[Mb-civic] Commentary on Iraq and latest miserable Iraq news
ean at sbcglobal.net
ean at sbcglobal.net
Mon Sep 13 21:36:55 PDT 2004
From: Michael Schwartz (via Ed Pearl)
Sent: Saturday, September 11, 2004 6:08 AM
Subject: My take on what's happening in IRaq
Just when everything is confusing in Iraq, I turn silent. Just when my
blabbering might do some good, no more blabber.
In an attempt to make up for lost time, here is my nutshell summary of
what I think has been happening.
1. Who won in Najaf. The short answer is Ali al-Sistani, who
re-established himself as pre-eminent by resolving the crisis without the
destruction of either the Shrine or the Al Mahdi soldiers defending it.
2. Did Muqtada al Sadr win or lose in Najaf. Before al-Sistani
intervened, the Sadrists were faced with a tough choice. They could fight
to the death and create the foundation for U.S. expulsion from Iraq
through the reaction to the combined slaughter and destruction of the
Shrine. Or they could withdraw and shatter their own credibility, and end
up disarmed and discredited. It looked like they were going to be
martyrs, but al-Sistani stopped their victory while saving their lives and
preserving (and perhaps even strengthening) their organization. But their
political primacy was pre-empted by al Sistani.
3. Did the U.S .win or lose in Najaf. The U.S. lost in two ways.
It further alienated the Iraqis, so that neither the U.S. nor its client
administration have any credibility on the street. It also lost the
opportunity for a smashing military victory that might have won the
election for Bush and also created the foundation for a fascist regime to
be installed in Iraq. (A fascist regime-or call it an "authoritarian"
regime, if you want to mince words-is now the only option left for the
U.S. to remain in control. And even a fascist regime would probably not
last long, given the political and military realities of Iraq and the
But the U.S. also won something important through al Sistani's
intervention: it was removed from the terrible choice of withdrawing
without dislodging al Sadr ((which would have been a monumental victory
for al Sadr and would have led to liberated areas throughout the South of
Iraq) or smashing the temple and creating Islam-wide outrage that would
eventually expel the U.S. So the U.S. lived to try another strategy,
which they would not have had the chance to do if Al Sadr had not
4. So what is the new U.S. strategy? The U.S. military posture,
adopted directly after Najaf, is a straightforward "divide and conquer"
strategy. This strategy is targeted at the cities where the guerrillas
and their clerical leadership dominate (at least: Falluja, Ramadi,
Samarra, Tal Afar, Sadr City, and maybe Kufa, Najaf, and ;Basra, we shall
see). Since they cannot let these cities remain in revolutionary hands
through the January elections, they have to establish U.S. control
somehow. There method is to negotiate with the clerical leadership and
offer extensive reconstruction aid in exchange for calling off the
insurgency and delivering the guerrilla fighters over to the U.S. (They
call this negotiating with the moderates to split with the militants.)
If they can get an agreement, then the U.S. marches into town and arrests
all the guerrillas. If the guerrillas resist arrest, the U.S. annihilates
them and the areas they take refuge in.
To force an agreement, the U.S. threatens both economic and military
attacks on the city as a whole. These threats are meant to force the
"moderates" to negotiate rather than see their city destroyed.
One key element of all this are the elections in January. The U.S. needs
them for its international fig leaf (Iraqis won't be fooled) and they
cannot let these cities be part of the election without reconquering them,
since they will either boycott or send revolutionary representatives who
will get the Legislature to call for U.S. withdrawal. If these cities
boycott or the U.S. excludes them the Legislature, the fig leaf is off.
They represent most of the country, if we take into account that other
localities will refuse to participate if these cities are not in the mix.
