Tuesday, June 24, 2003

It is almost certain that the incidents were not only connected, but coordinated. Majar al-Kabir is a small town in which it would be unusual for the police to be wholly unaware that a "large number" of gunmen with heavy weapons were setting up ambush positions for a British patrol. The weapons pits would have to be cleverly camouflaged in order to conceal them from a sharp-eyed patrol. That the ambushers were well-trained combatants is indicated by their tactic of ambushing the relief force of the Chinook and the Scimitars before breaking contact. But the police station incident is the most disturbing. On the face of it, the British trainers were simply led to their deaths inside the police station. If the police station were externally assaulted there would be Iraq police casualties. The absence of any Iraqi casualties at the police station incident shows the Brits were taken by surprise, before they could call for help or resist.

The dangers of the defensive

One danger facing coalition forces in Iraq is that international terrorist groups will turn it into another Lebanon, honeycombed with secret guerilla groups. But the Lebanese situation fed off two things: the support of terrorist groups within it by Syria and the passive acceptance of guerilla cells by the conventional Israeli army that formerly patrolled the area. The contrast between the aggressive US policy in the north and the softer hearts-and-minds policy of the British in the south cannot be greater. And now the British are paying the price for that policy.