The Washington Post picks up on gathering doubt about the claims of 80+ guerrillas killed in a fight near Samarra earlier this week. I previously blogged (briefly) on the droll fact that AFP was reporting that some 40 guerrillas were still hanging around the scene of the supposed firefight, and their leader denied any knowledge of a battle. Instead, said the guerrilla, 11 had been killed in an air raid. AFP got this information because they actually sent a reporter to the incident, rather than quoting Green Zone briefers. In the Post's report, there is much of interest.
For a start, the US military spokesman they spoke admitted that the figure 11(ha!) had validity, although the figure might be higher. They also got some details of the actual operations and how the figure of 85 was arrived at. It seems that the crews of a helicopter fire team (2 Apaches and a Kiowa Warrior scout chopper) claimed 80 to 100 kills - aircrew claims of anything are always subject to overclaiming, so this needs to be treated with scepticism to start with. But, when "additional US ground forces" arrived at the scene, there were no 85 corpses actually kicked, bagged and counted. The reference to "additional" is strange: surely, if there were US ground forces there to add to, they would have their own estimate? Or were there no actual troops present? Or perhaps just a Forward Air Controller team, who spotted a bunch of rebels and called in the choppers, whilst getting the hell out? In Vietnam, by the way, FACs got a reputation for wildly overestimated reports of casualties from air action, and also for counting civilian dead in with the enemy. (By the way, I keep telling you to go and read Neil Sheehan's A Bright Shining Lie. Are you finally going to do it, you buggers?)
Major Goldenberg suggested that the lack of bodies was because the enemy had carried off their dead, in Vietcong fashion. But if you assume it takes at least one man to carry one, that must mean a force of 160+ guerrillas even assuming 50% fatal casualties, of whom at least 80 are still wandering around the countryside, giving interviews to French reporters as they go. This would seem to me a worrying prospect. Goldenberg, perhaps wisely, put them onto the Interior Ministry for an answer before saying anything stupid.
The rebels, moving on from their PR campaign, have now proceeded to blow up 11 Iraqi Ministry of the Interior Commandos (aren't they getting a lot of ink lately?) just outside Ramadi. Not just that, but they also murdered five women in Baghdad, translators for the coalition, who were machine-gunned on the streets as they returned from work. The FAZ has a good roundup of yesterday and today's mayhem, including as well as the above a serious blue-on-blue incident in Mosul, where the Iraqi police shot it out for 10 minutes with the Iraqi army, who had turned up in civvies and were hence taken for rebels. Presumably this was an undercover operation that went pear-shaped.
There was a mass demonstration by electricity workers in Baghdad, demanding an end to attacks on the infrastructure. Does this represent a real appeal to the insurgents to lay off, chaps, or was it more in the nature of the demonstrations of shipwrecked seamen Winston Churchill organised in 1917-8 to shame striking munitions workers? Or were they marching to demand protection? The Wichita Lineman may still be on the line, but even he would be put off by security conditions for people doing his job in Iraq. Hard to say, because no-one else seems to have reported it at all. On the topic of mass demonstrations, one occurred in Basra demanding that the minister of oil be a Basraite. This is another case of something I occasionally cover - growing southern independence. I hope UK Political Advisers (POLADS) there are not encouraging it, it would not be a good thing although perhaps attractive from a cynical British standpoint.