Sunday, April 04, 2004

The Bulge

To the residents of Najaf, many of whom are unaware that the Spanish contingent has been ordered home by incoming Prime Minister Zapatero, their imminent departure will be perceived as flight in the face of an Islamic attack. Forces led by a Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr led a demonstration on the Spanish base and opened fire on it, killing four Salvadorans and wounding 9 others. Fourteen Iraqis were killed and 130 wounded in the return.

NAJAF, Iraq (AP) Gunmen opened fire on the Spanish garrison in the holy city of Najaf on Sunday during a huge demonstration by followers of an anti-American Shiite Muslim cleric. Four Salvadorean soldiers and at least 14 Iraqis died, and more than 130 people were wounded. ...

In Najaf, the shooting broke out after thousands of al-Sadr supporters gathered outside the Spanish garrison. A spokesman for the Spanish headquarters in nearby Diwaniyah, Commander Carlos Herradon, said attackers opened fire about noon. The Spanish and Salvadorean soldiers fired back, and assailants later regrouped in three clusters outside the base. Shooting continued into the afternoon, he said. Along with the four soldiers killed, nine Salvadorean soldiers were wounded, the Spanish defense ministry said in the Spanish capital, Madrid. The Salvadorans are under Spanish command as part of an international brigade that includes troops from Central America. No Spaniards were injured. ...

Spain has 1,300 troops stationed in Iraq, and the Central American contingent is of a similar size. Multiple train bombings in Madrid last month killed 191 people and have been blamed on al-Qaida linked terrorists who said they were punishing Spain for its alliance with the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The residents of Najaf will be right. What will now overtake the Spanish command through no fault of its own soldiers is a rout. This occurs when a force is chased off the battlefield in increasing disorder. Once the retrograde movement begins, enemy harassment is redoubled and the retreating force is ultimately pursued to the very point of embarkation and there is no reason pursuit must end when it returns to Spain. A rout can only be stemmed when a retreating army turns on its enemies and puts them to flight. This Zapatero will not allow. He is committed, for reasons of ideology, to a policy of surrender and now the Spanish command, and the United States indirectly, must harvest its bitter fruit.

Since time immemorial commanders have sought to break in their opponent's lines, and having achieved this, strike all the harder with end in view of widening the gap and pressing their advantage. Nowhere is this more instinctive than among the desert raiders. The Islamist stroke against Spanish forces in Iraq is no accident and neither will their succeeding blows be. Ralph Peters, writing on April 1, anticipated the Islamist offensive:

Next, we'll see a much greater wave of strikes - frantic and fanatical - as the June 30 transfer of power approaches. The enemies of Iraqi freedom, home-grown or foreign interlopers, must disrupt the return of Iraqi sovereignty. They've told their sympathizers that the United States wants to rule their country indefinitely and steal its oil. They can't afford the development of a rule-of-law democracy, however imperfect, in Iraq. Indeed, free Iraqi self-rule is their greatest enemy.

The third wave of attacks will come in the build-up to the U.S. presidential election. Our soldiers, contractors and Iraqi officials will be attacked throughout Iraq, and the terrorists will strain their resources to attack the United States itself. They hope to repeat their electoral success in Spain and imagine, wrongly, that a Democratic victory would mean that Washington would retreat from Iraq and the War on Terror.

There will be more, many more attacks. And the soldiers of Spain, who have proven time and again their individual bravery, have been condemned by their leaders to bear its brunt in the most humiliating possible way. Churchill's remarks to Chamberlain after Munich might just as well apply to Zapatero. "You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor and you will have war."