Friday, April 30, 2004

One further note on the news from Falluja: like Juan Cole, a guy who actually knows what he's talking about, it stikes me as really good news:

Whoever made the decision to pull back and try to put an Iraqi face on the confrontation in Fallujah had more good sense than has been demonstrated by American leaders recently in Iraq. A bloody invasion of Fallujah had the potential of greatly deepening Iraqi and Arab hatred for the United States.

But it is, still and all, very strange news, in a couple of respects. The oddest of which, perhaps, is this:

It is not clear whether [the local force commander, Marine Lt. Gen. James] Conway conveyed the terms of the deal to his superiors in Baghdad and at the Pentagon, or even to leaders of the U.S. occupation authority. One person familiar with the deal said it took senior U.S. military and civilian officials in Baghdad by surprise.

Well, maybe I shouldn't be so worked up that it took me by surprise.

Beyond that, there are oddities to the deal itself. We hear that the new force will be made up of troops from the old Iraqi army, commanded by their former officers. That may make it somewhat more reliable than the notoriously fickle Iraqi police forces we've trained -- which remains, of course, to be seen. But that also was, supposedly, the background of the folks in Falluja who were fighting against us. As the WaPo seems to confirm:

A Marine officer familiar with the arrangement acknowledged that some former insurgents may be part of the force, creating the potential situation of U.S. troops having to work with people who have very recently been shooting at them.

A further oddity is that the commanding officer of the new force has not been officially named, and there are actually conflicting reports as to his identity -- one of which has him as an old staff aide to Chemical Ali. (Update: fortunately not -- it's an old Republican Guard general named Jasem Salih.) Which only further serves to emphasize the degree to which Conway has simply found a face-saving way to declare victory and withdraw. (And considering that I've been saying for some time that that might be the best way -- or at any rate, the least damaging way -- for us to get out of a very bad situation, I'm ill-positioned to complain too much about that, nor is that my intent. I'm just noting the fact).

Lastly, lest we think that the news from Iraq is generally good, the top story on the BBC web site as I write is about Americans torturing prisoners, inside what was the most notorious prison in the country under Saddam's ancien regime. We're still in a hell of a mess, with no good way out...

Further note: it turns out some of our torturers at Abu Ghraib prison were private security contractors, one of whom is alleged to have raped a male prisoner. As Atrios says, rape rooms indeed.

Edit note: "Declare victory and withdraw" remarks added late...


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