Thursday, April 29, 2004

Iraq Car Bomb Kills Eight U.S. Soldiers

This is very bad news. Eight dead soldiers is horrific, but if this suicide attack is the harbinger of a new insurgent tactic, it will be a devastating blow to the American led coalition in Iraq.

The goal in any insurgency is to crystallize public opinion against the occupying forces. The classic way to do this is to goad the occupiers into committing atrocities against civilians. Iraq is already a place of extreme stress for armed to the teeth American teenage and young adult soldiers. The Arab news channels are already inundating their viewers with images of the civilian suffering in Iraq, which is helping to fuel the growing insurgency. From now on, every car that approaches a checkpoint is a possible rolling bomb, ready to kill the US soldier that wants to check it for weapons. The result will be more innocent civilian casualties as overstressed troops take the easy way out of shooting and asking questions later, effectively driving a further wedge into the already shaky relationship between US troops and the Iraqi public, fueling further violence, and creating an even more stressful situation. It is hard to see an end to this cyclical amplification of violence.

Most commentators will be pointing the finger at Muqtada al-Sadr, who recently threatened to start launching martyrdom operations, which in turn will lead to further pressure on George W. Bush to launch a potentially disastrous assault on Najaf. On the political side, Bush is going to come under increasing criticism from his right-wing base for having not moved decisively against al-Sadr earlier.

The worst part of all this remains, however, the pain that the families and loved ones of these brave soldiers will feel when the news of their depature arrives.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

We are witnessing the clash of two world-views in Iraq. From today's Sunday Telegraph:

US tactics condemned by British officers
By Sean Rayment, Defence Correspondent

Senior British commanders have condemned American military tactics in Iraq as heavy-handed and disproportionate.

One senior Army officer told The Telegraph that America's aggressive methods were causing friction among allied commanders and that there was a growing sense of "unease and frustration" among the British high command.

The officer, who agreed to the interview on the condition of anonymity, said that part of the problem was that American troops viewed Iraqis as untermenschen - the Nazi expression for "sub-humans".

Speaking from his base in southern Iraq, the officer said: "My view and the view of the British chain of command is that the Americans' use of violence is not proportionate and is over-responsive to the threat they are facing. They don't see the Iraqi people the way we see them. They view them as untermenschen. They are not concerned about the Iraqi loss of life in the way the British are. Their attitude towards the Iraqis is tragic, it's awful.

"The US troops view things in very simplistic terms. It seems hard for them to reconcile subtleties between who supports what and who doesn't in Iraq. It's easier for their soldiers to group all Iraqis as the bad guys. As far as they are concerned Iraq is bandit country and everybody is out to kill them."

The phrase untermenschen - literally "under-people" - was brought to prominence by Adolf Hitler in his book Mein Kampf, published in 1925. He used the term to describe those he regarded as racially inferior: Jews, Slaves and gipsies.

Although no formal complaints have as yet been made to their American counterparts, the officer said the British Government was aware of its commanders' "concerns and fears".

The officer explained that, under British military rules of war, British troops would never be given clearance to carry out attacks similar to those being conducted by the US military, in which helicopter gunships have been used to fire on targets in urban areas.

British rules of engagement only allow troops to open fire when attacked, using the minimum force necessary and only at identified targets.

The American approach was markedly different: "When US troops are attacked with mortars in Baghdad, they use mortar-locating radar to find the firing point and then attack the general area with artillery, even though the area they are attacking may be in the middle of a densely populated residential area.

"They may well kill the terrorists in the barrage but they will also kill and maim innocent civilians. That has been their response on a number of occasions. It is trite, but American troops do shoot first and ask questions later. They are very concerned about taking casualties and have even trained their guns on British troops, which has led to some confrontations between soldiers.

"The British response in Iraq has been much softer. During and after the war the British set about trying to win the confidence of the local population. There have been problems, it hasn't been easy but on the whole it was succeeding."

The officer believed that America had now lost the military initiative in Iraq, and it could only be regained with carefully planned, precision attacks against the "terrorists".

"The US will have to abandon the sledgehammer-to-crack-a-nut approach - it has failed," he said. "They need to stop viewing every Iraqi, every Arab as the enemy and attempt to win the hearts and minds of the people.

"Our objective is to create a stable, democratic and safe Iraq. That's achievable but not in the short term. It is going to take up to 10 years."

The other side makes its case in The Washington Post:

Iraq's Governing Council to Press for Ceasefire
By Pamela Constable

FALLUJAH, Iraq, April 10 -- U.S. Marines reined in their troops in this urban war zone Saturday, allowing members of Iraq's Governing Council to meet with local leaders to try to negotiate an end to the week-long battle that has pitted 2,500 Marines against hundreds of well-armed insurgents.

