The striking scenes of

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April 3, 2003 10:54 a.m.

“The striking scenes of Iraqis cheering and welcoming U.S. troops as liberators in the Shiite holy city of Najaf Wednesday came as no surprise to a handful of British and American undercover officials who have for months sought with sweet talk and hard cash to win over the country’s traditional tribal sheikhs and chieftains. ‘The most important duty of a tribal chief is knowing when to switch sides,’ one British official with knowledge of the undercover operation told United Press International. ‘In Najaf, the al-Jaburi tribe understood that Saddam Hussein’s time was over.'”

That’s from a story just filed by Martin Walker for UPI.

This doesn’t nullify the implication of those cheering throngs of Iraqis welcoming US troops. It just adds a deeper note of complexity to what’s going on. It also anticipates the growing debate over the character of the post-Saddam government. Says one British official interviewed by Walker: “This is not just about toppling Saddam with briefcases full of cash or telling their people it is time to welcome the coalition troops. The tribes play a long game. For them, the real currency is not just money but privileges and the promise of roles and influence in the post-Saddam government, whatever the United Nations or the Iraqi exile groups may say.”

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