The news as I write is that American troops are going
the Shiite holy city of Najaf. Religious leaders inside
and outside Iraq have warned our commanders that any incursion of
U.S. troops into Najaf could enrage the country's Shiites, but our
folks are kinda hoping that they don't really
mean, like, the
- With the new move, the military seeks to impose a degree
of control in Najaf, while hoping a foray limited to the modern parts
of the ancient city would not inflame Shiites.
Of course, rather than just "hope", they could send a messenger to
Najaf's most distinguished resident, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani,
the man who could spark off a full-scale insurrection with a word, to
see what he thinks. And if the Ayatollah won't entertain the
question, well, that's all you need to know right there. But it seems
our forces have a bit of a problem communicating with the locals.
Here's another communications problem. According to this morning's
New York Times, plans for an possible upcoming attack on Falluja are
going to target only the insurgents, and try to minimize casualties on
- While administration officials say they would like to
carry out a precise attack on an estimated 2,000 hard-core Sunni
Muslim insurgents, military officials say there is no way guided
missiles or pinpoint bombing can do this job.
Instead, the military is planning swift raids by Marine riflemen --
backed by helicopters and gunships -- aimed at the insurgents' leaders
and their gunmen, while encouraging others in the city to evacuate or
stay under cover.
They've evidently been talking like this for a while, because Iraqi
blogger Riverbend had a response up more
than a week ago:
- When [General] Mark Kimmett stutters through a press
conference babbling about "precision weapons" and "military targets"
in Falloojeh, who is he kidding? Falloojeh is a small city made up of
low, simple houses, little shops and mosques. Is he implying that the
600 civilians who died during the bombing and the thousands injured
and maimed were all "insurgents"? Are houses, shops and mosques now
You might also ask how the American military command is so sure
that they're facing just a few thousand "hard-core insurgents", when
as Steve Gilliard points
out, they could easily be backed by ten times as many sympathetic
locals. (With experienced leadership too -- the "hard core" types may be very
hard core -- most likely including veterans of the
human wave attacks in the Iran/Iraq war). In fact, with many people
out of the city, and just about everyone in town knowing that an
attack may be coming very soon, you've got to wonder why anyone would
want to stay unless they'd want to be part of the fighting.
But the military commanders don't seem quite so worried about
irregulars swelling the ranks of the resistance. Why? Sad to say,
some of that may come down, once again, to failures to communicate. A
coalition chaplain explains
his command's view to Andrew Sullivan:
- ... in Faluja, the supposed hotbed of dissent in Iraq,
countless Iraqis tell our psyopers they want to cooperate with us but
are afraid the thugs will slit their throats or kill their kids. A bad
gang can do that to a neighborhood and a town. That's what is
Ah. So, if they were telling "our psyopers", say,
- Why no, I do not wish to cooperate with you. If it is the
will of Allah that I should see you soon through my gunsights, infidel
dogs, I will cast you into hell with joy in my heart. But right now,
my old unit commander is setting up an ambush three blocks to the west
of here, and needs all hands to rig the booby traps. Please don't
delay me any further -- we're kind of in a rush.
then we might have a problem. But instead, they're telling us that
they want to cooperate, and can't because they're afraid of "the
thugs". Well, all righty then!
Meanwhile, The New York Times claims
that Dubya is deciding whether to initiate a full-scale assault. How
are things tending? On the one hand,
- Mr. Bush is described by many officials as convinced that
if the insurgents hold off American forces there, they will try to do
the same in other Iraqi cities.
On the other, while U.S. officials are described as aware of the
possibility that an assault on Falluja might provoke uprisings
- ... officials still describe the fear of uprisings in Iraq
as a theory, one they say may be overblown.
That sounds kinda good for fans of armed assault.
Meanwhile, what about the ongoing negotiations with Falluja civic
leaders, and members of the IGC? Here's an interesting bit, from very
near the bottom of the Times report:
- Senior American commanders in the Middle East, in a
parallel to officials in Washington, seemed to be exceedingly
concerned about possible casualties in Falluja -- and how the
operation to quell the insurgency would be played throughout the Arab
world, as well.
And so military and civilian officials in Iraq began an
"information operation," according to senior officials in Washington,
to prepare the battlefield of public opinion.
Of course, American rhetoric has whipsawed between accomodation
and confrontation at a dizzying pace for at least a week.
The very latest, as I write, is that Iraqi negotiators in Falluja
believe that they will start joint
patrols with the Americans come next Tuesday -- which, if true,
may buy a little time to try to ramp tension down a bit. But only a
little. One of the negotiators acknowledges that "if [U.S.] soldiers
are attacked, they will respond and this will lead to problems". And
with the civic leaders not even claiming control of large
neighborhoods, some attacks are almost inevitable.
You can understand why the Iraqis would have agreed to this, if the
alternative was an immediate full-scale assault. But some level of
resistance is just about inevitable under the present circumstances --
the civic leaders don't even claim to control several large
neighborhoods -- and there's nothing in the reports about limited,
proportional response. It's almost as if the patrols are designed to
provoke a response which would yield a pretext for further escalation.
And, as (according to the Times)
- All across Iraq, American and allied forces were
repositioning and preparing for bombings, mortar attacks, ambushes and
even popular uprisings in case an attack on Falluja prompted violence
elsewhere, according to Pentagon and military officials.
you really have to wonder -- is the joint patrol scheme for real,
or is it just an aspect of an "information operation" designed to
provide a pretext for an attack that has already been ordered? One
doesn't like to think so, but it would fit the same pattern as Dubya's
use of bogus WMD evidence, and his tendentious attempts to discredit
the UNMOVIC inspectors, to justify his initial assault on the entire
But as I've said before, my record as a prognosticator is hardly
spotless. I'd really like, once again, to be pleasantly surprised.
Update: Well, sad to say, if that is the plan, then the plan
may be working. Clashes in Falluja are happening already, even before
the patrols, and residents are being quoted in news
reports saying stuff like this:
- "I expect the U.S. and Iraqi forces to be exposed targets
for the resistance. No one can control the feelings of the sons of
Falluja because they are very angry," said one local man, Abdul Hakim
Shaker, shortly before Monday's fighting broke out.
And the refugees from Falluja are already piling up in Baghdad,
with the construction of a formal
camp for them (I changed a link up above to point to this
Meanwhile, the New York Times, reporting on the administration's
decision-making process, says
that they ...
- ... saw little risk in agreeing to [extending the cease
fire and the joint patrols], because if an invasion of the city proved
necessary in coming days or weeks, the extension would allow President
Bush and other officials to say that they gave negotiation every
But these subtleties are going to be lost on Iraqis who think, not
wholly without reason, that if we're involved in this sort of trouble,
it's because we brought it. Like the folks reacting to explosions in a
market (not even our bomb!) in Sadr City, a Shiite quarter of
Angry residents held up bloodied human remains to television cameras
filming the scene, accusing U.S. helicopters of firing missiles at the
market. A dead donkey lay on the road, its guts spilled. Local
residents put a sign on its back saying: 'This is Bush.' ...
At the Shaheed al-Sadr hospital nearby, relatives of the dead and
wounded sat on the ground weeping.
'This Bush, we don't want him,' one woman cried. 'It wasn't like
this under Saddam Hussein.'
This is, again, from a Shiite neighborhood. (Remember when they
were supposed to like us?) And it's not like Saddam set a very high
That chaplain's letter to Sullivan via Diana
Moon, who gives that particular remark no more attention than it
deserves... though there's plenty more nonsense in it; she refers me in email to commentary on more of that.
Late edit: added the "whipsawed" sentence in a late paragraph... and then there was the large update ...