2004 August 20 Friday
Whole Iraqi Army Batallion Deserts, More Desertions Predicted

Iraqi Army recruits will not fight for the US side in Najaf.

Sunday's showdown in Najaf was troubled even before the fighting resumed. Officials from the Iraqi defense ministry said that more than 100 Iraqi national guardsmen and a battalion of Iraqi soldiers chose to quit rather than attack fellow Iraqis in a city that includes some of the holiest sites in Shiite Islam. An Iraqi army battalion generally consists of 600 to 900 soldiers. U.S. military officials would not confirm the resignations.

“We received a report that a whole battalion (in Najaf) threw down their rifles,” said one high-ranking defense ministry official. He did not want his name published because he is not an official spokesman. “We expected this, and we expect it again and again,” he said.

The rebels in Lexington and Concord fighting for their freedom from the British and for the right to rule themselves through democratically elected governments did not desert en masse. Where are the Iraqi pro-liberal democracy forces? Why aren't thousands of Najaf residents rising up to shoot down the Mahdi Army fighters in the streets?

The US is responding the lack reliable Iraqi allies by increasingly bringing air power into urban fighting.

Now that significant portions of Iraq, city by city, seem to be blinking off the US map, our military is increasingly releasing air power as the weapon of choice in those heavily populated urban areas. In the past week, we have bombed, missiled or strafed (sometimes a combination of all three) in Sadr City, the Shi'ite slum holding an estimated 2 million of Baghdad's inhabitants, Samarra, Kut, Najaf, Fallujah (more than once) and possibly in Ramadi and Hilla as well among other places.

Of course the civilians losing family members to the air barrages could rise up and kill the Mahdi fighters to rid themselves of the Mahdis. But the Iraqi Shias are not rising up en masse to support the Iraqi government.

Saddam Hussein, lacking American scruples, hit the Shrine of Ali with artillery barrages in order to put down the Shia rebellion of 1991 (which George Bush Sr. helped to foment).

If the Americans and Iraqi Army do end up assaulting the Shrine of Ali, they will not be the first. Hussein threw the full force of his military against the shrine in 1991 after Shiite rebels launched an abortive rebellion. Artillery barrages damaged the shrine complex and special-forces soldiers killed the rebels inside the complex itself. The brutality of this crackdown at such a holy site turned most Shiites against Hussein, even those who had defended him in the past.

As long as the United States can not find any way to appeal to the masses of Iraqi people to get them motivated to fight against the insurgents it is hard to see how the situation in Iraq is oging to turn out as some sort of victory for the US. Eventually US forces will leave. Then civil war will most likely ensue. At least if we partition before departing we could end up with Kurdish allies in control of the north of Iraq. Those Kurdish allies would actually like us. They would definitely want the US to keep bases on their territory to defend them and they would control substantial oil fields.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 August 20 11:57 AM  MidEast Iraq New Regime Failures

Philip Nelson said at August 20, 2004 12:37 PM:

In every large population there will be good and evil. Many Iraqis have done well in the national guard. Many have not. Some understand what is occurring and support us. Some do not. There will be good things to report, and bad things to report. On what are you going to focus?

I do not dispute the fact that there are many bad things happening in Iraq; but I believe they can be overcome. And even if it is true that most Iraqis are not signing up to fight against the militias, it is also true that most Iraqis are not signing up to fight the US and the Iraqi government. That indicates that they are waiting to see who wins. It also indicates they many would like freedom, but are afraid of reprisal if they support it in a failing effort (especially given what happened after Gulf War I, when we did not support the revolt against Saddam). For if they really supported the militias, I see no reason why they would not fight for them. After all, we have indeed looked weak in Fallujah and elsewhere; one would think they would have been encouraged by that to fight us- if they wanted to do so in the first place.

Our strategy in Fallujah, Najaf, and elsewhere has been to turn over the decision-making to the interim government; for that increases the perception in the minds of everyday Iraqis that the Iraqi government is legitimate, and that the militias are attacking Iraq- not the US. Granted, it encourages the bad guys and disheartens the US population; but if we are to succeed in building a republic in Iraq, the majority of Iraqis must be energized in support of freedom, as you have said. And that is why we are following the course we have taken. Iraqis have been brutally terrorized into submission over the course of decades; that is not reversed quickly or easily- but it can be done.

Philip Nelson said at August 20, 2004 12:57 PM:

This letter from a Marine about Fallujah details some of the bad, and some of the good. Key comment:

The difference between now and April is that the majority of Iraqis that we meet ask us to enter the city. They are tired of the lawless hell that exists inside the city and are literally willing to have us rubble it to save it. I know it sounds strange but it is the reality here.

