First, before doing anything else, go and read this Patrick Cockburn report for the Indy on Iraq. It's the stuff all right - you may especially enjoy the account of the Americans who turned up to deal with a fight in a petrol queue, equipped with a 155mm self-propelled howitzer. Never bring a knife to a gun fight, they say, but it's worth remembering that waving guns around near a knife fight isn't too wise either, especially if you know you can't shoot them.
A "Shorter" for that article, I think, could almost be "what TYR said" - about the failure of the coalition to get population security, the crisis on the roads, the Freikorps temptation, and much more Iraq stuff I've blogged here. But enough of the twaddle. What's with the bizarre headline?
The US Marines recently ended an operation, Operation MATADOR, up near the Syrian border. Naturally the official line was that it was a roaring success. Caches of weapons found (125 AKs, not many in a country where everyone has one), 125 "anti-Iraqi forces" killed, blah blah blah. Not that you'd think so from reports by those much-maligned embedded reporters. Ellen Knickmeyer of the Washington Post did the trip, and reported back on the unit she was with having to break up a platoon after it took two-thirds casualties, the enemy firing 12.7 and 14.5mm machine guns up through the concrete floors of houses where they set up in the crawl space above the foundations and waited for death. Nine Marines were killed and some 40 wounded.
This was in an operation given out as involving 1,000 men. From that, I deduce, we are looking at one Marine Expeditionary Unit, that is to say a battalion of Marines plus a company of tanks, a few engineer, medic, supply, gunner and FAC elements. Compare, if you will, the battle of Mount Tumbledown in the Falklands. In that action, a battalion of Scots Guards lost nine men and 43 wounded, too, in storming the hilltop held by the Argentine 5th Marines' N Company. At Tumbledown, there were fewer British soldiers - a battalion of 600-700 men compared to 1,000+ in an MEU - and no armour or air support. And no-one who took part would ever suggest it was anything less than tough, especially not (say) the UK's last senior officer in Iraq, Lt-Gen. John Kiszely, who as a major led a bayonet charge up Tumbledown and won the Military Cross.
My point? Things are not getting better in Iraq. With M1A1 tanks, Bradleys, LAV25s, constant attack aviation and F/A18s overhead, the US Marines' sweep in comparable strength through Qaim was as bad as Tumbledown, a battle that induced the Scots Guards' piper to write a new lament. Imagine, if you will, backing into that rathole under the concrete floor with the machine gun, a Soviet copy of the Browning .50 that will shoot through anywhere you happen to be reading this unless you're in a concrete bunker or a tank. Listening for steps above, and pulling the trigger into a whole world of noise like hammering your own head in that confined space and stone chips and dust and smoke. Then doing it again, and knowing that in the end, they'd either realise where those bullets were coming from and drop a grenade down one of the new holes in the floor, or call in the jets, or bring up a Caterpillar D9 bulldozer and crush the building down on you. And remaining serene and calm.
Now imagine walking into that building just as the floor erupts. This is not winning. So, what is happening? Some fool at the New York Times wrote this week that the insurgency was a "mystery", in that the enemy were killing too many civilians and this didn't fit somebody's preconceived plan. There is no mystery. Their first aim is to maintain a high level of generalised violence and prevent stability emerging. Their next aim is to make the occupation intolerable to the occupier. Once we go, there will be plenty of time to work anything else out.
People often don't realise that Iraq is urban. A mass of urbanisation spreads out from Baghdad down to the shrine cities and up towards Tikrit in the north, and west along the road to Fallujah and the Jordanian border. Although the plurality is Shia, the bulk of this urban core is Sunni, and this is crucial to know. That fraction of the insurgency aims, once having got rid of the Americans, to dominate this area, to seize power, and then, only then, to look elsewhere. Controlling this area gives them command of what there is of the state, the former defence establishment, and their own people, as well as the symbols of Iraqi nationalism. It also gives them key infrastructure and the trade route out to Jordan. All they need then is a share of the oil. South of Baghdad, they will find it harder to make progress, as they will be running up the demographic hillside and into both the Badr Corps and Sadrist heartlands. The Sunni insurgents are probably more militarily capable, but don't have the numbers. Somewhere along the demographic transition line, the front will halt.
And then, I fear, comes the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad. It will be the obvious next step, and anyway many will flee and save them the trouble. That leaves out the Kurdish issue. In the first instance, the Kurds will be the only party who can deter a Battle of Baghdad. But they would be amenable to compromise, so long as they can arm like hell in the meantime. In fact, all sides will do that - the Kurds and Sunnis from the world market, the Shia from Iranian help. Kurdish/Sunni differences are fierce, but they are the soluble kind - they involve compromisable wealth, and hatred. The Sunni/Shia conflict is less soluble because the two parties have a survival problem, facing each other within Baghdad itself.
That brings us to a state of virtual civil war, if you like: three unstable stateoids, at least two still contesting the claim to be the real Iraqi government, buying all the guns they can and cherishing their vendettas. Any factor could start the second war, that is, if the first even stopped.
For extra points: the UN Drug Control Program says Iraq has become a major transit point for Afghan heroin. What connection does this have with Antonov 26A ER-AFH, "July Morning"?
EDIT: "July Morning" is ER-AFH and a -26A. My whoops.