Monday, March 27, 2006

Confusion in Iraq

The growing civil war in Iraq is bound to lead to increasing confusion. The reports coming out of Iraq are themselves confused. Most reports say that Iraqis, particularly Shiites, are claiming the Americans attacked a mosque in Baghdad. The Americans deny they attacked the Mustafa mosque which apparently is several blocks to the north of the attack. It's a complicated story that needs time to be sorted out and time is something Iraq is finding in short supply as the unrest continues. Forbes has an Associated Press story that seems to focus on a number of key elements:
The firestorm of recrimination over Sunday's raid in northeast Baghdad will likely make it harder for Shiite politicians to keep a lid on their more angry followers as sectarian violence boils over, with at least 151 dead over the two-day period. A unity government involving Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds is a benchmark for American hopes of starting to withdraw troops this summer.

There were numerous conflicting statements from Iraqis and the Americans about the raid. Iraqi police, Shiite militia officials and major politicians have all said the structure attacked was the al-Mustafa mosque. But the U.S. military disputed this, saying no mosques were entered and that the raid targeted a building used by "insurgents responsible for kidnapping and execution activities."

In a conference call with reporters early Tuesday, Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, deputy commander in Iraq, and Maj. Gen. J.D. Thurman, commander of the 4th Infantry Division, which is in control of Baghdad, said 25 U.S. forces were in a backup role to 50 Iraqi Special Operations troops.

The mission, the generals said, was developed by the Iraqis on their intelligence that an Iraqi dental technician, kidnapped 12 hours earlier because he could not come up with $20,000, was being held in what they called an office complex.

"It's important to remember we had an Iraqi unit with us, an Iraqi unit of 50 folks and they told us point blank that this was not a mosque," Chiarelli said. "It's not Mustafa mosque. Mustafa mosque is located six blocks north on our maps of this location."

Associated Press reporters who visited the scene of the raid identified it as a neighborhood Shiite mosque complex. Television footage taken Monday showed crumbling walls and disarray in a compound used as a gathering place for prayer. It was filled with religious posters and strung with banners denouncing the attack.
Juan Cole of Informed Comment offers his observations on what took place:
...the US and Iraqi forces say they raided a terror cell in Adhamiyah. Adhamiyah is a Sunni district of Baghdad and is still Baath territory.

But somehow the joint US-Iraqi force ended up north, at the Shiite Shaab district. They say that they took fire from Mahdi Army militiamen. But there aren't any such Mahdi Army men in Adhamiyah. I have a sinking feeling that instead of raiding a Sunni Arab building in Adhamiyah, they got disoriented and attacked a Shiite religious center in nearby Shaab instead. Iraqi television angrily showed twenty unarmed corpses on the floor of the religious center, denouncing the US for killing innocent worshippers. The US military is now saying it did not enter any mosques and that anyone killed was killed by Iraqi special ops.

The Mustafa Husayniyah, however, is not a mosque and may not have been distinguishable as a religious edifice to non-Shiites. Shiites mourn their martyred Imams, the descendants of the Prophet, in centers called Husayniyahs after the Imam Husayn, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. As for the killing being done by Iraqi troops, if it was a joint mission, then the US forces are going to take some of the blame.
So we may have something that looked more like an office complex that may have not been a mosque but that was clearly a religious center. American denials about attacking a mosque are not going to make much difference in this case if we were involved in any way in the attacks on what Juan Cole calls the Mustafa Husayniyah.

If this turns out to be the blunder it seems to be, this is exactly one of the reasons we may need to stand down during the growing crisis in Iraq. If there's any chance of getting the crisis to cool down in Iraq, our troops can't be in the middle of controversial operations. I favor staged withdrawals over the next year but at the very least we need to keep out of the sectarian conflict because of the growing distrust of the US and the volatility of the different factions in a climate where facts become victim and blunders by all sides come too easily.

If, however, we continue to conduct different missions in Iraq, it's more critical than ever, given the explosive volatility of Iraq, to go back to a situation where we check and double-check the facts and what we are trying to accomplish and what the likely outcome will be beforehand, not after a blunder that makes the situation worse. What we have been watching for three years is the unraveling of Rumsfeld's shoot-from-the-hip and ask-questions-later tactical philosophy and we may be witnessing yet another example of his failures.

One last note about Rumsfeld. He recently took credit for the battle plan in Afghanistan. As I understand it, the battle plan was developed late in the Clinton Administration and only minor modifications were made in the fall of 2001. Rumsfeld has very little to brag about in terms of his own contributions to our defense in the last five years and a great deal to atone for; it's a mystery why he has remained Secretary of Defense and why the Republican-controlled Congress has not held him accountable for his many failures.

3 Comments:

Anonymous WeaponofAllah said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

3:22 AM  
Anonymous Craig said...

The WeaponofAllah post was a bit too bizarre to leave on. It's hard to say whether a stupid kid was posting something or whether the character was real. If anyone else has come across this character, let me know. It felt like political spam to me.

I'm normally open to all kinds of comments but I have to draw the line on stuff that disrespects American soldiers.

10:58 PM  
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