Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Najaf (2004)

The Iraqi insurgency crossed the Rubicon today, with Saar's open declaration of resisting the US, a day after a warrant was issued for his arrest. Taking over the strategic city of Najaf , scene of strategic clashes in the invasion last year, and warning of armed rebellion. In Baghdad Saar's offices were taken and sacked by US forces in the wake of the withdrawal of Sadr from Baghdad.

Najaf, along with Karbala, is considered a holy city in Iraq, a place of pilgrimages and commemorations of martyrdoms in the past. These previous martyrdoms are regularly invoked in the current struggle as a call for civilians to die in opposing enemy forces, or to be claimed as martyrs to spur the cause. We "Remember the Maine!", they remember their dead as well.

The question is whether others, such as Al Sistani will join the call, or whether this will be seen as a bid for power by Sadr in the upcoming Iraqi political order. The calculations involved are too difficult to fathom, as many are taking a "wait and see" attitude. While the size of demonstrations and the ferocity of attacks on Americans has increased, this is not necessarily the sign of wider support.

Sadr's move to Najaf indicates both a victory and a defeat. By creating a base of operations where he is, in effect, the law, he has given the US a target to bring to bear military might. He has also, however, given others a flag to rally around, and a symbol of the porousness of US control.

In Fallujah, another sign of the evolution of power from individual or small group lead, to being a coordinated and organized force, is playing out. US forces are being ambushed on the way into the town, even as streets are deserted, and it is clear that the guerrillas do not have operational control of the town itself. Instead, they are forcing the Americans to some through the major road into the town under heavy fire. 5 GI's are reported dead in the attack in the last 24 hours, with another killed near by in an ambush.

Uprisings in Iraq against Hussein were summarily dealt with in his time in power - and this uprising against American occupation follows the pattern of urban uprisings during the modern period - with demonstrations acting as cover for small unit operations on the part of the "partisans". Crushing them quickly has generally been the key to success - as they spiral out of control quickly.

One important dynamic is the destruction of the economic fabric in cities where uprisings are taking place. As people cannot earn a living by "normal" means, this lowers the barrier to joining the residence. Those so inclined know that debts will not be collected, that normal buying and selling is halted, and that there is a chance to, with far less penalty than normal, step outside of the bounds. This phase has clearly been reached in Najaf and Sadr City. Fallujah is now experiencing that exact straining point - with the city shut down in preparation for the American attack.
Presently Marines are operating in the city, destroying homes of suspected insurgents - there is a gun battle in the Northeast corner of the city - with US forces on foot exchanging gun fire, pinned down after being ambushed. The penitence is stiff, but not numerous, and one report indicates that relief is already on the way.

- - -

The US redeployed many of its small scale special forces units to Afghanistan for the March/April attack on Al Qaeda. These units did a great deal of the springing of ambushes and removal of guerrilla cells. Their absence, as the a precise instrument of attack, is being keenly felt now, as the more blunt instrument of full scale assault with M-1 tanks, Bradley AFVs and armoured hummers is being required.

With 13 dead in 24 hours, the US reaction to crushing this uprising will mark a turning point. Either there will be a swift ending of the growing quasi-state like characteristics of the resistance - which will return it to its "hit and run" form - or there will be the image of a major defeat for the US backed move to "sovereignty" which is scheduled for June.

This June handover is driven by the calendar - allowing coalition forces to move to a garrison stance during the long months of July, August and September. The US military, in extending deployments and asking for more troops, clearly believes that the occupation of "sovereign Iraq" will require far more force than is presently available, and is a far more dangerous undertaking than they have so far admitted.

In a report on the failings of the invasion, communication was listed as the key problem - the US maintains a communication network, but cannot give broad access to it, because of the risk of compromising secure data. Thus warnings were available on troop movements, warnings which were not received in time during the drive to Baghdad, allowing enemies to take advantage of tactical exposure of attacking columns. In a guerrilla environment, this problem, still in place, becomes an even greater opening for irregular, paramilitary and guerrilla forces.

Hence it becomes essential, if the US forces are to reach a stabilized point for the hand over, for this uprising to be met with the harshest possible measures. Whatever the long term effects may be.