After this post on the 9th of September, I was criticised fairly savagely by a commenteer over at the Fistful of Euros for being insufficiently optimistic about the situation in Iraq, and not giving enough credit to supposed progress in training Iraqi troops. I was pretty venomous about this. It was, though, just the moment that the Iraqi government and the occupation authority were heavily publicising the arrival of Iraqi national guards in Tal Afar, the much-fought over border town hundreds of miles northwest of anywhere in Iraq worth caring about. The week before, there had been reports in the US press that the US Army's 3rd Armoured Cavalry Regiment had been fighting through the town - before the Iraqi forces turned up - but nobody mentioned that.
On Wednesday the 14th, some 150 people were killed in Iraq after a wave of 10 car bombings in Baghdad, a massacre by quasi-police just outside the city and much more. On the same day, the Washington Post carried this report on how the 3,000 US and (supposedly) 5,000 Iraqi forces in Tal Afar had nothing else to do but fight among themselves. A sample:
"After months of preparing for a battle with insurgents that never fully materialized and 12 days of running around this city from dawn to dusk, the soldiers of Eagle Troop did what soldiers often do with unspent aggression.Now, the day before that, I'd commented as follows on this excellent post of Bobby's as follows:
They fought each other.
Squaring off Tuesday evening in the front yard of a home they had commandeered to be their command post for the final stage of the assault on Tall Afar, they grappled one-on-one on the grass for hours. Good-natured taunts flew. T-shirts and uniform pants were torn. And as the sun began to fall behind the stone buildings of this restive city, an audience of hecklers grew...
I'll await your "What Now?" with interest. What I would say is, as the insurgents can currently move platoon-sized units to attack the Interior Ministry and get away with it, should we really be retaking Tel Afar for the third time when we could have those troops in Baghdad?Now, I'm not saying, I'm just saying. Apparently this year's DSEI arms fair included a stand from some lot called Strategic Communication Laboratories offering propaganda. Perhaps I should set up my own
Anyway, enough with the snark and ghoulish self congratulation. Some surprising people are in denial that Iraq is now at civil war. Exhibit A is none other than Robert Fisk, who met the 14th September massacre with an indictment of Westerners who "wanted civil war". He went into a delightful anecdote about a doctor of his acquaintance who, married to a Shia, asked "if you want me to kill my wife". Frankly, that sounds like the kind of story exiles from nations at war with themselves tell, of the harmony Back Then Before the [enter bastards here] ruined it all. It's usually shite - after all, if things had been so great the exile wouldn't be exiled. After all, it's not as if there were not plenty of Yugoslavs in mixed marriages - not a few of who ended up as quaint exile exhibits of How Things Used To Be. It's not the good people who do marry across the divides and pursue a decent life without caring for nationalist or religious or tribal glory who make the difference in these times. It's the vicious bastards who rain mortars on them from the hills around the city, or in Iraq the suicide car bombers and the New-Old Iraqi Army with its RPGs and snipers.
Above Fisk's piece ran Patrick Cockburn's report on the massacre. A massacre specifically of a Shia crowd in a Shia district capped by a taped declaration of war on Shi'ism, at the same time that mystery gunmen dressed as policemen (rebels posing as police? police posing as rebels-as-police?) were shooting dozens of Shia a night - and districts of Baghdad with a Sunni majority are shedding Shia at a fearsome rate. This is the beginning of civil war. There is no denying it, and Fisk seems to find it hard to take. Strange he should now be the optimist.
Now, today, we have the Basra crisis. God knows what has happened, but it seems clear that two British soldiers in plain clothes, in the circumstances clearly Intelligence Corps or special forces carrying out surveillance, somehow came to be arrested by Iraqi police. Some reports say there was an exchange of shots. (Whether the police were the real thing, SCIRI men, Sadr infiltrators, or some combination of all three is irrelevant.) Apparently, the MNDSE command found the captors sufficiently untrustworthy that they had to be sprung from prison by driving Warrior IFVs through the jail walls - terribly dramatic, and terribly reminiscent of the 1942 coup against the Egyptian government, which also involved British armour driving through palace walls in a supposedly allied city. The aftermath was predictable - screaming mobs, petrol bombs, RPGs, and a Warrior abandoned on live television (the crew were apparently picked up).
It seems to have had something to do with the arrest of two important imams on security grounds, but the key question must be: are there not-police roaming around Basra who are so dangerous that this show of force was necessary, or were the real police that ignorant of British intentions that they might have locked up the soldiers in error - in which case, why the armour drama? Probably it's because they can't be trusted with the information - or the men.