Sunday, February 15, 2004

Their Finest Hour

There was a time when every other pundit asked aloud whether there were enough American troops in Iraq to defeat the Ba'athist insurgency, whether the US Army didn't need reinforcement from the UN or from France. But just a few months after the collapse of Saddam's government it was obvious to those who were watching that the key resource wasn't Blue Helmets. It was the Iraqis themselves. In August, 2003 the Belmont Club wrote in The Grand Alliance that:

The biggest sleeper item was the August 21 press conference by Secretary Rumsfeld and General Abizaid at the Department of Defense. Both emphasized that Iraq did not need any more American troops. What was needed -- and being supplied -- was more Iraqi troops. ... Iraqi security personnel are obviously better suited to the task than the Blue Helmets that the United Nations periodically threatens to send. Unlike the Nigerians, Uruguayans, Pakistanis and Malaysians who form the backbone of UN forces, Iraqis do not need to be transported in, rotated out, taught the language or given cultural sensitivity briefings. And Iraqi troops, unlike the UN's, might actually shoot back.

In this context, Paul Bremer's assertion that "it's not a question of more troops" but "getting more Iraqis to help us" is really a restatement of longstanding policy ...  it is really a declaration of a growing US-Iraqi alliance whose major components are still being assembled. ... In the last analysis, the battle raging in Iraq is an intelligence war in which locals are a much more valuable commodity than UN 'international troops'.

After being consistently outgeneraled, Al Qaeda now agrees. According to Al Qaeda big Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi whose correspondence were captured recently (hat tip Dan Darling), it is the Iraqis themselves that they must fear most:

The Iraqi troops, police, and agents these are the eyes, ears, and hand of the occupier. With god's permission, we are determined to target them with force in the near future, before their power strengthens. ... The Shi'a have taken on the dress of the army, police, and the Iraqi security forces, and have raised the banner of protecting the nation, and the citizens. Under this banner, they have begun to assassinate the Sunnis under the pretense that they are saboteurs, vestiges of the Ba'th, or terrorists who spread perversion in the country. This is being done with strong media support directed by the governing council and the Americans, and they have succeeded in splitting the regular Sunni from the Mujahidin. For example, in what they call the Sunni triangle, the army and police are spreading out in these regions, putting in charge Sunnis from the same region. Therefore, the problem is you end up having an army and police connected by lineage, blood, and appearance to the people of the region. This region is our base of operations from where we depart and to where we return. When the Americans withdraw, and they have already started doing that, they get replaced by these agents who are intimately linked to the people of this region.

And therefore these Iraqis must die. Good as their word, the Al Qaeda have struck viciously and repeatedly. After attacking Kurdish leadership while celebrating Eid, they went on to destroy police station after police station. Yesterday at Fallujah, Islamic terrorists "staged simultaneous morning assaults on three police stations, a civil defense base and the mayor's office". In the future many observations will be made of this battle: that the Al Qaeda timed their assaults to coincide with US unit rotations through Iraq; that they chose the moment when the baton is passing from US soldier to Iraqi policeman. But if the Iraqi nation goes on to live another hundred years, it will remember this:

Officers from the 82nd Airborne Division stationed a 10-minute drive away could hear the battle clearly. They offered help but the Hammad said it wasn't needed. The Americans did provide additional ammunition and weapons, including light machine guns. After the battle, soldiers at the civil defense base proudly displayed a light machine gun and a pair of rocket propelled grenade launchers they had captured from the attackers.

That when dying and bleeding, beset by the flower of terrorism, with pistol to set against automatic rifle and grenade, the Iraqi police did not ask for help from 82nd Airborne. They asked for ammunition.