april several months before the attack but the meeting in prague was never confirmed in fact the fbi established one month later through car rental records that atta was in florida when the alleged prague meeting would have occurred the vice president however would still be citing the story over a year later on at least one occasion we have reporting that places him in prague with a senior iraqi intelligence official a few months before the attack on the world trade center i think it’s very unusual the amount of influence they had what seems to have happened is that the the conclusions or the work that they did somehow entered from the side into the policy community at a very high level at a very high level in a way that was invisible to those of us in the intelligence community producing intelligence while the pentagon was building a case for war the state department was planning for the aftermath in the spring of 2002 they launched the future of iraq project we’ve uh organized the future of iraq project to draw upon both independent iraqis and representatives of political groups in order to plan for many of the problems through this passage by closing this dam and forcing all the water to go down this way the state department invited iraqi exiles to participate in working groups on how to keep law and order in the streets and how to keep oil electricity and water flowing after the war issue is is huge and until we go and look at the soil in some more detail there are committees set up to consider each aspect of the future life of iraq and how you could deal with it in the immediate days thereafter it involved an awful lot of very bright people many of whom have the credentials in economics and banking and agriculture and so on this was a real effort too it was a real effort to plan right to be there on the ground the day after and ready to go lath cuba a prominent iraqi exile participated in three working groups the reality is by the beginning of 2002 iraqis have not mobilized their expertise to map out what the issues and challenges are and saddam hussein everybody agreed that saddam should go everybody would like to have democracy afterwards nobody had a clue what the challenges are ahead so for the state department to have started to gather iraqis 200 of them in 15 working groups was a good step most iraqi exiles were enthusiastic about the future of iraq project though some notably ahmed chalabi and other inc iraqis were skeptical about the usefulness of a series of seminars they wanted to talk about who was going to rule iraq after the war initially kanan makia declined an invitation to participate the state department wanted to talk about how best we can collect garbage in the streets the day after liberation or how can we recruit a thousand health workers to go to this or that area um the day after and i said i didn’t have anything to contribute to such questions unfortunately i i’m sure there were people inside iraq would know much better than i had to go about doing these things kanan makia has been making a case for ousting saddam for over 10 years frontline first filmed him in washington in 1992. in his books he had exposed saddam’s history of brutality don’t look to the united states for help that is gone in the wake of the first gulf war he was one of the first arab intellectuals to openly criticize america for failing to topple saddam the future of iraq is in the hands of iraqis alone today after one of his talks he began a friendship with paul wolfowitz i was giving a talk and he was in the audience and i remember him seeking me out and very touching moment when he uh he said that he felt that the united states had been wrong in 1991 and and to have sought me out to say this thing was something special which i took an immense liking to the man because of it wolfowitz was then a professor at johns hopkins university he remained a friend of makias and a supporter of the inc he wouldn’t have a chance to help them though until he became secretary rumsfeld’s right-hand man ahmed chalabi was also in washington in the early 1990s he had aggressively lobbied capitol hill and made friends with influential republicans who helped him get a meeting in the first bush white house with national security council adviser richard haas i went to house he told me i’m seeing you only because you impressed some congressman i was supposed to meet him i don’t know for half an hour we stayed 90 minutes i explained to him the strategy he said we will support an iraqi political movement that will come out endorsing democracy in iraq democratic government pluralistic government in iraq renunciation of weapons of mass destruction says if you do these things we will support you he said if you get a political movement with such a program we will support you and that was the genesis of the inc under the proviso that the inc would represent all iraqis kurds shias and sunnis the u.s government gave the inc cia money and contacts but in the mid nineties when chalabi tried to launch an iraqi uprising he found he had miscalculated the depth of american support they needed support from the united states and we refused to give it to him but we’d encourage them in the first place absolutely he attempted to build on what he thought was american support which was not forthcoming the clinton administration feared chalabi had misrepresented the strength and breadth of his movement and had provided shoddy intelligence about saddam’s military the white house ordered the cia to abandon the operation that got shot down largely because i think people were afraid it would be a one-way street for military intervention our military intervention and the military our military wasn’t prepared for that at that time i think that fallout was the final straw that broke the camel’s back because there were other issues to do with how the inc was run how the money was spent the quality of intelligence that was gathered at that time a number of issues but ultimately that led to a breakdown after 96 after the events of the summer of