Saturday, April 10, 2004

An Entirely New Enemy

One newspaper connecting the recent fighting in Iraq with Syria and Iran is the Jerusalem Post. They maintain that the general staff behind the current anti-coalition activity is Hizbullah, working through their agenda Moqtada al-Sadr.

This week it finally happened. Hizbullah has come out of the closet and launched a full-scale military campaign against US-led forces in Iraq. Two weeks after the US shelved its sanctions against Hizbullah sponsor Syria, and as the US remains silent in the face of increased Iranian assertiveness in advancing the mullocracy's Manhattan Project, the cat jumped out of the bag. Ushering in his fight against the US, Hizbullah-Iranian front man Moqtada al-Sadr told his followers last Friday, "I am the striking arm for Hizbullah and Hamas in Iraq because the fate of Iraq and Palestine is the same." Under the spell of Sadr's call to "terrorize" the Americans, Shi'ite militiamen launched attacks in several cities at once. Militarily, the results have been mixed but have served to cause a political maelstrom by spooking US coalition partners into reconsidering their involvement in Iraq.

Hizbullah's appearance in Iraq is not a surprise. Although Sadr's offensive has been sudden, it followed a year-long buildup of Hizbullah's organizational, propaganda, and military apparatuses in Iraq. In the weeks before the US-led invasion last March, Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah was already calling for suicide bombings against US forces in the event that they went through with the invasion. Shortly after the fall of Saddam's regime, Hizbullah opened offices in Basra and Safwan. While press coverage of Sadr has portrayed him as a young firebrand who acts autonomously, his connections to Hizbullah and to Iran are long-standing. Nasrallah is personally tied to Sadr's family. In 1976, he studied under Sadr's father Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr in Najaf. Back in Lebanon, Nasrallah joined the Shi'ite Amal militia when it was led by its founder, Sadr's uncle Musa. Aside from his personal ties to Nasrallah, Sadr takes his direction from Ayatollah Henri, one of the most ardent extremists in Iranian ruling circles. And on the family level, Sadr's aunt is reportedly the first lady of Iran, Mrs. Muhammad Khatami. Iranian Revolutionary Guards reportedly comprise the backbone of Sadr's fighting force.

Hizbullah's modus operandi was perfected in Lebanon, where it used astute political warfare to force the Israelis to withdraw from Lebanon, abandoning their Christian allies, and retreating behind the Green Line, which Hizbullah swore was their final demand -- and which they now claim is insufficient.

Aside from Hizbullah's ability to unify the forces fighting the coalition, it is a threat of a new magnitude because Nasrallah is the world master of terrorist warfare. With Syrian and Iranian military sponsorship, he successfully trapped Israel into abandoning the initiative in the fighting in southern Lebanon. Through a nefarious mix of terror, propaganda, negotiations, and blackmail, he forced the government to accept a low-intensity conflict it could not shape through offensive strikes. Nasrallah made brilliant use of psychological warfare against us. He was able to convince Israel to cut and run by playing to our worst fear as a nation: that we were fighting a pointless and unnecessary war. He did so by carefully orchestrating terror attacks at key political junctures and by convincing influential Israeli constituencies that our actions in Lebanon were futile and pointless, and therefore our losses were self-inflicted. These constituencies were then galvanized to act unwittingly as Hizbullah's representatives to the nation as a whole.

CENTCOM was probably aware of the gathering danger. In January, 2004 Belmont Club posted Cedars of Lebanon, which quoted Jane's via the Jerusalem Post as saying that contingency plans existed to deploy Special Forces in the Bekaa Valley, Hizbullah's stronghold. The same contingency plans were collaterally referenced to an article in the Washington Post. It never happened. The out of theater battle that actually took place was Mountain Storm in Afghanistan. But it indicated that CENTCOM was watching the slow buildup of Islamist secret service and terrorist forces in Iraq and preparing their riposte.

In hindsight, it was possible that CENTCOM arranged for its troop "rotations" in Iraq with the end in view of increasing the available forces under the cover of regular replacement. When the Blackwater contractors were murdered in Fallujah, an operation some speculated was organized by Syrian Special Operations, US commanders probably saw it for the signal that it was. They had arranged media coverage of the outrage for a reason. It was followed by Shi'ite attacks on coalition bases, one attack per ally and a wave of kidnappings. Then Moqtada al-Sadr conveniently seized one of the holiest sites in Shi'ite Islam, the Golden Mosque and proclaimed he was going to die there. Two New York Times staffers were kidnapped and conveniently held in the Golden Mosque, an incident described in Belmont Club's The Time Traveller. There, they were allowed to glimpse preparations for the final stand. The script written for CENTCOM to follow was probably this (what follows is speculation). Small Marine units would rush into Fallujah to recover the Blackwater corpses and trapped themselves. The Marines would mount a desperate rescue which would create heavy civilian damage. In the meanwhile, Sadr would attack the coalition partner's bases and flee to the Golden Mosque, where his presence would be confirmed by newsmen who just happend to be to imprisoned there and later released to tell the tale. CENTCOM would destroy the mosque from which he had 'just left' or perhaps only occupied by a double. Catastrophe would follow on catastrophe, necessitating the postponement of the June 30 transfer of power.

But CENTCOM refused to sing from the sheet. Sanchez lagged the Fallujah operation and then when the traps had staled, attacked on his own terms. With a keen awareness in the operational limitations of Sadr's men, he let them strike their impotent blows, then picked them up piecemeal. Within 72 hours, CENTCOM had essentially deflected the Syrian/Iranian offensive and regained the initiative. In the coming days, it will be important to see whether Sadr and the Hizbullah lackeys can maintain their tempo. If they cannot, then the next moves are CENTCOM's. It seems that Sadr rapidly went to Plan B, leaving the Golden Mosque for Najaf  without finding any takers at CENTCOM. He must be looking at Plan C. President Bush has been on the telephone with key coalition heads of state, bringing them up to speed on the current situation. Syria and Iran have dished out their best shot and landed it on CENTCOM's arm. Now it's our turn.

Update: GSG-9 personnel kidnapped?

Spiegel is reporting that 2 GSG-9 personnel are missing after an ambush on a convoy between Baghdad and Amman last Wednesday. GSG-9 is the elite German counterterrorism force. The delayed release of this information means implies that a thorough search for these guys has yielded nothing, they are presumed lost and no point in keeping it hidden any longer. It has all the hallmarks of a professional counter-intelligence operation. The GSG-9 men, like the Blackwater contractors, would have been consummate professionals. Mounting surveillance on men of this caliber is nothing regular "insurgents" could do. This it implies the use of static and moving posts with first class communications to track the men. Nobody can do that but the intelligence department of a State or an extremely dangerous terrorist organization like Hizbullah. That party wants to know what we know and thinks this is the best way to do it.

In the nature of things, the authorship of this operation will be known. Terrorists have struck at CIA personnel and kidnapped station chiefs before, but in the 80s and 90s when they could safely assume they could hide in Syrian or Iranian sanctuaries. This act suggests they feel that political considerations will prevent President Bush from widening the war. One thing seems certain. The war against Saddam and the remnants of his regime are over. This struggle is against a new set of Islamist enemies and they are desperate. Their despair has only just begun.