We also have an entire battalion of Iraqi Special Forces soldiers who have stepped forward. We have trained these guys and they are a different breed of cat altogether. Many are veterans of the Iran Iraq war and are hardened. They don't necessarily love us but they now have a bond with the Marines and operate jointly with them everyday. They shake their head at the hesitancy to resolve Fallujah and are willing to fight inside the city. It will be a very tough fight but in the end I just don't see how we can move forward as a coalition, or Iraq as a fledgling country, while this festering sore remains open.

Derek Copold said at August 20, 2004 2:27 PM:

"Our strategy in Fallujah, Najaf, and elsewhere has been to turn over the decision-making to the interim government; for that increases the perception in the minds of everyday Iraqis that the Iraqi government is legitimate, and that the militias are attacking Iraq- not the US."

The strategy ain't working, Phil. What's happened has not been a turnover in power, but an abdication. Our puppets have no control in Fallujah, Najaf and other areas. Allawi is little more than the mayor of part of downtown Baghdad, also known as the Green Zone, a.k.a "The Emerald City."

Fleming said at August 22, 2004 7:29 AM:

Interesting points, Philip. I will not choose the knee jerk reaction against the Iraqis that many others unwittingly choose. But I agree with Randall that most arabs are too stupid to rule themselves. A partition might establish defensible boundaries for the Shias and the Kurds. The UN may even recognize Shiastan and Kurdistan as sovereign nations. Baathist Sunnistan will always be hell because the Baathist Sunnis are innately vicious, brutal, and moronic.

gcochran said at August 22, 2004 8:38 AM:

I doubt if the Sunnis are any more or less innately vicious and moronic than the Shi'ites. Randall, is there perchance some kind of special link from your site to an asylum for the criminally insane?

Fleming said at August 22, 2004 2:42 PM:

Not sunnis. Baathist Sunnis. Everybody else here knows the difference and could probably explain it to you, but you might want to look it up so you have plenty of time to digest the new ideas.
Taking your medication might help as well.

Derek Copold said at August 23, 2004 6:55 AM:

Fleming, the Ba'athists are secular. The Ba'ath party included Sunnis, Shi'ites (like our puppte Allawi), and Christians, such as Tariq Aziz. The people running Fallujah are not secularist at all. They're fundamentalists. In fact, they were something of a problem to Saddam Hussein when he was in power. This is what makes this war so insane. We were attacked by Osama Bin Laden, a relgious nut, and in response we attacked one of the most secular regimes in the region, turning the country into a cauldron of Sunni and Shia zealotry.

Philip Nelson said at August 23, 2004 7:32 AM:

Here's a comment from an Iraqi that indicates what I am saying. Key quotes:

‘All the residents there are so frightened and upset, they want those criminals to be killed soon, Najafis are so peaceful and kind people, those liars say that all the militia men are from AlNajaf, they are liars, we don’t know them, they are criminals, God burn them all…….’ He added. The problem is those families can not say all of this openly on the channels, they would be killed at once, you know, those gangs would do anything to get them, so all the residents kept silent and waiting for the government to arrest or kill those criminals.
When Muqtada’s followers are in the streets shouting and acclaiming for their ‘leader’, nobody dares to do anything against them. But if the millions who want Muqtada to be arrested or killed did the same thing they would be brutally killed. This is the answer for those who ask naively: ‘why don’t you arrange a demonstration against Muqtada?’ we aren’t in London or New York! We are waiting for the government to put an end to those thugs.
Conrad said at August 23, 2004 12:44 PM:

The above poster is right. Sunnis dominated the Baths and dominated all of Iraq. Foreign Sunnis who are now killing Iraqis want to perpetuate the Sunni dominance.
The coalition should have engaged in intensive de-Bathification immediately on invading the country. The Baths are overwhelmingly Sunni fanatics and are given sanctuary in Fallujia and surrounding villages. By destroying the Bathists you eliminate the sanctuary for foreign jihadis and you cause Sadr's criminal militia to reconsider its criminally insane plans.

Derek Copold said at August 23, 2004 1:08 PM:


We engaged in exactly the de-Baathification you wanted. We did so on Ahmed Chalabi's recommendation, and the result was to turn off the secular-leaning professional classes who joined the Ba'ath Party to keep their jobs. However, we did open up plenty of career opportunities for Chalabi's cronies.

"‘why don’t you arrange a demonstration against Muqtada?’ we aren’t in London or New York! We are waiting for the government to put an end to those thugs."

