March 23, 2006

Fool Me Once...

Hatched by Sachi

Two days in a row, al-Qaeda terrorists attacked police stations in Iraq. Tuesday's attack in Muqdadiyah was a partial success for the terrorists: they killed 18 Iraqi police and four innocent bystanders, while freeing 30 of their own number who were being held in that jail. But the Iraqi security force killed 10 of the terrorists.

One of Musab Zarqawi's al-Qaeda-in-Mesopotamia groups, the Mujahaddin Shura Council, took credit on their website, though there is no independent verification that it was indeed they. However, the governor of Diyala province had the police commander and other officers arrested for suspicion of complicity in the attack, which may well be accurate, considering how corrupt the police have been in the very recent past.

One of the major goals of the current training by American forces is to weed out those Iraqi cops who are either corrupt in the old-fashioned sense of taking bribes to turn their backs (or aid a jailbreak) -- or in the really old-fashioned sense of being pure tribalists, seeing their uniforms as license to attack rival tribes under color of authority.

Unlike Tuesday, however, Wednesday's attack was decidedly unsuccessful. In fact, it was a total disaster for the terrorists.

Insurgents attacked a police station Wednesday for a second day in a row, but U.S. and Iraqi forces captured 50 of them after a two-hour gunbattle.

About 60 gunmen attacked the police station in Madain, south of Baghdad, with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic rifles, said police Lt. Col. Falah al-Mohammadawi. U.S. troops and a special Iraqi police unit responded, catching the insurgents in crossfire, he said.

Four police were killed, including the commander of the special unit, and five were wounded, al-Mohammadawi said. None of the attackers died, and among the captives was a Syrian.

This time, over 80% (50 out of 60) of the attackers were captured. Under interrogation -- perhaps none too gentle, if we let the Iraqis handle it, as we should -- any one of these fifty may reveal vital, operational intel about the cell that launched the attack and possibly others (including, perhaps, Tuesday's attack), and about Syria's involvement in smuggling jihadis into Iraq.

If the foreigner were Yemeni or Jordanian, he would almost certainly be a renegade; but Syria is the only other country in the world run by the Baath Party, it had close ties to Saddam Hussein, and it has an unavowed but obvious policy of interfering in Iraq. Every Syrian capture is a potential treasure-trove of intelligence.

The New York Times also carried this story; some of their facts differ slightly, though the thrust was the same:

Insurgents laid siege today to the headquarters of a police paramilitary unit near the capital, lobbing a volley of mortars that killed at least one senior officer and injured at least five, Interior Ministry officials said.

The police fought back, killing at least five insurgents, a commander in Baghdad said. By nightfall, the police were holding at least 76 people for questioning.

The predawn attack, on an infamous paramilitary force, unfolded as 14 mortars pummeled the former governorate center in the Sunni Arab-dominated town of Salman Pak, 12 miles southeast of Baghdad.

According to Weekly Standard writer Stephen F. Hayes, Salman Pak is where one of the terrorist training camps was located during the era of Saddam Hussein. This claim is the subject of a determined, almost desperate push-back by anti-war writers, who take Saddam's word that the camp was really a counter-terrorist training camp.

They have some allies, including Seymour Hersh -- who was caught red-fingered in 2004, lying in the New Yorker about Maj. Gen. Taguba's report on the Abu Ghraib abuses -- and Scott Ritter, the disgraced former U.N. weapons inspector whose views on Iraq made an abrupt 180-degree turn in 1999, and who then received $400,000 from Hussein-connected Detroit businessman Shakir al Khafaji to produce a documentary defending the Iraqi dictator.

The Iraqi police in Salman Pak, even today, have a deserved reputation for ruthlessness and brutality -- which is both good and bad. In this case, that character may have served them well; but they bear watching. At least, they have already mastered fairly sophisticated investigative techniques; referring to the second attack, the New York Times notes:

The police initially detained 146 people, all Iraqis, and then released 70 after testing them for traces of explosives, said Maj. Gen. Mehdi Sabih Hashem al-Garawi, the commander of the 7,700-strong Public Order Forces, which has four brigades operating in Baghdad and the Salman Pak area.

