Thursday, March 24, 2005

More chaos in Iraq

From Informed Comment:

Iraqi gendarmes of the Interior Ministry, supported by American troops, discovered a guerrilla training camp on the shores of Lake Tharthar in central Iraq. In the subsequent engagement, they claim to have killed 85 guerrillas. Al-Zaman says that 12 Iraqi policemen were killed in the encounter, in return. This area, the district of Hilwah, lies between Samarra, Tikrit and Ramadi, and the lake area-- populated by fishermen-- has been used by guerrillas as a base and to transport weapons. It is a marshy area difficult of access for outsiders.

Agence France Presse, on the other hand, managed to get some independent journalists up to the lake, north of Samarra, and they found 40 guerrillas still there. The guerrillas denied that 85 of their fellows had been killed by the Iraqi army, but admitted that 11 had been killed by US aerial bombardment. (American news organizations such as CNN refuse to report news that is only carried by AFP, because they consider it to have inadequate journalistic quality-control. But reports like this one are not being done by US wire services in Iraq, and if we don't take AFP seriously, we essentially may as well just believe whatever Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib and the Pentagon claim.

Unfortunately, the US military is filtering our news from Iraq, and we only hear about a fraction of the violence that actually takes place there. What we do hear is often imbued by a kind of US boosterism (such as the recent faintly ridiculous claim that Fallujah is the safest city in Iraq-- as though it were still an inhabited city). Even if it were not exaggerated, this report about the Tharthar Camp would mean more in the context of all the violent incidents that occurred on Wednesday, but we don't have access to most of those. That such battles signal a "tipping point" in the counter-insurgency struggle strikes me as highly unlikely. Another question: Are these gung-ho gendarmes killing Sunni jihadis from a Shiite background? Are they getting intelligence via the Badr Corps?

UPI reports that the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior (similar to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation) has begun expelling non-Iraqi Arabs from the country in a bid to weaken the guerrilla movement. Some 250 persons have been ordered out of the country. [Cole: This report sounds merely cosmetic to me, and a drop in the bucket. Some journalists estimate that 400 Saudi volunteers alone have been killed in Iraq. Moreover, most of the guerrilla actions are not taken by foreigners.)

UPI points out that struggles over oil lie at the center of the dispute between the Shiites and the Kurds, which has delayed the formation of a new government. The Kurds are accused of wanting the ministry of petroleum so as to be able to control the Kirkuk oil industry. Ownership of Kirkuk is contested by the Turkmen and the Arabs. There is also a dispute about how much of the petroleum profits would stay in the Kurdish provinces. The Shiites have offered 17 percent, whereas the Kurds are said to want closer to a fourth.

El Pais is reporting the disputes between Spanish military commanders in Najaf and US officers. The Spanish officers were appalled that Gen. Rick Sanchez wanted them to call in bombing strikes on civilian targets (a frequent US tactic in urban warfare in Iraq), and refused, sending in commandos to a hospital instead. Likewise, the Spanish declined to move against the Sadr Movement for fear of massive turbulence, so the US sent in special ops forces to arrest an aide to Muqtada al-Sadr anyway. (It is just unimaginable that the US would endanger the 1200 Spanish troops in Najaf in this high-handed way. It has been alleged to me by someone who should know that Dan Senor played a key role in this move). As the Spanish predicted, the sudden and still unexplained US assault on the Sadrists produced a massive uprising that threw the South into turmoil for two months. The Spanish by that time were fed up and the new Zapatero government determined to withdraw the Spanish military. Given how high-handedly the US treated them, you cannot blame Madrid for wanting no further part of the increasing Iraq quagmire. What comes across most strongly in this report is a general European officer-class repugnance at heavy-handed US military tactics, including especially the use of aerial bombing on civilian targets where guerrillas were present.