5. Is the New U.S. plan working? I have a sense of the current
situation in four places:
² Falluja. The U.S. got together with the clerical leadership in
Falluja (which is also the revolutionary leadership) and was told to go to
hell. There were no negotiations to speak of (even though the U.S.
promised much needed infrastructure reconstruction) and the U.S. have been
bombing the hell out of certain areas every since. Tons of civilian
casualties. But so far the softening up has not worked at all to create a
split inside Falluja. The U.S. also threatened to invade the city once
again and even announced on loudspeakers that the residents of certain
areas should evacuate. But that was a bluff. They are clearly waiting
until after the November elections in the U.S. (but not too long after,
because they have to clear the city before the January elections in
² Sadr City. The U.S. sent the Allawi government to negotiate and the
Sadrists made a deal that the U.S. would not come into Sadr City at all
(except to do reconstruction), while the Sadrists would not mount attacks
on U.S. bases or convoys outside Sadr City. (This was quite a concession
by the Sadrists, since the Fallujans mount constant attacks on U.S. bases
and convoys that severely strain U.S. resources). Part of the deal was for
that reconstruction would finally start inside Sadr City.
When the Allawi government brought this back to the U.S., they vetoed it,
because they (correctly) saw this as allowing the Sadrists to consolidate
their government within Sadr City, just what the U.S. wanted to avoid. (
The U.S. military leadership explained their refusal by saying the deal
would allow the Al Mahdi army to reconstitute itself after its devastating
defeat in Najaf, but that was just the U.S. trying to look tough.)
The U.S. has now renewed patrols and battles inside Sadr City, but has
discovered that they cannot shake the support of the residents for the
Sadrists (unlike Najaf, where there was real anger at the Sadrists, who
were not residents of Najaf. In Sadr city, the guerrillas are family
members and respected neighbors who have been keeping crime down and the
Americans out for months now.) We can expect bombing attacks on Sadr
City, but it remains to be seen whether the U.S. will mount more patrols,
which usually take casualties.
² Samarra. The U.S. instituted an economic blockade by closing a key
bridge, and began starving the town three weeks ago. A group of clerics
negotiated a deal in which the bridge was re-opened. This was the first
success of the new strategy. The U.S. sent a patrol through town last
Thursday to the city hall and appointed a new government. Then the U.S.
left, and it was unclear whether it was supposed to be able to come into
town whenever it wanted. What was clear, however, is that the newly
appointed government had no authority.
The whole situation is in flux right now. A group of guerrillas
denounced the agreement one day after the deal was struck. And now, the
clerical leadership (who also control the guerrillas) appears to be
setting up an official local government of their own modeled after the
Falluja government and formally allied with the Falluja government (this
is a huge threat to the U.S., because coordination across liberated areas
has been absent and would be a huge tool against the U.S. ). The U.S.
appointed administrators did not come to work on Friday-their first day in
office. So that seems to be faltering in the face of the new initiative
by the revolutionaries. The U.S. troops either have to reinvade or give
up again, I think. We shall see.
² Tall Afar. This is a strange place, ethnically heterogeneous and a
border town. I can't discern what negotiations took place, but they seem
to have failed. The U.S. appears to have decided that this a good spot
to try bombing the city into submission, so that has been where the huge
bombing raids have been. Even the Turkish government has denounced the
U.S. over this, mentioning the incredible number of civilian
casualties(many hundreds, apparently). (The U.S. is using the absurd
story that there are huge concentrations of guerrillas in small
neighborhoods that they then level. Since guerrillas never congregate
like this, it is patently false and just a cover for the U.S. press to use
on the American people.)
So far, there is no sign that Tall Afar "moderates" are negotiating a
truce that gives up their guerrilla fighters to the U.S. in exchange for
ending the terror bombing. Probably, the bombing itself has converted
whatever moderates there were in the city into revolutionaries.
This is very much a work in process, but the U.S. seems to have adopted
yet another failing strategy. If so, we can probably expect them to try
to wait it out until the U.S. election, then unleash huge bombing raids to
try to reduce certain places to rubble and therefore create a viable
threat of wholesale destruction which they hope will force other cities
Anyway, that's what I think.
