Tuesday, September 6, 2005

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I guess protecting Iraq's border isn't really that important

Ellen Knickmeyer and Jonathan Finer report the following for the Washington Post:

Fighters loyal to militant leader Abu Musab Zarqawi asserted control over the key Iraqi border town of Qaim on Monday, killing U.S. collaborators and enforcing strict Islamic law, according to tribal members, officials, residents and others in the town and nearby villages.

Residents said the foreign-led fighters controlled by Zarqawi, a Jordanian, apparently had been exerting authority in the town, within two miles of the Syrian border, since at least the start of the weekend. A sign posted at an entrance to the town declared, "Welcome to the Islamic Republic of Qaim."....

The report from Qaim, about 200 miles west of Baghdad, marked one of insurgents' boldest moves in their cat-and-mouse duels with U.S. Marines along the Euphrates River. U.S. forces have described border towns in the area as a funnel for foreign fighters, arms and money into Iraq from Syria.

Insurgents have occasionally made similar shows of force, such as the takeover of a Baghdad neighborhood for a few hours late last month by dozens of gunmen. They then slipped away, having made the point that they can muster men as well as plant bombs. The weekend takeover of Qaim extended already heavy insurgent pressure on the people there and came after the U.S. military said it had inflicted heavy bombing losses on foreign-led fighters....

Capt. Jeffrey Pool, a Marine spokesman in Ramadi, capital of the western province that includes Qaim, said he had no word of unusual activity in Qaim. Marines are stationed just outside the town, and no Iraqi government forces are posted inside, Pool said.

Witnesses in Qaim said Zarqawi's fighters were killing officials and civilians whom they consider to be allied with the Iraqi and U.S. governments or anti-Islamic. On Sunday, the bullet-riddled body of a young woman dressed in her nightclothes lay in a street of Qaim. A sign left on her corpse declared, "A prostitute who was punished."

Zarqawi's fighters have shot and killed nine men in public executions in the city center since the start of the weekend, accusing the men of being collaborators with U.S. forces, said Sheik Nawaf Mahallawi, a leader of the Albu Mahal, a Sunni Arab tribe that had clashed earlier with the foreign fighters.

Dozens of families were fleeing Qaim every day, Mahallawi said.

For local fighters now, "it would be insane to attack Zarqawi's people, even to shoot one bullet at them," the tribal leader said. "We hope the U.S. forces end this in the coming days. We want the city to go back to its normal situation."

Many of the towns along the river have been subject to domination by foreign-led fighters, despite repeated Marine offensives in the area since May. Residents and Marines have described insurgents escaping ahead of such drives, and returning when the offensives end. (emphasis added)

Read the whole thing.

Given the bolded portion, either one of two things is happening:

a) A large number of Iraqis are playing one heck of a prank on Knickmeyer and Finer; or

b) The Marines need to do a little better on intelligence gathering.

UPDATE: Greg Djerejian has a nice pre-Katrina round-up of what to read around the blogosphere about Iraq.

posted by Dan on 09.06.05 at 11:29 AM


Well, see that's your problem...it's the local government's responsibilty!

posted by: NeoDude on 09.06.05 at 11:29 AM [permalink]

This happened in Vietnam. Both sides could claim dominance in various areas because from time to time either one was in control. The US lacks the will to dominate in Iraq just as did in Vietnam. The Iraqi insurgents lack the power to dominate so we have a stale mate.

Since, at this point, the reason for our being in that benighted country is eclectic at best, and since we can not summon the will to control the situation, it would be best to pull out. They are going to have thier civil war and we are going to be in the way.

The reasons for going there were only ever whimsical at best. Our strategic matrix was never any better than two dimensional and its temporal remit ran out when the main battle was over.

Now we just stand around in Iraq like a 10 year old boy in a neglige store. Time to go. GW just didn't cut it.

posted by: exclab on 09.06.05 at 11:29 AM [permalink]

The final quoted paragraph is as damning as any. If the problem is that insurgents "return when the offensives end," perhaps it is best for the offensive not to end.

http://www.foreignaffairs.org/20050901faessay84508-p10/andrew-f-krepinevich-jr/how-to-win-in-iraq.html provides an alternatie approach.

Other than that, I suggest Bush stop reading about Lincoln and pursue a Lincolnesque approach: starting firing generals who cannot accomplish the mission and replace them anew until a "Grant" is discovered.

posted by: Jamesaust on 09.06.05 at 11:29 AM [permalink]

I am no fan of Lincoln, Jamesaust, but Lincoln's serial firing of generals certainly did credit to his intentions in a way that GW's lacadsical approuch does not. Doesn't the army deserve a concerted effort to provide competant leadership? I would have thought so.

As an operator LIncoln certainly exceeds Bush. As far as the validity of thier purposes goes, niether can show any real substance. Both perpetuated thier wars by inventing new reasons for them when necessary. Thier purposes are fitful.

posted by: exclab on 09.06.05 at 11:29 AM [permalink]

Well gee, Bush doesn't care about our border, so why should he care about Iraqs. Borders are just meaningless impediments to trade, anyhow.

posted by: Mitchell Young on 09.06.05 at 11:29 AM [permalink]

Not controling the borders where foreign fighters are entering is essentially the same thing as going into battle withour thinking about your flanks. any commander that did that should be relieved of his command.

the reason the Marines take town near Syria and then leave them is they do not have the manpower to keep the troops in all the cities they could take. It is the same as not protecting your flank and the guilty commander this time is Bush not giving the military the resources they need to do the job.

posted by: spencer on 09.06.05 at 11:29 AM [permalink]

This continues to be an undercovered story due to the greatly reduced number of reporters embedded with coalition military units, as I noted on this site a few weeks ago. I give high marks for effort to reporters based in Baghdad, or even Ramadi, who can gather enough information from briefings and phone interviews to write stories about what is happening in and around Qaim. It still isn't the same thing as a report from someone with a Marine unit near the town.

posted by: Zathras on 09.06.05 at 11:29 AM [permalink]

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