BAGHDAD â€” There’s been a lot of talk about the number of fighters in the insurgency, with General Muhammad Abdullah Shahwani, the head of the Iraqi Intelligence Services, being quoted as putting the number at 200,000 â€” more than the number of U.S. troops in country.
He’s been widely â€” and literally â€” misinterpreted. I have a translation of the original Jan. 4 interview in Al-Sharq newspaper and it’s clear he’s talking about the passive support of the insurgency. Here’s what he actually said, as translated by one of my fixers here in Baghdad:
What is your opinion about the number of the armed fighters in Iraq?
Officially call them ‘terrorists’ because they are doing terrorism against the people and they are outside the law, Their number is between 20,000 and 30,000, in all of Iraq, distributed in the Sunni area. [The “Sunni Triangle” â€” CA] And the people who live in this area and emotionally support them, are about 200,000 without offering them money or logistic support. As an example, they don’t give any information about their activities if they have this information.
That means those 200,000 do not fight with the fighters?
It’s impossible that the fighters’ numbers reach 200,000. These are those who live in the areas where the fighters are active. For example, the right side [western â€” CA] of Mosul is completely out of control and in this area, the terrorists are very active without any announcement [informing â€” CA] about them for the local people, and very often they offer them shelter (hospitality). (Emphasis mine.)
I can’t believe Juan Cole missed this. He speaks Arabic, and he reads al-Sharq, often citing it. I’m not saying that Shahwani is right. I have my own theories that I’d like to confirm before I publish them. I’m just trying to correct an erroneous notion that is being floated in the blogosphere right now.
Alas, I’m on a wicked deadline at the moment, but after that’s over, I’ll clean up the translation and post the whole interview.