From July 17-25 we travelled extensively in central, western and northern Iraq. The trip was sponsored by the Multi-National Force—Iraq (MNF-I) command and so afforded unparalleled access to U.S. and Iraqi military personnel. We spoke at length with the four principal American division commands in those sectors, as well as nearly half of the brigade commanders and their staffs, as well as several battalion and even company commanders. We also met with senior U.S. personnel from the Detainee Forces command, and from the training command known as MNSTCI, as well as a number of Iraqi police and army officers. Similarly, MNF-I saw to it that we were able to meet with key civilian personnel in a variety of PRTs/EPRTs, the U.S. Ambassador, the President’s Special Envoy, the CIA station, the US AID mission, and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq. Both through our own contacts and those of the military, we also were able to meet with a number of the seniormost members of the current Iraqi government (including President Talabani, Vice President ‘Abd al-Mahdi, Foreign Minister Zebari, Deputy Prime Minister Salih, and National Security Adviser ar-Rubaie).
These various meetings were considerably bolstered by numerous “sidebar” conversations with Iraqis and Americans as well as meetings with a number of old friends, Iraqi and American. These helped us to check the veracity of points being made in formal briefings and by those we did not know well. Overall, the trip afforded us a good perspective on American and Iraqi military operations throughout this area, local level economic and political developments in many parts of it, as well as an adequate perspective on the state of play in the high-level political negotiations in Baghdad. Although we were able to meet with several dozen Iraqi civilians—from people on the streets to local shaykhs—because we were nearly always in the presence of American military personnel, we felt we had little ability to gauge the mood of the Iraqi people.