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September 25, 2005 - The 'Other' Story

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Last week began with my nephew flying back to Baghdad from Southern California.  His leave is over and he won't be back until his tour ends, probably at the end of December.  You've seen his photos here - Mosul and Baghdad - and read his words, most recently here.  Back to the Green Zone - but we had some good talks, off the record of course.  He knows what's up.  After all, he briefs the senior command twice a day on what's going on in a sector I probably shouldn't mention.  He knows what is happening operationally, day in and day out.  It's his job to know that, and report it to the decision makers.

All the talk stateside has been about the hurricane, and the one that follows, and presumably the one that follows that, and on the White House and the federal response and matters of race and class.  But there is this war.  And Bill Montgomery over at Whiskey Bar provides a useful reminder that the Cheney administration is still losing it.

The Cheney administration?  Montgomery sees Bush as cipher, it seems.  Perhaps so.  Maybe it doesn't matter.  The net effect is the same.

Montgomery reminds us that the death toll, in Iraqis, was more than two hundred and fifty in the last week, and reminds us of the incident on the bridge where more than a thousand died, two days before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. Not good. And there are the daily suicide bombing deaths - ten here, thirty there. It goes on and on –


The latest carnage is part of an escalated campaign by Al-Zarqawi (or whoever is actually behind the communiqués issued in his name) to upgrade the low-grade sectarian war already being fought in Iraq, probably in hopes of disrupting next month's constitutional referendum.

This is being accompanied by a massive show of insurgent force in Baghdad - as a kind of propaganda-of-the-deed response to the futile U.S. sweep through Tal Afar last week.


As mentioned previously, Juan Cole, the professor of Middle East studies at the University of Michigan, argued Tal Afar marked the start of a civil war.


Is that what my nephew returns to?  Cole has contacts in Baghdad and one of the says this, Monday, September 19 –


The situation has deteriorated in Baghdad dramatically today. Five neighborhoods (hay) in Baghdad are controlled by insurgents, and they are Amiraya, Ghazilya, Shurta, Yarmouk and Doura. It is very bad. My guys there report that cars have come into these neighborhoods and blocked off the streets. Masked gunmen with AKs and other weapons are roaming these areas, announcing that people should stay home. One of my drivers in Amiraya reports that his neighborhood is shut down totally, and even those who need food or provisions are warned not to go out.

The government will respond feebly. It will go into a contested neighborhood, and then just like Fallujah, Ramadi, Tel Afar, the insurgents will flee to take over another area on another day. Bit by bit they are taking over the main parts of Baghdad. The only place we are sure they cannot control is Sadr City, unless of course they want to take on Jaish Mahdy [Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army], and that would be bloody.

A few minutes ago Jaafari came on television to tell everyone in Baghdad to stay home. Can't wait for his next bold move.

There are flyers in public areas of Baghdad warning people not to gather in large numbers because they will thereby become targets. I am trying to get a copy of the flyer ...


There's more of course, and Knight-Ridder picks up the story and add more detail here on the 21st.

Can it be this bad?  Should I worry about my nephew, or worry more now?

Well, he's in the Green Zone, not out in the neighborhoods, and Montgomery notes there seems to have been a shift over there. The bad guys do not seem to be working very hard to kill our soldiers at the moment, or even the Iraqi soldiers. The priority seems to be wiping out Shiite civilians - men, women and children. As many as possible.

Cole points to this article from Martin Sieff, UPI, on casualty trends and says "this may reflect the finite operational capabilities of the insurgency, the temporary impact of recent U.S. sweeps in western Iraq or it may just mean the insurgents don't see much value added in killing the sad sack recruits of the new Iraqi army." Sieff - "It could even be that the insurgents judge the security forces now so demoralized, infiltrated and cowed by their successive attacks that [they] do not feel the need to target them for the moment."

As Montgomery puts it, "the insurgents don't see much value added in killing the sad sack recruits of the new Iraqi army."  And my nephew is probably fairly safe.

He also reports the site Defense and the National Interest reposts an article from Inside the Pentagon with the title Officers Worry Iraqi Army Will Disintegrate After U.S. Draws Down containing this:


Newly trained forces generally exhibit "a lack of willingness to fight for something," says retired Army Col. Gerry Schumacher, a former Green Beret who was recently in Iraq. More than two years of insurgent violence and a U.S.-led occupation have left Iraqi troops with "a lack of a cause to believe in," says Schumacher, who anticipates a civil war may break out between tribal and ethnic groups when American forces leave ...


Montgomery is a better researcher than most, and adds this:


The article runs through the same list of weaknesses that other reports have highlighted: the lack of training (the average Iraqi recruit gets three weeks) the rampant corruption, the AWOLs and desertions, the defective weapons, the shortages of ammunition and supplies - and most of all, the fact that most Iraqi soldiers are simply there to draw a paycheck, or are loyal only to their tribe, ethnic group or party militia.

Only this time, you can hear it from the mouths of the American officers who are trying desperately to turn things around, instead of from a bunch of "liberal" reporters.


Go read it.  There are embedded links, and he is not kind to the whole effort now being in the hands of Lieutenant General Martin Dempsey and he give some background on what he considers Dempsey's "previous contributions to the sum of human stupidity."

But wait! There's more!


