Meanwhile, back in Najaf
Cleaning up after the battle
Juan Cole is asking who won in Najaf, but that's the wrong question. The question is why the US Army cannot force a battle to the conclusion against lightly armed, barely trained guerillas.
The better part of a combined brigade of US heavy armor and Marines could not defeat an insurgency of pissed off ghetto teenagers. Think a pissed off group of bloods and crips with high explosives and religious support. The US could not close and kill with them, even before they got to the Imam Ali shrine.
Now, they're back to Sadr City, bloodied but unbowed.
There was little sign of militiamen still on the streets, despite a US checkpoint set up on the northern side of the cemetery, an AFP reporter said.
Nevertheless, the Mehdi Army has refused to surrender its weapons to Iraqi authorities, defying one of three conditions laid down by the caretaker government for halting its US-backed assault on the militia.
Instead, fighters hid their Kalashnikov rifles at home, while mortars and rocket-propelled grenade launchers were stashed in safe houses in the Old City.
"They will hide their weapons but will not hand them over to the police or to the army," Sadr spokesman Sheikh Ahmed Shaibani told AFP.
"The Americans thought that they could exterminate the Mehdi Army, but our fighters are still here. They will be able to go back to their work whilst remaining an army."
Weapons were also hidden after a deal in June that ended Sadr's first uprising against US-led troops. Fighting broke out again two months later.
Hastily agreeing to Sistani's five-point deal and evacuating his shrine bastion, Sadr made no commitment to surrendering his arms to the authorities.
The point of this is simple. We have no ability to even face down some teenagers without restaging Kharkov in the sand. When people say the Army is stretched thin, this is what they mean. In the last week, I've posted about an ANG member impressed into convoy duty, and a jobless cook impressed into the infantry. One committed suicide within 24 hours of his return, the other was killed in Iraq.
The Army has to basically press gang soldiers psychologically untrained to deal with infantry combat into infantry combat. There is a large social and mental gap between the 11 Bravos and their elite cousins and the rest of the Army. The infantry (11 Bravos-Army, 0300's- Marine riflemen) are the hardest of the hard. Even though most are apple cheeked 19 year olds, they're the reason the Army exists, and other soldiers, the vast majority, are wary of them and not too eager to enter their world. And the recruiters tell them any story that they want to hear. Like the poor cook turned grunt. He wasn't told he was going to Iraq, his poor mother didn't even consider it. Now, he's dead.
What people don't get, Michael O'Hanlon of Brookings is especially dense on this point, is that the US is facing the best armed guerrilla movement in history, one with a substantial grounding in basic military tactics and no small inventiveness. The US public is not being told about the insane level of hostiliy US troops face on a daily basis. Like children spitting at US soldiers on patrol.
In any other war, the poorly trained Mahdi Army would have been sent packing within days. Instead, they withstood artillery and air attacks. The US cannot even use airmobile tactics for manuever, for fear of the highly sophisticated, expensive, and hard to use RPG. So complex that every motivated teenager can pick one up and use it.
They can no longer risk million dollar helicopters to $100 grenades.
Which is a tremendous advantate to the Iraqi resistance. Helicopters should have trapped the Mahdi Army and blocked their retreat, but only a lunatic would send 20 Blackhawks over Najaf.
What needs to be understood is that the US and Iraqi resistance are roughly parallel in combat power, since the US is politically and tactically hamstrung in using its weapons. And while neither were trained in urban warfare, Iraqis proved to be the faster learners.
The US have limited manuver and force options and the Iraqis are willing to go toe to toe in infantry battles. US tactics rely upon forcing the guerillas into combat. But unlike the FLN in Algeria, who were hunted down by the French, the US cannot hunt them down. There aren't enough "boots on the ground".
Because to root out a guerrilla force like the Madhi Army, you need divisions, both to provide security, and to provide quick reaction teams to hunt down the enemy. The US cannot provide security, and that is where the lack of Pakistani infantry hurts. They were our barbarian legions, supplimenting our centurions and doing the less glanmorous work of foot patrols and provding security.
Now, the US has to rely on the untrustworthy and prone to betrayal Iraqi auxilliaries to enforce their will and that is a risky venture at best. They would have either collapsed outright or switched sides if they were asked to actually storm the mosque.
The scary part is that without heavy weapons, the Mah di Army had all the advantages, including the ability to make more soldiers like a chikcen farmer could make egg salad. Just add mayo and you can get the egg salad of your dreams. Call for men, and they show up armed and with ammo. The Mahdi Army is as large as they want it to be. Imagine LA where the Bloods and Crips could bolster their ranks with a sermon "The LAPD is coming to rob you and rape your mothers. You must defend your homes". How many kids are going to miss the chance to play hero.
The return of Sistani did two things, one save the shrine and create a strategic defeat, the other, save the US from a major tactical defeat. His intervention provided the strategic defeat. The coming "last stand" at the Shrine would have provided the other.
How screwed up is US policy in Iraq? We're now fighting Shia insurgents linked in a nationalist struggle with Sunni guerillas. The leading Shia family is now a nationalist icon to Sunnis in the most fundamentalist part of Iraq.
Despite the big talk, the US is unable to get close to Sadr, much less capture and jail him. While that would be an insane policy on its face, forcing Shia to take sides, it can't even be executed. There isn't a move that the US could make against him that he wouldn't know about in minutes after it happened. They show up at his house, the place is ghosted. He's now chilling back in his base at Sadr City and there is no way in hell the US can move there at all. They show up, the kids tell the resistance.
The US is between a sharp, jagged cliff face and a steep drop. Killing Shia is a gross and pathetic failure. Leaving would set the country off into civil war, and a totally failed state. But staying there ensures that the next government will have President Sadr at it's head, or someone with the Sistani stamp of approval. Allawi has been exposed as a puppet with his fake tough talk and inability to control the US. His ability to make sure the US does anything, like not shelling the ceremony revered by Shia world wide, has been exposed to be farcial.
It goes without saying that Sadr shouldn't have dragged Najaf into this fight, and his actions are grossly irresponsible. Stocking guns in the mosque is an offense. But, the fact is that he's wearing the mantle of both state and God and people will forgive his transgressions, but they will forever hate the US for ours.
posted by Steve @ 12:07:00 PM