Friday, October 20, 2006

Chaos in Amarah and the lessons of history

The situation in Amarah today is most disconcerting. CNN has this short paragraph on their main page:
Iraq is ordering troops to the restive southern city of Amarah where militiamen loyal to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr are said to have seized control. Video shows masked gunman on the streets and huge plumes of black smoke rising from buildings in the city where Iraqi forces took security control from the British two months ago.
We can draw a number of immediate lessons (or maybe just questions) from this incident. How much control does Sadr have over his fighters? Sadr had a recent meeting with Maliki. What exactly was achieved? How effective are Iraqi forces if a militia can take a town in one day? How wise is it to stand down in Iraq right now?

BBC News on that last question:
British troops are on standby to re-enter Amara in southern Iraq after an outbreak of serious violence.

The Army could return to the city just two months after it pulled out if the Amara authorities ask for help, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) confirmed.

Clashes between police and up to 300 gunmen have left at least 12 people dead and dozens injured.

Iraq officials say the violence has now been brought under control, but eyewitnesses report continuing gunfire.

The MoD pulled all UK troops out of Amara in August because the security situation was "relatively quiet" there.
The Guardian has extensive details:
About 800 black-clad militiamen with Kalashnikov rifles and rocket-propelled grenades patrolled city streets in commandeered police vehicles, while other fighters set up roadblocks on routes into the city and sound trucks circulated telling residents to stay indoors.

At least 15 people, including five militiamen, one policeman and two bystanders, were killed during the clashes between the Shia militias, local police and Iraqi security forces. The fighting wounded at least 59 people - 31 militiamen, six policemen and 22 civilians including three children - said Riyadh Saed, the duty physician at the city's main hospital.

In response to the assault on the city the Iraqi government dispatched 230 troops from Basra.

The militiamen later withdrew from their positions and lifted their siege of police headquarters under a temporary truce negotiated between envoys for the government and al-Sadr. It was not clear by the afternoon whether the security forces had reasserted control over the city.
The New York Times:
The power the militias have to destabilize the country is demonstrated almost daily, and the Maliki government is under mounting American pressure to stem the violence. Just last weekend, Shiite militiamen went on a killing spree in and around the town of Balad, murdering 38 Sunnis in reprisal for the beheading by Sunni extremists of 19 Shiite workers.

The clashes in Amara, culminating in what effectively was a seizure of the city by the militia, appeared to spring from the assassination this week of a senior police official loyal to another powerful Shiite militia, the Badr Organization. The official’s family and the Badr group accused the Mahdi Army of being behind that killing, according to an account from Amara. A brother of a Mahdi Army commander was then kidnapped in reprisal, the account said.

Sheik Abdul Kareem al-Muhammadawi, a prominent tribal leader, said in an interview by telephone today that the Mahdi Army responded by deploying its troops in the city. He said the police were outgunned, with insufficient weapons and ammunition.

“There is no state in the city right now,” he said.
The situation in Iraq is degrading at an alarming rate. The country may look very different in less than three weeks, when Americans vote in the mid-term elections. Ramadan is set to conclude early next week. One should anticipate a great deal of pressure.

Some recent news items:

The Los Angeles Times:
"We're obviously very concerned about what we're seeing in the city," [Baghdad] Caldwell said. "We're taking a lot of time to go back and look at the whole Baghdad security plan. We're asking ourselves if the conditions under which it was first devised and planned still exist today, or have the conditions changed and therefore a modification to that plan needs to be made."

Despite the joint operation, launched in June, sectarian violence between Sunni and Shiite Arabs continues unabated. And U.S. troops are increasingly being targeted, Caldwell said. He charged that Iraqi paramilitary fighters were attacking American forces more frequently because of the upcoming U.S. midterm election, in which the Iraq conflict and the American lives being lost are key issues.
BAGHDAD, Oct 18 (Reuters) - Dozens of al Qaeda-linked gunmen took to the streets of Ramadi on Wednesday in a show of force to announce the city was joining an Islamic state comprising Iraq's mostly Sunni Arab provinces, Islamists and witnesses said.

