Monday, January 17, 2005

The Battle of the Ballot Box

Two briefings provided by the Department of Defense have clearly indicated that Mosul is going to be the chief battleground between US forces and the anti-Iraqi forces attempting to prevent Iraqi lections from taking place on January 30. The first briefing was given by General Batiste of 1ID, whose area of responsibility is north central Iraq, which includes Baqubah, Samarra and Tikrit. He was clearly confident. In "Diyala Province, Baqubah, things are going very well. Very well. I see no problems there." Moreover, his area of responsibility was generating the 4th Iraqi infantry division, a formation of 18 battalions. And although the area had experienced 87 vehicle borne IED attacks in the last 11 months, General Batiste conveyed the impression that not only was he giving better than he got, he was content to leave the main security duties to Iraqi forces with the American forces in the quick reaction role.

My 25,000 soldiers -- and by the way, that includes an extra brigade and twice the helicopters that I had a month ago -- will be in full support. We will be working with our Iraqi security force partners to make sure that what they're doing makes sense, to make sure that if they need help we are there to mentor and advise, and as I said earlier to provide the quick reaction forces that will be necessary to stomp on the insurgent when he raises his ugly head.

For their part, the anti-Iraqi forces were realigning their own strength, shifting their strength around for attacks, a fact of which Batiste was well aware and probably intent on thwarting.

There's no doubt that there will be elections in Samarra. We will set the conditions and the polling stations will be there. In Baiji there's another problem set. That's the crossroads for all the insurgents heading from Mosul to Baghdad, and from Fallujah to Kirkuk. And we are still in the process of developing and setting the conditions for successful elections in Baiji.

But if north central Iraq exuded confidence, the mood in northwestern Iraq clearly reflected the crisis conditions in that area. Brigadier General Carter Ham the commander of the Multinational Brigade-Northwest, and commander of Task Force Olympia described the situation in Mosul, where the elections would only be held with great difficulty.

Two months ago, the security situation in Mosul was rather tenuous. Many of you recall the 10th and 11th of November, when police largely failed, and the insurgents conducted widespread attacks. Then, on the 21st of December, a murderous attack killed 22, and wounded over 70 (the suicide bombing on Marez base -- Wretchard). More recently, the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq staff largely quit in Nineweh Province. Insurgents have mounted a gruesome campaign of murder, threats and intimidation.

Ham described the steps being taken to replace the electoral workers who had been frightened away from their posts.

This is the greatest -- this is the biggest challenge that the IECI faces in Mosul and throughout Nineweh Province right now. To tell you the truth, we don’t know how many staff there actually were, but we know that at one point there were essentially none left. There is a coordinator now appointed for Mosul -- he's present in Mosul, and is building a staff. He has asked the provincial governor for assistance in recruiting. We learned today that they have had some success, but they are -- together, the IECI, the provincial governor, local mayors and local councils are working to identify the workers that are necessary to operate the polling stations.

There's also some consideration, I believe, being given by the IECI to bringing in polling center staff from other parts of Iraq to assist in Mosul and throughout the province. So that's not yet a resolved issue, and it is one that needs to be resolved very quickly. It is the highest priority for the IECI staff that is in Mosul today.

The question was why any new electoral workers, having observed the fate of the old, would stay. The obvious answer was to provide them with better security and therein lay the rub. Mosul was peculiar in several respects. A huge city of 2 million people, it was one of Iraq's most ethnically diverse urban centers, a diversity sometimes better described as a ticking time bomb. Mosul was consciously repopulated with Arabs by Saddam Hussein in order to put his ethnic allies in control of the oil resources of the region. Today it has a large Sunni population whose ranks have been swelled by fighters fleeing from Fallujah, although the surrounding area remains largely Kurdish. After the largely Sunni police forces fled in the face of insurgent intimidation, the obvious alternative was to replace them with Kurds who could be expected to provide security with a capital S.

