While counter-terrorism specialist Mike Tucker’s wonderful and harrowing 2004 account of his travels in Kurdistan, Hell Is Over, might not have made the sort of splash the author hoped in America, the Kurds were so grateful they gave him two houses. (He gave one back.) Since then he has ridden with American Special Ops in Fallujah and traveled to many other little known theaters in the War on Terror. Culling from these experiences, Tucker will be at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, on Monday evening to present a lecture entitled “The War Is in the Mosques: A Strategy for Victory in Iraq, and the Global War against Radical Islamic Terrorism.” Tucker was kind enough to check in from Bangkok to give AmSpec a preview:
After traveling through some of the toughest War on Terror hotspots you’ve determined “the road to victory goes straight through the mosques.” How did you arrive at that conclusion and what do you believe are the implications?
Mike Tucker: I’ve lived in Thai Muslim communities, Malay Muslim communities and Malay Muslim fishing villages, Emirati Arab communities, Kurdish Muslim villages and communities, and of course, in Iraqi Arab cities at war. The influence of Muslim clerics — imams — in all of those Muslim areas, and in all Muslim streets, deserts, and mountains, is immense. Nothing in the Western tradition really prepares you for this. The phrase, “The war is in the mosques,” is one I first heard from a Kurdish peshmerga commander in July 2003. I heard it repeated, without any prompting from me, by U.S. Army Special Forces A team leaders, by Delta Force commandos, by Sunni Arab translators, Kurdish translators, Shia translators, and Kurdish counter-terrorist commanders between 2003-2006.
If you deny radical Islamic terrorists mosques, you deny their primary means of communicating without electronic methods. In other words, radical Islamic terrorists have to communicate without being picked up by electronic surveillance methods, in order to plan attacks. They need a safe house to communicate, store weapons and munitions in, and to use as a Tactical Operations Center. That is what mosques are used for by radical Islamic terrorists. Under the Geneva Convention, once any religious house of worship is used as a house of war, it loses all of its privileges, however.
On the other hand, isn’t some of the squeamishness over opening a mosque front justified? How difficult will it be to target mosques without fostering mistrust among Muslims who might have no real affinity towards jihadists until they feel they are being grouped with them?
MT: No, squeamishness is not justified. The horror of September 11th and the radical Islamic terrorist attacks that preceded it completely justify any and all means we undertake to strike and kill all radical Islamic terrorists. Radical Islamic terrorists have taken it upon themselves to turn houses of worship into houses of war. That is their choice, not our choice. Our choice, and our duty to the American people — I’m speaking as a counter-terrorism specialist, now — is to defeat, destroy and annihilate radical Islamic terrorism, by any means necessary.
Do you believe there is an element of cultural/religious condescension in refusing to engage mosques clearly being run as a “house of war,” as if any behavior that occurs in a mosque is a legitimate part of Islam?
MT: The Western gutlessness on really taking on and taking down radical Islamic terrorism goes hand-in-hand with the Western academic myth of our time that Foucault and Derrida are God and Jesus — don’t know who the deconstructionists would nominate for the Virgin Mary, I reckon Germaine Greer — and all values are relative and all relative values are merely constructs. The West, especially the elite in our academy, foreign policy establishment, think-tanks, and throughout the U.S.. government, bends over backward to accommodate various and sundry illegitimate, illegal, beyond the pale behavior by Muslims.
What, then, is the role of moderate Muslims in your vision of how this war should be fought?
MT: Bush has failed, as has Rice, to reach out to moderate Muslims throughout the world, especially in key frontline nations like Thailand, Cambodia and Malaysia. We have Cold War dinosaurs in power and to be fair, the Democrats have not been bold in offering anything radical and rooted in field wisdom, coming from combat, on this issue, either. Moderate Muslims are crucial to long-term victory. It is moderate Muslims who have to save Islam from radical Islam in the first place. We should be meeting with them, listening to them, taking good care of them, and bringing them into a International Counter-Terrorist Command. On this issue, as on so much related to the War on Terror, Bush resembles Millard Fillmore, not Franklin D. Roosevelt.
I love your story about the Kurdish Colonel who told you, “You’ve got to make it past lunch to get to dinner, of course. Eat the terrorists for breakfast before they eat you for lunch.” The Kurds I met in Mosul seemed baffled by the United States’ approach to the occupation and fighting the insurgency. Considering how long Kurds have been fighting on this turf do you believe they’ve been underutilized, either as counter-terrorism experts or force multipliers?
MT: Absolutely, the Kurds have been underutilized, as both counter-terrorism experts and force multipliers. I would immediately — meaning, now — back Kurdish independence 10,000 percent. They are the only real allies we have in the Near East, along with the Israelis. Never, never ignore guerrilla warriors in a guerrilla war, when you are on their turf and they are on your side. The best thing the U.S. Army can do, at this point, is leave. It is incredibly instructive that when the Kurds held Mosul in April 2003, they were never attacked by Iraqi insurgents. It is further instructive that key al Qaeda terrorists, especially from the Hamburg cell, have been captured or killed by Kurdish counter-terrorists — the counter-terrorism success of the Kurds in Northern Iraq, 2003-2006, is phenomenal. Give me 10,000 Kurdish peshmerga, Kurdish counter-terrorist forces,10th Group Special Forces, 5th Group Special Forces, Navy SEAL Team Six, and Commander Richard Marcinko as my deputy commander, and I will end our troubles in Mosul in 90 days, provided I have martial law and my rules of engagement are straight-up combat. Give me 50,000 Kurdish peshmerga, and three more Special Forces groups, plus Iraqi Army counter-terrorists, and I’ll give you victory in the guerrilla war in Iraq.