Phillip, this quote reveals more than you intended. The fact is no guerrilla army could operate for as long as the Mahdi Army has without some kind of popular support. For months now they've stood up to the U.S., even under severe bombing and assault. This is not some will o' the wisp of Moqtada Al-Sadr. The fact is, Iraqis are willing to die for Al-Sadr, and they're doing so by the hundreds. Yet almost no Iraqis are willing to die for Allawi. They refer to some magical "government," without thinking that the governemnt can't do jack without their help and support.

Buch said at August 23, 2004 4:49 PM:

Iran has sent millions of dollars to Sadr. With those funds he has bought the allegiance of thousands of impoverished Iraqis plus many criminal low lifes.
Not grass roots support. Not even close.

gcochran said at August 23, 2004 6:24 PM:

You claim that Iran has sent millions - but you offer no evidence. But let us assume that it is true.

We've spent tens of billions. You trying to tell me that a few millions can buy more loyalty than our billions? Why is that, do you think?

Come on, tell me!

I don't think you can.

Wes Ulm said at August 24, 2004 6:06 AM:

"The Baths [sic] are overwhelmingly Sunni fanatics"

No, they aren't. As Derek noted, the Baathists were *secularists* who during Saddam's rule were opposed and troubled by the fundamentalism in places like Fallujah and Ramadi; Saddam himself did not particularly like these two thoroughly religious cities, and we should recall that Osama bin Laden loathed Saddam with a passion since Saddam's secularism stood in the way of Osama's Islamic fundamentalism.

The Baathists were mostly Sunni but included other ethnic groups as well, but the key is that they were utterly unlike the al-Qaeda fanatics who attacked us on 9/11. This lackadaisical conflation of the two threats-- al-Qaeda fundamentalists (undoubtedly a major danger) and Iraqi secular Baathists (debatable at best)-- is precisely what's gotten us into so much trouble, not only because it's sucked us into the vortex of this war but also caused confusion about who the guerrillas are.

When reporters have ventured into the insurgent camps (e.g. in Newsweek and Atlantic Monthly IIRC there were recent articles), they've found that very few of the guerrillas are Baathists or foreign fighters. The vast majority are Iraqi nationalists-- some fired by militant Islamism, some more by simple resentment at a foreign occupier-- who are taking up arms. There is a sprinkling of Yemenis, Saudis, Chechens, and others who are supplementing the native forces, and some former Baathists have changed their stripes and altered their objectives to join with the nationalists (coalition-building among unlikely allies is the essence of a guerrilla conflict). However, the core of the insurgency is old-fashioned religio-nationalist. It would be a bitter irony if our efforts to remove Saddam wind up giving Osama a birthday present if, say, we withdraw from Iraq and the country falls into the hands of Islamic fanatics. They we'd have an Islamist fundamentalist regime ruling Iraq (or part of Iraq) espousing the same sort of madness that he vomited on his own followers in Afghanistan.

Wes Ulm said at August 24, 2004 6:39 AM:

"Iraqis have been brutally terrorized into submission over the course of decades"

This reprehensible treatment didn't start with Saddam; it goes all the way back to the 1920s, in fact, when the British and French after World War I decided to carve up the Ottoman Empire in a way that would suit their imperial folly at the time and, in doing so, created Iraq. In fact, the brutal tactics of the British in the 1920s were precisely the ones that Saddam would later emulate. The British had in fact promised the Arabs and Kurds in what's now Iraq (and in the Arabian peninsula) that, in return for rising up against the Ottoman Empire in 1917-1918, those people would be guaranteed sovereign states as a reward-- Lawrence of Arabia and all that. After the war was over and the Ottomans kicked out due to the Arabs' successful insurrection, the British of course repugnantly violated their explicit vows to the Arabs and Kurds and imposed an arrogant and brutal colonial regime on the locals, denying them independence and filching their oil and other natural resources.

The British had also negotiated the secret Sykes-Picot Treaty during the War to create the Iraqi state *specifically* to house three hostile peoples-- Sunni Arabs, Shiite Arabs, and Kurds-- who, the British figured, could be pitted against each other (as in India) so that the British could manipulate them and steal the oil. Classic divide-and-conquer, and the British administrators-- Gertrude Bell, Arnold Wilson, and Winston Churchill himself, he of Gallipoli infamy-- gleefully carried it out.