Department of Sociology
University at Stony Brook
Stony Brook NY 11794
Phone: 631 632-7700
Cell Phone: 516 356-4078
Fax 631 331-6120
US missile attack kills 13 civilians in Iraq
By Patrick Cockburn in Baghdad
13 September 2004
"I am a journalist. I'm dying, I'm dying," screamed Mazen al-Tumeizi, a
correspondent for the Arabic television channel al-Arabiya, after shrapnel
from a rocket fired by an American helicopter interrupted his live
broadcast and slammed into his back.
Twelve others were killed and 61 wounded by rockets from two US
helicopters on Haifa Street in central Baghdad. They had fired into a
crowd milling around a burning Bradley fighting vehicle that had been hit
by a rocket or bomb hours before.
It comes on one of Iraq's bloodiest days for weeks in which at least 110
people died in clashes around the country. The Health Ministry said the
worst casualties were in Baghdad and in Tal Afar near the Syrian border,
where 51 people died.
"The helicopter fired on the Bradley to destroy it after it had been hit
earlier and it was on fire," said Major Phil Smith of the 1st Cavalry
Division. "It was for the safety of the people around it."
Mr Tumeizi, a Palestinian, was the sixth Arab journalist to be killed by
American troops since Baghdad was captured last year. The videotape of his
last moments shows how Mr Tumeizi was killed during a live television
broadcast, with the Bradley blazing in the distance and a crowd of young
men celebrating its destruction, but it shows no reason why the
helicopters should open fire.
Many of those hit by the rockets in Haifa Street, in a tough neighbourhood
of tower blocks notorious as a centre of resistance to the occupation,
were on their way to work. "We are just ordinary workers. We are just
trying to live," said Haidar Yahyiah, 23, sobbing with pain from a broken
leg as he lay in bed in nearby Karkh hospital.
He and others described how they had been woken by the sound of explosions
in Haifa Street in the early dawn. They had been sleeping on the roofs
because it is too hot in the Baghdad summer to sleep inside. They saw a
vehicle on fire. But it was several hours later, at about 8am, that they
By then US troops had already removed four lightly wounded soldiers from
the Bradley. Young men and children had swarmed over the vehicle, cheering
triumphantly, waving black flags and setting it ablaze again. The US
military said that a Kiowa, a light reconnaissance and attack helicopter,
fired rockets at the Bradley to destroy weapons and ammunition on board.
But it is evident from the al-Arabiya video that the rockets landed among
people standing or walking far away from the Bradley.
Hamid Ali Khadum was on his way to work when he was hit. "At first I
thought I had just tripped over dead people but then I realised I was
wounded myself," he said as he lay in Karkh hospital waiting for an
operation on his heavily bandaged left leg. The rest of his body was
peppered with shrapnel. A male nurse standing nearby said: "This happens
not just in Haifa Street but in all Baghdad, and not just in Baghdad but
in all Iraq."
The slaughter in Haifa Street took place only a few hundred yards from the
heavily defended International Zone (what used to be called the Green
Zone) which houses the headquarters of the Iraqi government and its
American ally. It is a measure of the military failure of the US
occupation that it has failed to assume control of this Sunni Muslim
neighbourhood in the heart of the capital.
Early yesterday, insurgents fired more than a dozen rockets and mortars
into the International Zone. The zone contains the US embassy and Saddam
Hussein's Republican Palace.
There was violence elsewhere in Baghdad. Colonel Alaa Bashir, the police
chief of the Yarmouk district in west Baghdad, was killed by a bomb while
on patrol. A suicide bomber blew himself up in a vehicle packed with
explosives at the gates to Abu Ghraib prison he was the only one to die.
A US plane attacked a machine-gun team from the Mehdi Army in their
stronghold in Sadr City in east Baghdad.
In Ramadi, a city controlled by insurgents west of Baghdad, 10 people were
killed and 40 wounded in fighting, according to the local hospital. A US
Humvee was also set ablaze, but casualties were unknown.
Turkey reacts with fury to massive US assault on northern Iraqi city
By Patrick Cockburn in Baghdad
12 September 2004
The US military assault on Tal Afar, an ethnically Turkmen city in
northern Iraq, has provoked a furious reaction from the Turkish government
which is demanding the US call off the attack.