Witnesses in Ramadi, the capital of western Anbar province, said gunmen dressed in white marched through the city as mosque loudspeakers broadcast the statement by the Mujahideen Shura Council, a Sunni militant group led by al Qaeda in Iraq.

"We are from Mujahideen Shura Council and our Amir (Prince) is Abu Omar al-Baghdadi. God willing we will set the law of Sharia here and we will fight the Americans," said a man who identified himself as Abu Harith, a Mujahideen field leader.

"We have announced the Islamic state. Ramadi is part of it. Our state will comprise all the Sunni provinces of Iraq," he told Reuters in a telephone interview.
The Christian Science Monitor:
Mr. Cordesman, the former director of intelligence assessment for the US Defense Secretary, writes in an Oct. 19 report that, "Iraq is already in a state of serious civil war, and current efforts at political compromise and improving security at best are buying time. There is a critical risk that Iraq will drift into a major civil conflict over the coming months, see its present government fail, and/or divide or separate in some form."

As the death toll rises, comparisons to the Vietnam War are appearing again. The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote this week that violence in Iraq poses "the Jihadist equivalent of the Tet Offensive,'' referring to the massive North Vietnamese and Viet Cong assault that began in January 1968 and ended with few strategic gains for the North. It badly shook American confidence of ultimate victory in Vietnam, and led then-President Lyndon Johnson to abandon his reelection bid.

But the violence or structure of the Iraq war does not mirror Vietnam, note historians. In that war, organized battalions of opponents overran key US and South Vietnamese positions only to be pushed back later.

Instead, the nature of Iraq's diffuse sectarian war is not about clearing and holding territory, but much more about spreading the fear that is contributing to the cleansing of Shiites and Sunnis from each others' strongholds.

Nevertheless, President Bush did admit a Tet Offensive parallel in that the violence may have an impact on US elections.

"He could be right,'' Mr. Bush told ABC News, referring to Mr. Friedman. "There's certainly a stepped-up level of violence and we're heading into elections."
The AP:
GENEVA (AP) — At least 914,000 Iraqis have fled their homes since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, more than a third since an increase in sectarian bloodshed at the start of this year, the U.N. refugee agency said Friday.

The overall number is likely to be much higher, said Ron Redmond, chief spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. The agency has concluded that 754,000 displaced Iraqis remain in the country, while tens of thousands more have sought refuge abroad.
President Bush faces a number of difficult options in Iraq, most of them are not feasible. The New York Times outlines some of them, and adds:
But whatever choices he makes — probably not until after the Nov. 7 election, and perhaps not until the bipartisan group issues its report — they will be forced by a series of events, in Iraq and at home, that now seems largely out of Mr. Bush’s control, in Iraq and at home.

Every day, administration and Pentagon officials fume — privately, to avoid the ire of the White House — about frustrations with Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, for not confronting the country’s Shiite militias, meaning that there is no end to the daily cycle of attack and reprisals. Mr. Bush finds himself increasingly unable to make a convincing argument that, behind the daily toll in American lives, the Maliki government is making measurable progress, or even that the problems in Iraq are subject to a military solution.
The Times of London noticed a comparison between President Bush's remarks and commanders in the field:
Mr Bush surprised America by admitting yesterday to growing similarities between the wars in Iraq and Vietnam. But he also emphasised that success should not be measured by the body count, but in terms of the ability of Iraqis to defend themselves, their access to healthcare and education.

“I define success or failure as whether or not the Iraqis will be able to defend themselves. I define success or failure as whether schools are being built or hospitals are being opened. I define success or failure as whether we’re seeing a democracy grow in the heart of the Middle East,” he told ABC News.

Only hours after his statement Major-General William Caldwell, spokesman for the US forces in Iraq, said that the results of a vast security operation to secure Baghdad — the key to this war — had been “disheartening”.
The Financial Times called this "an uncharacteristically gloomy admission" from General Caldwell.