In the case of Iraq, though, the plan blew up in the face of the British, and there was a bloody rebellion, especially among the Kurds and Shiites, in the 1920s that killed thousands of British soldiers. The Brits responded by razing Iraqi villages to the ground wholesale, bombing markets with women and children, and dumping poison gas on Arab and Kurdish population centers. Arthur "Bomber" Harris, that asshole for the ages (of Dresden infamy), practically had a wet dream discussing how the slaughter of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians would terrorize the locals into submission-- Harris himself was the inventor of the urban and village terror bombing that the Nazis perfected in WWII. And the advocate of gassing the villages, to be repeated 7 decades later by Saddam? None other than Sir Winston Churchill himself, who chirpily bloviated in reference to the Iraqi rebellion: "I do not understand this sqeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favour of using poison gas against uncivilised tribes." (To his credit Churchill did question this doctrine later, but he'd already cruelly killed thousands of Iraqi villagers by then.) In any case the Brits never did succeed in suppressing the Iraqi revolt, especially since the Kurds hid out in the mountains, and the British were defeated and kicked out in the early 1930s. A somewhat-allied British satellite monarchy clung on for a while until being deposed in 1958.

So all those nasty meanie things Saddam was famous for? He learned 'em from the Brits; in fact, that atrocious gassing of the Kurds in Halabja in the late 1980s was merely a modern send-up of Churchill's poison-gas policy against the Kurds and Arabs in the 1920s. In fact, it was precisely because of Britain's unsavory objectives in Iraq that the country acquired its nonsensical frontiers, and though the British were unable to profit from the divide-and-conquer politics in Iraq, the ethnic divisions nonetheless strongly favored strongmen like Saddam coming to power, since only they would be able to impose the iron fist that would hold the country together. Thus the British machinations in the wake of World War I are directly responsible for the rise of Saddam and the current mess in Iraq, and there'll never be any semblance of a solution until what's done from the 1920s is undone.

The Iraqis don't trust each other, and they certainly don't trust the Coalition-- they were screwed after World War I by foreign powers, and they hardly believe the promises of the US and UK today. There may be no alternative other than partition Iraq along ethnic lines in some fashion, or otherwise introduce such an extreme form of federalism that the country's regions are de facto independent states. The country should never have been created with the borders that it currently has; that was a stratagem for British imperial glorification, not an attempt to produce a stable and unitary state. Whatever we do, it'll be bloody and painful either way. There's no cheery solution here, only acceptably bad, awful, horrendous, and horrific. But at the very least, we can provide some structure to prevent Iraq (or post-Iraqi states) from becoming new havens for al-Qaeda. And it'll help not to have permanent bases there. Iraq contains the holiest land in Islam next to Saudi Arabia, and if we have a permanent military presence on its soil, it'll wind up spurring the same sorts of groups that were fomented by US bases on Saudi Arabian land following the first Gulf War and the subsequent garrisoning.

Conrad said at August 24, 2004 9:46 AM:

Actually, Sunnis have always dominated the Baths. Your revisionist history may help you get chicks in some circles, but has no credibility in the real world. Syria is also controlled by Sunni Baths. That's why so many Syrian Baths have come to western Iraq to join their Sunni Bath brethren.

Buch, you are absolutely correct about the mullah-monstrosity trying to influence events in the Shia slums. Sadr has used Iranian funds to hire criminals that Saddam released before the war. Saddam gave the criminals many of the weapons they use as part of the Mahdi militia.

Derek Copold said at August 24, 2004 10:07 AM:

Conrad, it's better to be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.

"Syria is also controlled by Sunni Baths."

No, it isn't. You're not even close. Syria's Ba'ath party is run by Alawites. They are not Sunnis. Indeed, they're only marginally Shi'ite (and there's doubt about that). The second most powerful group in Syria are Christians, believe it or not. The alliance between the Alawites and Christians allows them to dominate the Sunni majority. Of course, the buffoons running our government can't wait to give Syria a "regime change," believing, I suppose, that the Sunni fundamentalists Asad defeated at Homs are preferable to secular Alawites and Christians.

Conrad said at August 24, 2004 11:43 AM:

You might consider that yourself, since your mouth rarely closes.

You know, Sunnis around the arab world, especially in Syria and Jordan have been clamoring for the reinstatement of Saddam the butcher. Even some posters here seem to have their faces firmly planted between Saddam's legs. No problem.
But the people of Iraq do not follow some of the idiots above, and have their own thoughts about wanting to get rid of Sadr and the Sunni Baths holdouts.

gcochran said at August 24, 2004 10:52 PM:

Everyone who knows anything about the Middle East knows that the Alawites, who in truth aren't even Muslim, run Syria. Fundamentalist Sunni groups like the Muslim Brotherhood are verboten in Syria - as they were in Iraq, under Saddam.

I am still waiting to hear the Weekly Standard start extolling the Yezidi as our natural allies in Iraq.

Derek Copold said at August 25, 2004 7:20 AM:


You just dig yourself in deeper every time you comment.