Iraqi officials in Baghdad reportedly said insurgent leaders had offered through intermediaries to lay down their arms if the Marines withdraw three kilometers -- about 1.8 miles -- from the city, but it seemed unlikely that U.S. military officials would make such a deal.

Marine officials here expressed deep skepticism that the talks in a local mosque would yield any results. Their troops were impatient to plunge back into fray after a two-day lull in fighting that the U.S. military have already observed to permit tens of thousands of women and children to leave the embattled city, about 35 miles west of Baghdad.

"Given the virulent nature of the enemy, the prospect of some city father walking in and getting Joe Jihadi to give himself up is pretty slim," said Lt. Col. Brennan Byrne, who commands the 5th Marine Battalion here, using the Arabic word for Islamic warrior.

"That's fine," Byrne added, "because they'll get whipped up, come out fighting again and get mowed down."

A third battalion of Marines reached Fallujah Saturday, adding more than 1,000 troops to the operation that was launched last Sunday to hunt down and wipe out an armed urban resistance, believed to include Islamic extremists, former members of Saddam Hussein's military forces and common criminals.

As the reinforcements moved into place and civilians continued to stream out of the city, the Marines prepared for a first aggressive thrust into several heavily populated districts, deploying more heavy weapons, including artillery and AC-130 gunships.

"What comes next is the destruction of anti-coalition forces in Fallujah," Byrne told reporters late Saturday. "Their only choices are to submit or die." He said his sniper teams had killed at least 40 insurgents and possibly killed another 15 since the operation, called Vigilant Resolve, began.

But the expected launch of this new offensive -- which Marine officers said Saturday morning might include air strikes from bomber jets based on aircraft carriers -- was abruptly called off at noon when word reached here of the planned negotiating visit by officials from Baghdad.

The meetings were arranged after Iraqi political and religious leaders criticized the U.S. military offensive, which one Governing Council member described as "collective punishment" for an entire city, and concerns mounted that Fallujah residents were trapped and unable to buy food, reach hospitals or bury their dead.

Long after nightfall, Byrne's forces had received no word on the outcome of the meetings, and many Marines expressed concern that the break would give their opponents a chance to regroup after five days of intense combat.

"Any pause in the battle on our part gives a chance for them to refit themselves and come back a little harder," said Sgt. Daryl Hill, 38, whose company has spent four days and nights positioned along the front line between a deserted industrial area where the Marines are based and a residential district from which snipers shoot at them.

Hill said his company, which lost a popular lieutenant and staff sergeant to enemy fire in the same incident Thursday, had since gotten help from night gunship raids. "The gunships relieved some of the stress on us, but now it's time to get moving," he said. "They took some comrades from us, but we can't sit back and grieve over our loss. It's payback time."

Marine officers and troops said they continued to come under fire from snipers with assault rifles, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades as they searched Fallujah's industrial zone for weapons.

Three Marines were wounded by mortar fragments Saturday, and several mortar attacks shook the Marine base late at night.

Meanwhile, civilians poured out of the besieged city for a second day after U.S. forces urged all women and children as well as elderly men to seek safety elsewhere. Marines reported seeing thousands of people leaving by various roads Saturday, and Byrne estimated that a total of 60,000 had fled.

Byrne said residents choosing to remain were being told to stay in their homes, and he said the Marines may take food and other supplies to individual homes when they are searched.

As they prepare for a full-fledged push into the residential areas that shelter the rebels, Marine forces are being allowed to operate under slightly less restrictive rules, with field officers authorized to approve tank and artillery fire, and troops permitted to pursue attackers more aggressively. "If we're shot at, we won't knock on the door any more, we're going right in," said Sgt. Scott Moss, who was gulping a sandwich at the Marine base between 12-hour stints on the front lines. "But we expect a lot of people will be gone, and when we bring in armor, it's more for dramatic effect than to blast the whole city. It's a statement to say we're serious."

At the same time, the troops said they remained keenly aware of the need not to unnecessarily provoke or upset the civilians who have remained in the city and who may be expecting the worst.

"We trained a lot about this," said Moss. "You don't talk to people with your sunglasses on, you don't show Iraqis the bottoms of your feet, you don't bark commands." He stooped to show how he had reassured a scared child in one house being searched, dropping his gun and holding out both hands.

"I haven't had the chance to enter a building peacefully yet, but I'm looking forward to it," he said.

Friday, April 2, 2004

My blog has been on hold for some time now as I have been trying to juggle caring for our three children and working full-time. My work as an architect looks to be slowing down in the very near future, and the twins are almost one year old now, so I am going to restart the blog, albeit slowly at first, but I should be up to full speed by the end of April.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe to Posts [Atom]