Tuesday, January 30, 2007

More Reasons to Start Withdrawing

George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were not honest with the American people in the case they made for war in Iraq. If they intend to launch a military strike against Iran, it is highly unlikely that they will be honest with the American people. Given the chaos of war, in fact, the Bush Administration can literally concoct whatever story it wants. Keep in mind that President Bush still shows no sign that he knows what he's doing. Simply because he has a vice president adept at pushing and pulling levers does not mean we have anything approximating a rational foreign policy that is working in the best interests of the United States. Basically we have the equivalent of two juvenile delinquents playing with a very powerful chemistry set in the middle of an ammunition dump; does anyone still think they know what they're doing?

I've been reading about the deaths at Najaf and can only shake my head. I have no idea what happened. I suspect Bush and Cheney have no idea what happened. Our media, which sometimes cannot get close enough to these events, has no idea what happened.

Juan Cole of Informed Comment pointed out yesterday that there are contradictory versions of the events:
Well, a big battle took place at the Shiite holy city of Najaf on Saturday night into Sunday, but there are several contradictory narratives about its significance. Iraqi authorities, claimed that the Iraqi army killed a lot of the militants (250) but only took 25 casualties itself. The Shiite governor of Najaf implied that the guerrillas were Sunni Arabs and had several foreign Sunni fundamentalist fighters ("Afghans") among them. He said that they based themselves in an orchard recently purchased by Baathists. Other sources said that the militants were Shiites. I'd take the claim of numbers killed with a large grain of salt, though the Iraqi forces did have US close air support. I infer that the guerrillas shot down one US helicopter.

That's one narrative. Here is another. The pan-Arab London daily al-Hayat reported that the militiamen were followers of Mahmud al-Hasani al-Sarkhi. It says one of his followers asserted that the fighting erupted when American and Iraqi troops attempted to arrest al-Hasani al-Sarkhi. The latter tried last summer to take over the shrine of al-Husayn in Karbala. It may have been feared that he would take advantage of the chaos of the Muharram pilgrimage season to make a play for power in Najaf. Al-Hayat says that although As'ad Abu Kalil, governor of Najaf, said the attackers were Sunnis, the director of the information center in Najaf, Ahmad Abdul Husayn Du'aybil, contradicted him. The latter said, "At dawn, today [Sunday], violent clashes took place between security forces and an armed militia calling itself "the Army of Heaven," which claims that the Imam Mahdi will [soon] appear." ...

Confused yet? Remember that it's unlikely our government has people on the ground in that area who understand what happened. Laura Rozen of War and Piece points to another version on Missing Links that is somewhat different from anything above but that has elements we've seen before:
Zeyad at his Healing Iraq website has new information on circumstances surrounding the Najaf fighting, including this:
Another story that is surfacing on several Iraqi message boards goes like this: A mourning procession of 200 pilgrims from the Hawatim tribe, which inhabits the area between Najaf and Diwaniya, arrived at the Zarga area at 6 a.m. Sunday. Hajj Sa’ad Nayif Al-Hatemi and his wife were accompanying the procession in their 1982 Super Toyota sedan because they could not walk. They reached an Iraqi Army checkpoint, which suddenly opened fire against the vehicle, killing Hajj Al-Hatemi, his wife and his driver Jabir Ridha Al-Hatemi. The Hawatim tribesmen in the procession, which was fully armed to protect itself in its journey at night, attacked the checkpoint to avenge their slain chief. Members of the Khaza’il tribe, who live in the area, attempted to interfere to stop the fire exchange. About 20 tribesmen were killed. The checkpoint called the Iraqi army and police command calling for backup, saying it was under fire from Al-Qaeda groups and that they have advanced weapons. Minutes later, reinforcements arrived and the tribesmen were surrounded in the orchards and were sustaining heavy fire from all directions. They tried to shout out to the attacking security forces to cease fire but with no success. Suddenly, American helicopters arrived and they dropped fliers saying, “To the terrorists, Surrender before we bomb the area.”

The story continues with more elements. Is it plausible? At first glance, yes, and maybe at a long second look, it is. Is it true? I have no idea. This is what we're fighting in the Middle East, a land of plausible stories, any of which could be a lie, any of which can kill our soldiers. Two of our soldiers died in that battle and it's not clear that they knew what their mission was. It's doubtful that Robert Gates knew what their mission was. It's doubtful that Bush and Cheney knew what their mission was. And keep in mind that Bush and Cheney also tell 'plausible' stories. And they're thinking about attacking Iran.

Congress needs to wake up and rein these guys in. Republicans like Richard Lugar cannot continue to be thoughtful one moment and then waffle the next. It's time for both Democrats and Republicans to start exercising the full power of Congress to keep us from sliding into a wider war that no one understands and that we quite clearly do not need.

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Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

Excellent points. I've wondered about our troops, standing in some Iraqi family's living room after barging in on a patrol or tip.

This is a dicey thing for American cops standing in someone's living room in L.A. or Baltimore. There are nuances in people's eyes, expressions, movements. Street-savvy cops pick these things up, develop almost a sixth sense about people in trouble spots. It isn't perfect by any means, but it probably has been good enough to keep many officers alive and on the job.

But being strangers in a strange and largely hostile land, with a language and culture radically different from anything in their experience, our troops are at a horrendous disadvantage. I wouldn't be surprised to learn it's almost as bad for the Iraqi security forces we've trained, especially when they're out of their home town or region.

Yet, how bad it looks — and is — if the troops get spooked and start blowing people away, to be on the safe side.

You're so right this is terrible business. It's not waging war or enforcing law, really. It's more like Gang bangers have fallen through Alice's Looking Glass, and everything that's up is down, that's black is white.

And yes, it's all the more reason to get our troops out. The Iraqis have score settling and sorting out to do. No matter how long we stay, how many troops and hundreds of billions we squander there, the score settling and sorting out is going to take place. It's going to be as ugly as it is inevitable, but that's the way it is.

3:12 PM  

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