"You know, Sunnis around the arab world, especially in Syria and Jordan have been clamoring for the reinstatement of Saddam the butcher."

No. No, they haven't. Saddam was disliked by even his Sunni coreligionists. Osama Bin Laden himself described Hussein as a wicked atheist. The only thing that gave him any popularity was that the U.S. is hated more. No serious Sunni group wants to reinstate Saddam, and the guerrillas were made stronger by his capture because now they don't have him as a burden. Today, the Sunnis are looking to reinstate someone of a religious bent, one who will preserved their status as an Iraqi elite, which isn't as hard as it looks as they make up the majority of professionals in Iraq.

Conrad said at August 25, 2004 11:19 AM:

You can't help but make yourselves look worse with each posting. You know, you may as well admit that your views come from the lobotomized media, because anyone with real world experience sees through your baseless assertions. Bin Laden and Saddam had high level liasons behind the scenes for several years. The press releases are for dummies who know no better.

Derek Copold said at August 25, 2004 11:51 AM:

"...anyone with real world experience sees through your baseless assertions."

You mean like someone who thinks Syria has a Sunni government?

Conrad said at August 25, 2004 12:09 PM:

Copold, you must be faking it. No one is this dense in the real world. Syria is 75% Sunni. Almost all the arabs crossing the Syrian border to fight with the Sunni Baths in Iraq are Syrian Sunnis. Likewise, Jordanian Sunnis also cross the border (mostly Palestinians) and Saudi and Yemeni Sunnis come as well. Money and weapons come in with the Sunnis.
Iranians are hosting alqaeda leaders, but the mullah monsters are backing Sadr with many millions in aid and arms. So there is a Shia component, but it also is mostly foreign supported.

Derek Copold said at August 25, 2004 2:27 PM:

I didn't deny Syria has a large Sunni population, Conrad. I simply mocking your erroneous assertion that the Syria is controlled by "Sunni Baths [sic]." Syria is controlled by Alawite Ba'athists. In fact, for most of their history they've been on hostile terms with the Iraqi Ba'ath Party. 'Assad sent troops to fight with us during Desert Storm.

Wes said at September 18, 2004 11:53 AM:

"Actually, Sunnis have always dominated the Baths."

I never said that they didn't Conrad-- pls read what I wrote. Everyone recognizes that the Baaths were Sunni-dominated, but you keep emphasizing that the Baaths (not Baths) were dominated by Sunni fundamentalist religious zealots; they're Sunni secularists, NOT religious fanatics. Crucial difference. Saddam himself persecuted the Wahhabi zealots in Fallujah and Ramadi who are causing so much misery to us now.

"Bin Laden and Saddam had high level liasons behind the scenes for several years."

Ridiculous! Considering (1) the utter lack of evidence for this, (2) the secularism of Saddam and the hyperreligiosity of Osama, and (3) the fact that Osama specifically designated Saddam in the Top 5 among his Public Enemies (along with the US, Saudi royal family members, and Israel), Saddam and Osama were not in cahoots. Saddam was providing cash payments to families of Palestinian suicide bombers, and that indeed is a link with an organization (Hamas) carrying out attacks against civilians, but Saddam was not collaborating with al-Qaeda. He would have been digging his own grave, since he himself was in their crosshairs.

[toward Derek] "you may as well admit that your views come from the lobotomized media, because anyone with real world experience sees through your baseless assertions." Do you realize how incredibly dumb that comment is? Every one of us here has real-world experience that we can draw upon, many of us here perhaps directly in policy arenas related to Iraq. If you want to make an argument that has traction, you should cite facts, evidence, and logic to back it up, not some vague "real-world experience" which we can interpret any way we want. You keep claiming that the Baaths were run by religious fundamentalists and that Saddam and Osama were bosom buddies, when the former claim is demonstrably false just as much as saying that 3+3=7 (the Baaths were not only secularist but also had a strain of socialism at least in their early days), while the latter both lacks evidence and is contradicted by the mutual hatred exhibited by Saddam and Osama and by Saddam's secularism. I agree that we need to aggressively confront the menace of terrorism, but part of winning battles is choosing the right battles to fight. As Sun Tzu noted millennia ago, even the world's most powerful army will get waxed if it wastes its capital and soldiers in stupid, useless wars that aren't strategically justifiable (as e.g. the British and Soviets both learned in Afghanistan in the 1840s and 1980s respectively, and as we discovered in Vietnam). When you conflate the undeniably real threat of al-Qaeda with the entirely different ball of wax that is Iraq, you risk depleting finite US resources in a conflict that gains us nothing and bleeds us mercilessly for the years we're embroiled in it.

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