What is it about the Kurds’ counter-terrorism strategy that works so well?
MT: We ignore the power of the imam at our own peril — a radical Islamic imam has immense power and influence in any Muslim community. The Kurds understand this, and do not hesitate to pull an imam aside, once they verify that he is speaking out in favor of al Qaeda, and other radical Islamic terrorist groups and end his days as an imam. They don’t kill him. They give the imam a choice, at that point: Syrian border, Turkish border or Iranian border, and subsequent deportation. Terms of deportation: don’t set foot in Iraqi Kurdistan again or you will stay in jail for a very long time. The other choice is, the radical Islamic imam can take up residence in a Christian village. If he wants to build a mosque, he can, and he can convert as many Christians as he likes. The Kurds make it clear, however, that he will be watched very closely for the rest of his life.
Likewise, operationally, the Kurds have undercover surveillance teams in every mosque in Iraqi Kurdistan and Northern Iraq. That is fundamental to their success at taking down al Qaeda. The Kurds do not play the American PC game: “We can’t go undercover in mosques, Arabs have the right to express support for al Qaeda, there’s nothing we can do about this.” Wrong answer, say the Kurds. No one has the right to call for the death and destruction of Kurdish villages, Kurdish hospitals, Kurdish schools, Kurdish markets, and Kurdish men, women and children, sayeth Kurdish counter-terrorists, and the Kurds mean what they say.
Is this something that can really be practically adapted by American soldiers?
MT: We are in a guerrilla war and we are playing reconstruction games, fighting terrorists with Pentagon lawyers and Foggy Bottom diplomats. Send the lawyers and the diplomats and the reconstruction aid specialists home. Listen to the Kurds and bring them onboard, and use their incredibly deep, broad and effective human intelligence network in all Iraq. And quit trying to hand Jeffersonian democracy to three separate and incredibly diverse cultures glued together by British mapmakers that never spoke Arab, Farsi or Kurdish. U.S. Army Delta Force commandos and U.S. Army Special Forces have adapted some of the highly-effective Kurdish counter-terrorist strategies, and likewise, been incredibly effective at taking down terrorists and insurgents, in doing so. But it would take a sea change to get the [regular] American military and the American intelligence community to listen in the first place.
With regard to the Kurds, has the U.S. sold out allies in Iraq in pursuit of a unity government?
MT: You can’t fit the music on the street to the music on a sheet. Likewise, you can’t force the music on the sheet — the sheet music written in Washington — to frame the music on the street when the music on the street is written in an entirely different key. The Kurds have far more right to independence than we did in 1775. We didn’t lose 180,000 American colonists to chemical weapons and massacres, and we denied fellow Americans — blacks, women and Native American Indians — basic human rights for many years after we won our freedom from the British.
The Kurds earned their right to independence in fighting Baathist fascism for many, many years. They fought with their hearts and souls, with everything they had, against one of the most brutal dictatorships in the history of mankind. They did not fight for a unity government of Iraq, they did not fight for Iraq at all. They are Kurds. They have a culture, already, and it is 6,000 years old. Who the hell are we to tell them what to do? We owe the Kurds, they do not owe us a damn thing at all. The American record, over the last 36 years, in dealing with the Kurds of Iraq is largely encompassed by three words: shame and disgrace. If we have any common sense as a nation and a people, and any sense of honor whatsoever, we will recognize just how much suffering realpolitik has caused both in Kurdistan and around the world, banish realpolitik to the ash heaps of history, and embrace Kurdish independence.
In our initial contact you wrote to me, “We will not go down as the generation that allowed America to be defeated and destroyed by radical Islamic terrorism.” Why are you so optimistic?
MT: We will win because we have no choice and the American people, at some point, will demand that we kill the enemy. We are a bold, defiant and creative people, historically, and we are still the people who fought to the last man at Brooklyn Heights, who crossed the Delaware with Washington, who wrapped our feet in rags at Valley Forge and who prevailed at Yorktown, against seemingly impossible odds. We will win because among our people, in our towns and hamlets and streets and deserts and on both coasts, we have suffered in this war and we have bled in this war. The nation that stands together, fights together, and bleeds together is the nation that wins together. We need a President and a national leadership on both sides of the aisle that says, “Bleed with me.” There is no way out but together. We will not win with only one percent of military age males carrying the load for the entire nation. al Qaeda has an estimated 54,000 terrorist operatives, all covert, in the world; we have roughly 1,000 CIA covert field agents, in the counter-terrorist fight against al Qaeda, globally.
At some point, the American people are going to wake up and smell the coffee and ask why the java smells like buffalo s[—] instead of Sumatran fresh ground. And we must hang tough, we must summon all our resources, our courage, our daring, and our intellect to win the war against radical Islamic terrorism.