Q General, Rod Nordland from Newsweek magazine. Two questions closely related. Can you tell us a bit more about the new police chief and just what he's doing to get the police going again? And will they actually be on the streets come election day? And then we've heard from a lot of Sunnis complaints that after the mostly Sunni police force collapsed that the solution has been to bring in Kurds and Shi'ia from other parts of the country for Iraqi security forces, and they're quite unhappy about that.

GEN. HAM: The newly-appointed police chief was selected by the minister of interior, in consultation with a wide variety of individuals to include the provincial governor. He has been in Mosul now for a week, and is just starting the rebuilding process. Representatives of the minister of interior -- in fact, the minister of interior himself today was in Mosul discussing the rebuilding of the police force with the new chief and with the provincial governor.

But to use the Kurds against the Sunnis would be tantamount to ethnic cleansing, something that was strictly verboten. Thus the problem for US forces was to pacify a largely Sunni city without resorting to the tools that had made it Sunni in the first place. Wary of stirring up trouble between rival ethnic groups,  CENTCOM's way out of the dilemma, in contrast to north central Iraq, has been to beat the insurgents down with men of no local identity: American troops. The UK Times reports:

Thousands of American reinforcements are pouring into Iraq’s northern capital for a battle that could decide the fate of the country’s elections, being held in less than two weeks. In the biggest military operation since US troops stormed the rebel city of Fallujah two months ago, paratroopers, infantrymen and armoured units have converged on the city over the past two weeks, increasing the number of Americans on the ground to more than 10,000. Their objective is not only to wrest back control of the city from insurgents, but to create enough stability so that Mosul’s inhabitants can be coaxed into voting in the January 30 elections.

American numbers will be augmented by Iraqi forces from other parts of the country -- probably with units from the 4th Iraqi Infantry division.

While voters are expected to cast their ballots in the Shia Muslim South and the Kurdish North, this ethnically mixed city of two million could go either way. Half the population is Sunni Arab, but there are also large minorities of Kurds, Christians and other ethnic groups who might well vote if free from intimidation. On patrol with the Americans it is easy to see how divided Mosul is. In Kurdish areas the population waves enthusiastically at a passing patrol. In Arab areas the same Americans are greeted with angry stares and the troops scan rooftops and alleys for the next ambush.

Through the application of unrelenting terror the insurgents have managed to discipline their own ranks into pursuing a scorched earth strategy. Since they are in no conceivable position to retrieve their former position of power in Iraq, they are bent upon thwarting its attainment by anyone else. By refusing to unleash sectarian violence against the Sunnis and taking every step to coax their participation in the elections, the US hopes may hope to drive a wedge between the average Sunni Arab and the insurgent leadership, whose willingness to expend an unlimited quantity of blood and cruelty constitutes the ultimate asymmetrical weapon.

Gunmen killed eight Iraqi National Guard soldiers at a checkpoint in central Iraq on Monday, and eight people died in a suicide car bombing at a police station north of Baghdad, as insurgents struck at Iraqi security forces ahead of national elections.

Some of the latest violence, including a series of weekend attacks along a highway southeast of Baghdad, occurred in provinces which U.S. and Iraqi authorities have deemed safe enough to hold the elections and appear to be attempts to scare the country's majority Shiites away from the Jan. 30 polls.
Boston Com

"back there and they had come and hacked off every inoculated arm. There they were in a pile...A pile of little arms. And I remember...I...I...I cried... I wept like some grandmother. I wanted to tear my teeth out. I didn't know what I wanted to do. And I want to remember it. I never want to forget it. I never want to forget. And then I I was shot...Like I was shot with a diamond...a diamond bullet right through my forehead...And I thought: My God...the genius of that. The genius. The will to do that. Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure. And then I realized they were stronger than we. Because they that could stand that were not monsters...These were men...trained cadres...these men who fought with their hearts, who had families, who had children, who were filled with love...but they had the strength...the do that. If I had ten divisions of those men our troubles here would be over very quickly. You have to have men who are moral...and at the same time who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill without feeling...without passion... without judgment...without judgment. Because it's judgment that defeats us. "
-- Marlon Brando as Col. Kurtz, Apocalypse Now, courtesy of Gerard Van der Leun, American Digest