The failure of Iraqification is bad enough. How the commanders in Baghdad are coping with that failure is even worse. To keep up their sweeps in the Sunni Triangle (and sustain the fiction that the Iraqis are gradually learning how to conduct such operations on their own) the brass is relying heavily on Shi'a units and the Kurdish peshmerga - particularly the latter, which is probably the only significant combat effective Iraqi force (on our side, anyway).

This means sending Shi'a troops to bust down doors, search women and arrest men in the Sunni heartland or - as was the case in Tal Afar - sending Kurdish militiamen to kill ethnic Turks. It's hard to imagine a better way to fuel sectarian hatreds and push Iraq closer to civil war (and/or trigger a Turkish intervention in Kurdistan.) You read about stuff like this and you have to wonder: Is FEMA secretly running the war in Iraq?

But the unreliability of the new Iraqi Army - and the likelihood that its Sunni units have been penetrated by the insurgents - may have had more direct lethal consequences for the U.S. military.

You may recall that in early August six Marine snipers were ambushed and wiped out in Anbar province, near the insurgent-infested city of Haditha. It was a humiliating blow - Marine snipers are supposed to hunt, not be hunted - although it was quickly overshadowed by an even bigger humiliation when 14 Marines riding in an antiquated amphibious vehicle (in the middle of the desert!) were blown up in the same neighborhood.

But the destruction of those Marine sniper teams may have been even more ominous than it appeared at the time. Military analyst William Lind, who has excellent sources inside the Corps, says he's been told that the snipers were attacked and killed by the Iraqi unit they were attached to.

Lind also says he's not been able to confirm that report. But if it's true - or if other Marines even think its true - the implications for Iraqification are stark. How do you "stand up" an Army when you can't risk turning your back on the troops once they do? As Lind says: "If it did happen and the public was not told, the Bush administration will have been caught in yet another lie."

That, too, has strategic significance in a war we were lied into in the first place. If a strategy initially based on lies must rely on more lies for its continuation, it is probably not pointed toward success.


No kidding.

Will the Brits do it all better in the south, down Basra way? Well, the Iraqi police arrested two of them. They say the two UK guys shot some Iraqi policeman. Huh?

Then this happened (Monday, September 19, Associated Press, Abbas Fayadh):


BASRA, Iraq (AP) - In a dramatic show of force, British soldiers used tanks to break down the walls of the central jail in this southern city Monday and freed two Britons, allegedly undercover commandos arrested on charges of shooting two Iraqi policemen, witnesses said. The Basra governor called the rescue a "barbaric'' act of aggression.

But in London, the Ministry of Defense said in a statement that two British troops held by Iraqi authorities in Basra were released as a result of negotiations. It said the two service personnel were with British forces. ...


Quite a mess.

Remember that British Colonel, Tim Collins, the one who gave his troops that splendid speech about was to their mission to liberate, not conquer? He's left the army and commented in The Observer saying this is a mess of our own making:


What I had not realized was that there was no real plan at the higher levels to replace anything, indeed a simplistic and unimaginative overreliance in some senior quarters on the power of destruction and crude military might. We were to beat the Iraqis. That simple. Everything would come together after that.

The Iraqi army was defeated - it walked away from most fights - but was then dismissed without pay to join the ranks of the looters smashing the little infrastructure left, and to rail against their treatment. The Baath party was left undisturbed. The careful records it kept were destroyed with precision munitions by the coalition; the evidence erased, they were left with a free rein to agitate and organize the insurrection. A vacuum was created in which the coalition floundered, the Iraqis suffered and terrorists thrived.

One cannot help but wonder what it was all about. If it was part of the war on terror then history might notice that the invasion has arguably acted as the best recruiting sergeant for al-Qaeda ever: a sort of large-scale equivalent of the Bloody Sunday shootings in Derry in 1972, which in its day filled the ranks of the IRA. If it was an attempt to influence the price of oil, then the motorists who queued last week would hardly be convinced. If freedom and a chance to live a dignified, stable life free from terror was the motive, then I can think of more than 170 families in Iraq last week who would have settled for what they had under Saddam. UK military casualties reached 95 last week. I nightly pray the total never reaches 100.

... It is time for our leaders to explain what is going on. It was as a battalion commander trying to explain to his men why they would embark on a war that I came to public notice. The irony is that I made certain assumptions that my goodwill and altruistic motivations went to the top. Clearly I was naive. This time it is the role of the leaders of nations to explain where we are going and why. I, for one, demand to know.


Yeah, yeah.  Don't expect an answer, Tim.

So while domestic matters occupy us all stateside, things are falling apart fast in Iraq. Maybe they will improve, but the Bush administration, or the Cheney one if you wish, should be glad for Hurricane Katrina, and the ones stacking up in the Atlantic. Perhaps no one will notice what up in Iraq.

But my nephew, who I admire and respect tremendously, is there now.  Some of us will notice.





Footnote on our Saudi allies:


Saudi Arabia says Iraq faces disintegration - Daily Times 
WASHINGTON: Iraq is heading towards disintegration, raising fears of a wider regional conflict, Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal warned on Thursday. He said he did not believe the country was ...

Also -
US dismisses Saudi view of Iraq's possible disintegration
Saudi Foreign Minister Chides US Policy

And items here: Guardian Unlimited - Reuters AlertNet - New York Times 


This is not good.


Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

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