More on Samarra
I wanted to highlight an article that Gyro Gear Loose brought to everyone’s attention in the comments of the previous thread. Absolutely right that Tom Lassiter of Knight Ridder has been doing some phenomenal reporting on Iraq, and this article (warning: some graphic bits in this) on the situation in Samarra from a month ago gives a bit of a snapshot of the region that is now dealing with an air assault.
Distrust of the Iraqi police in Samarra runs deep among U.S. troops.
Last month, 33 police recruits from Samarra were killed when gunmen ambushed their bus and shot them in the head, execution-style.
Most Iraqis assumed that Sunni insurgents had killed the men as a warning to anyone else who might be considering joining the security forces.
But Brannon, the Bravo Company commander, suspects that the killings were an inside job by police officials vying for control of which tribes supply recruits.
"I would not put it past them that someone in the IP leaked where that bus was going to be," he said. "There’s a lot of politics here."
Some very graphic stuff in the article, but a great snapshot in terms of what our troops are dealing with, day in and day out, in a lot of the hot spots in Iraq.
Let me just say that the air assault troops (who most often come in via blackhawks) are incredibly good at what they do. These are the troops ostensibly involved in the Samarra assault today, according to Ret. Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who I just heard interviewed on MSNBC. I agree with him that these air assault folks have excellent training, and are the type who really go in and get the job done in terms of rooting out insurgent nests in an urban population.
The political and religious questions of the assault, and the long-term implications of this happening during a holy pilgrimage week, well, I just don’t know. According to Prof. Cole:
the season of Arba’in in Iraq, the 40th day commemoration of the anniversary of the martyrdom of Imam Husayn, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. Pilgrims are walking to the holy city of Karbala, seat of Husayn’s tombs. They are in danger of being killed by Sunni Arab guerrillas seeking to provoke Sunni-Shiite violence.
I know this pilgrimage goes to Karbala, not Samarra, but with religious tensions so high already in Iraq after the Samarra mosque bombing, this seems like such a potential powderkeg — especially if we are using predominately Shi’ite Iraqi troops in a Sunni region like Samarra.
I suppose we’ll see as time goes forward, but this has to be done very, very carefully.
The one thing that Gen. McCaffrey said that gave me any sense of things being done properly, perhaps, is that the planning for this assault was apparently out of the Pentagon and, specifically, by the commanders in the region. That the White House was cut out of the planning altogether was confirmed today by Scott McClellan, under questioning about whether or not the President gave a go ahead from NBC’s David Gregory.
And, btw, no idea if that is true or not that the WH had no role whatsoever in any of the planning — but the fact that this was floated out to McCaffrey via his military sources and was then said publicly is a huge red flag in terms of military commander trust — let alone the trust of the American public — about the lack of competence and lack of confidence in the Bush Administration with regard to any actions they’ve taken in Iraq.
For all those involved in the assault and their families here at home, here’s hoping for a lot of safety — both for our troops and the innocent civilians caught in the crossfire in Samarra. I’ve just had a bad feeling for quite a while, and it is getting worse by the hour.
Also, I wanted to highlight today’s Froomkin, since he has some great information about the "preemptive doctrine" of the Bush Administration that we had all hoped had been so severely discredited that it would die the death of all bad policies — well, it’s back. This was a huge catch by Froomkin in the Pew Poll results: the single most used word to refer to President Bush and his Administration is now…incompetent.
It’s going to be a bumpy ride…and Atrios is gonna have to get a whole new herd of ponies, because Pew has the President at 33%. The speculation that the assault in Samarra had something to do with the political climate had McClellan’s back up at today’s gaggle — but with the history of this Administration, and all the staged war photo-ops (remember "Mission Accomplished?" or the plastic turkey?), they had to know it would be coming. It just gets uglier and uglier this week, doesn’t it?
UPDATE: In case it hasn’t been clear in every freaking article I’ve ever written on Iraq — our policy there is a mess. It’s not working well, and things are falling apart. And our men and women in uniform have been ill-served by piss poor planning — which I believe I said flat out yesterday. The Iraqis are currently staring into a long abyss of civil war because this President chose a preemptive war of choice which we need never have fought. Is that clear enough for everyone as to where I stand on this?
UPDATE #2: btw, Digby reminds all of us of the Sy Hersh article about the increase in air wars. Worth a reminder read, or a new one if you missed it.
Photo by Sarah Macmillan