Tuesday, January 30, 2007

If the Iraqi Army walked on water... 
...the headline in the New York Times would read "Iraqis Can't Swim."


BAGHDAD, Jan. 29 —Iraqi forces were surprised and nearly overwhelmed by the ferocity of an obscure renegade militia in a weekend battle near the holy city of Najaf and needed far more help from American forces than previously disclosed, American and Iraqi officials said Monday.

They said American ground troops — and not just air support as reported Sunday — were mobilized to help the Iraqi soldiers, who appeared to have dangerously underestimated the strength of the militia, which calls itself the Soldiers of Heaven and had amassed hundreds of heavily armed fighters.

Buried well below the fold:

Government estimates of the number of fighters killed ranged from 120 to 400.

An Iraqi military official said at least 25 security force members were killed in the battle.


We need more missteps like these.

“This group had more capabilities than the government,” said Abdul Hussein Abtan, the deputy governor of Najaf Province, at a news conference.

If true, then didn't the Iraqis do the right thing in calling for American support?

Wouldn't NOT calling for American support in this instance, including ground forces - as in, every available man who can carry a rifle - constitute negligence?

Only a month ago, in an elaborate handover ceremony, the American command transferred security authority over Najaf to the Iraqis. The Americans said at the time that they would remain available to assist the Iraqis in the event of a crisis.

And here we have the scintillating military analysis of the Times: Wouldn't a pitched battle with an extremely well-armed force of at least a battalion size (and possibly closer to a brigade) on ground of their own choosing constitute a crisis warranting American assistance?

If it doesn't, just what the hell does the Times have in mind??

The Iraqis and Americans eventually prevailed in the battle. But the Iraqi security forces’ miscalculations about the group’s strength and intentions raised troubling questions about their ability to recognize and deal with a threat.

Does it? Oh, pray tell, General!

The Iraqis initially sent a battalion from their Eighth Army Division, along with police forces, but they were quickly overwhelmed, according to an Iraqi commander at the scene. The battalion began to retreat but was soon surrounded and pinned down, and had to call in American air support to keep the enemy from overrunning its position.

The Iraqis probably sent a battalion to engage because a battalion is what they had available. A battalion NOW is better than a brigade too late, as we know, because we clearly spoiled the moojie attack on Ashura, tearing their guts out in the process.

But look! Iraqi battalions now have the skill set - whether native or embedded, to call in CAS. And the US was responsive enough to get them fixed wing CAS on short notice. Hell, the Air Force is constantly telling American commanders they need a couple days' notice for a fixed-wing CAS mission (the more exact doctrinal time frame won't be discussed here. (FedEx is faster). Something happened right.

A commander in the Scorpion Brigade said the combined American and Iraqi forces killed 470 people. He also said some of the dead Soldiers of Heaven fighters were found bound together at the ankles and suggested that the chains had probably been used to keep people from fleeing and to keep them moving as one unified group.

Wow. There's a motivated unit there. Lexington Minutemen, all of them.

The battle also brought into focus the reality that some of the power struggles in Iraq are among Shiites, not just between Shiites and Sunnis.

Ooooh. There's a scoop.

I'm mocking the reporter here, Marc Santora, because I wish reporters would quit with the obnoxious "raises questions" construction. Just report, and let the reader raise questions. Because the RQ construction invariably tells me more about the reporter himself than it does about the story.

The second page, however, is excellent reporting, and worth a read.

Splash, out


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