(This may not contradict the AP version, since not all of the 146 people attacked the station; the Times reports that the Third Public Order Brigade in Salman Pak detained only 76 people for explosives residue following the attack, which is not that different from the AP claim that "about 60 gunmen" participated and fifty were detained.)

Al-Qaeda has attacked police stations before. They suffer terrible losses whenever they find themselves up against U.S. troops; but now, at last, the Iraqi police are beginning to catch up to their Iraqi Army counterparts. The police lost one engagement, but they clearly won in the second: the net effect of the two was thirty terrorists freed from jail -- but sixty incapacitated, either by death or capture. A few more "successes" like this, and al-Qaeda In Mesopotamia may be out of business.

In a purely military strategic point of view, the Iraqi police got the upper hand in this two-day exchange. However, the "Tet-lite" propaganda value of the attacks was a big win for the terrorists. Al-Qaeda has demonstrated two things for their eager audience in the press corps:

  • The Iraqi police are still distinctly weaker than the Iraqi Army -- not surprising, since "we've only just begun" to train the former.
  • The attacks also showed that al-Qaeda is alive and, if not exactly well, at least functional and able to mobilize large number of personnel. We can't pull a Murtha and send our troops on a strategic rearward advance just yet.

The Times, naturally, finds great cause for optimism that the whole operation to train the Iraqi police is collapsing. Referring to the first strike, they opine:

That highly coordinated strike raised serious questions about the effectiveness of the Iraqi police forces, at a time when President Bush and American commanders are touting the growing capabilities of the police.

Others might note that in a war, battles are both lost and won: what the Times and other media should look at is the overall picture. Clearly, the terrorists are not winning, even against the police (let alone the Iraqi Army).

Although al-Qaeda overwhelmed the police station on Tuesday with 200 people, they still evidently needed inside help to pull it off. On Wednesday, without the help from inside, they were crushed. This tells us something else: when the police (with American help) manage to clean out the bad eggs and develop true esprit de corps, as the Iraqi Army has, the police will become a very effective fighting force, even under the Interior Ministry.

Some other events that the Times inadvertently reports, but to which they give insufficient attention:

  • The Iraqi police have become very proactive.
This afternoon, insurgents in Baghdad attacked two busloads of Shiite pilgrims in two different parts of the city. In all, at least 2 pilgrims were killed and 46 injured. Policemen rushing to the scenes fought the insurgents, and at least two policemen were killed and four injured.

The Times does not tell us how many "insurgents" (terrorists, of course -- they attacked unarmed pilgrims, for heaven's sake) were killed or captured; that doesn't fit the story.

  • The United States is pointedly preventing Muqtada Sadr from positioning himself as the savior of the Shia.
A senior Shiite cleric, Hazem al-Aaraji, said on the Iraqiya television network that militiamen from the Mahdi Army had been dispatched to save the pilgrims, but that American forces had stopped them.
  • The only displacement of populations from Iraq comprise a handful of pro-Saddam Palestinians.
The border between Jordan and Iraq remained closed today, as the two governments tried to deal with scores of Palestinian refugees fleeing sectarian violence in Baghdad. The refugees had left Iraq by the busload last weekend, but were stopped by Jordanian border officials, stranding them at the frontier.

Note "scores," not thousands or even hundreds. The Times notes the Palestinians were "favored by Saddam Hussein," which must rank as one of the understatements of the year.

But each of these sidepoints in the Times article indicate not only that there is no "civil war," but also that the entire war is going our way. Donald Rumsfeld's small-footprint strategy, much disdained by the self-styled Jacksonians in the Republican Party, is actually working quite well.

Perhaps we shouldn't throw him under the bus just yet.

Hatched by Sachi on this day, March 23, 2006, at the time of 3:49 PM

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Tracked on March 27, 2006 3:56 PM


The following hissed in response by: cdquarles

More great news from Iraq.

Thanks Sachi

The above hissed in response by: cdquarles [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 23, 2006 5:20 PM

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