There is a persistent rumor of a coup to unseat Prime Minister Maliki. The fact that militia under the so-called command of Sadr took over a town in southern Iraq will only fuel these rumors. Coups and revolutions are historical anomalies; an environment conducive to a coup does not necessarily produce a coup. But, the rumors are worth noting. Asia Times Online notes just a few sources:
Mutlaq, who is sympathetic to, if not affiliated with, the Iraqi resistance and its former Ba'athist leaders, explicitly called for Maliki to step down.

Colvin quoted Anthony Cordesman, an uber-realist, conservative US military analyst, claiming that there is a "very real possibility" Maliki will be toppled. "There could be a change in government, done in a backroom, which could see a general brought in to run the Ministry of Defense or the Interior."

David Ignatius - an exceedingly well-connected reporter at the Washington Post - wrote a column on October 13 citing Mutlaq as well, and suggesting that Iraq's own intelligence service (created, funded, and run by the Central Intelligence Agency - CIA) is involved.
A different Asia Times Online article reviews the past 150 days of Maliki's rule:
Under Maliki, according to a report in the London-based daily Al-Hayat, Iraqi men are carving tattoos on their bodies, with their home address and telephone number. This is so that if they are killed, mutilated or beheaded, police would be able to identify their bodies and send them back to their families for burial.
There is another potential Vietnam moment that may soon develop. We are now approaching the 43rd anniversary of the Diem Coup. George Washington University has a great page from a few years ago:
Washington D.C., November 5, 2003 - A White House tape of President Kennedy and his advisers, published this week in a new book-and-CD collection and excerpted on the Web, confirms that top U.S. officials sought the November 1, 1963 coup against then-South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem without apparently considering the physical consequences for Diem personally (he was murdered the following day). The taped meeting and related documents show that U.S. officials, including JFK, vastly overestimated their ability to control the South Vietnamese generals who ran the coup 40 years ago this week.

The Kennedy tape from October 29, 1963 captures the highest-level White House meeting immediately prior to the coup, including the President's brother voicing doubts about the policy of support for a coup: "I mean, it's different from a coup in the Iraq or South American country; we are so intimately involved in this…." National Security Archive senior fellow John Prados provides a full transcript of the meeting, together with the audio on CD, in his new book-and-CD publication, The White House Tapes: Eavesdropping on the President (New York: The New Press, 2003, 331 pp. + 8 CDs, ISBN 1-56584-852-7), just published this week and featuring audio files from 8 presidents, from Roosevelt to Reagan.

To mark the 40th anniversary of the Diem coup, a critical turning point in the Vietnam war, Dr. Prados also compiled and annotated for the Web a selection of recently declassified documents from the forthcoming documentary publication, U.S. Policy in the Vietnam War, to be published in spring 2004 by the National Security Archive and ProQuest Information and Learning. Together with the Kennedy tape from October 29, 1963, the documents show that American leaders discussed not only whether to support a successor government, but also the distribution of pro- and anti-coup forces, U.S. actions that could be taken that would contribute to a coup, and calling off a coup if its prospects were not good.

"Supporting the Diem coup made the U.S. responsible for the outcome in South Vietnam in exactly the way Bobby Kennedy feared on October 29," said Dr. Prados. "Ironically, though, as the conversation continued, he and the other doubters abandoned these larger considerations and concentrated only on whether a coup would succeed - nothing else mattered."
A replay may be well underway.

Cordesman's report, mentioned in the Christian Science Monitor, is available from CSIS.


Blogger Chuck said...

I see that the CNN correspondent Ware is the one responsible for putting up a video of an insurgent sniper shooting an American in the back. You might trust him but I would kill him if I could get my hands on him.

As I've said before, I don't trust anyone at CNN. I think they are traitorous slime.

5:54 PM  
Blogger copy editor said...

Their editorial judgement was very questionable.

5:57 PM  
Blogger Chuck said...

I don't think CNN's airing that video can be passed off as questionable judgement. They are aiding and abetting the terrorists by airing propaganda and should be held accountable for their actions.

CNN has become the enemy within and should be treated as subversives.

I have blocked them from my TV and wish others would do the same. A hit to the pocketbook might send them a message.

7:49 AM  

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