American and Iraqi government forces last week sealed off Tal Afar, a city
west of Mosul belonging to Iraq's embattled Turkmen minority. The US said
it killed 67 insurgents while a Turkmen leader claims 60 civilians were
killed and 100 wounded. The massive and indiscriminate use of US firepower
in built-up areas, leading to heavy civilian casualties in cities like Tal
Afar, Fallujah and Najaf, is coming under increasing criticism in Iraq.
The US "came into Iraq like an elephant astride its war machine," said
Ibrahim Jaafari, the influential Iraqi Vice President.
The Americans claim that Tal Afar is a hub for militants smuggling
fighters and arms into Iraq from nearby Syria. Turkish officials make
clear in private they believe that the Kurds, the main ally of the US in
northern Iraq, have managed to get US troops involved on their side in the
simmering ethnic conflict between Kurds and Turkmen.
"The Iraqi government forces with the Americans are mainly Kurdish,"
complained one Turkmen source. A Turkish official simply referred to the
Iraqi military units involved in the attack on Tal Afar as "peshmerga",
the name traditionally given to Kurdish fighters.
The US army account of its aims in besieging Tal Afar is largely at odds
with that given by Turkmen and may indicate that its officers are at sea
in the complex ethnic mosaic of Iraq. The US says that in recent weeks the
city was taken over by anti-American militants who repeatedly attacked US
and Iraqi government forces.
"Tal Afar is a tribal city and its people were not patient with the
presence of American forces," said Farouq Abdullah Abdul Rahman, the
president of the Iraqi Turkmen Front, in Baghdad yesterday. He agreed that
there was friction with US forces but denied that anything justified the
siege, with many Turkmen close to the front line fleeing into the
countryside. "More than 60 people have been killed, including women and
children, and 100 wounded."
There has been tension, sometimes boiling over into gun battles, between
the Kurds and the Turkmens since last year. As Saddam Hussein's regime
fell apart Kurdish troops, aided by the US air force, advanced to take
Kirkuk and Mosul. The Kurds felt they at last had a chance to reverse 40
years of ethnic cleansing which had seen their people massacred or driven
from their homes.
Both Arabs and Turkmen fear ethnic cleansing in reverse. In Tal Afar, a
poor city with high unemployment, there was friction from the beginning.
Days after the fall of Saddam the Kurdistan Democratic Party appointed its
own mayor called Abdul Haleq in the city. He ran up a yellow Kurdish flag
outside his office. He was told by local people to take it down or die. He
refused and was killed the following day. His office, along with the
yellow flag, was burned by an angry crowd.
Mr Rahman said that an agreement was hammered out by tribal leaders and
the Americans last week in Mosul whereby Iraqi police would take charge in
Tal Afar but American troops would not enter the city or try to disarm
people. This failed to stick when there was more shooting. A Turkmen
eyewitness in Tal Afar at the time claimed that seven Kurdish gunmen had
fired at the Americans to lure them into attacking the Turkmen.
The Turkmen of Tal Afar are Shia Muslims, unlike most of the rest of their
community who are Sunni. A leading Shia cleric, Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, head
of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, said that the
Americans' use of heavy force in the city caused "catastrophes" that could
have been avoided if Iraqis were in charge of security. Responding to the
US claim that there was a large terrorist organisation there, Mr al-Hakim
said: "Since the day after Saddam Hussein's regime collapsed Tal Afar had
terrorist groups and this is not new. The new thing is that the [US]
military operations are huge."
The US was probably more impressed by the furious Turkish government
reaction to the siege. Turkey's Foreign Ministry said: "We have asked the
US authorities to stop the offensive in Tal Afar as soon as possible and
avoid indiscriminate use of force." The Turkish General Staff said it was
also watching developments. On Friday medical supplies were allowed into
The attack on Tal Afar shows how the US can capture any city in Iraq but
it must also pay a high political price for using its great firepower in
the middle of heavily populated areas.
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