Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Behind The Scenes - Reconstruction of The Najaf Battle

Cautious thumbs-up to the New York Times! WHATEVER IT IS, I'M AGAINST IT called my attention to the article written by Alex Berenson and John F. Burns (and presumably re-written by some nameless clueless desk editor).

Altough the text is at times wishy-washy and bending over backwards to use the weakest euphemisms, it does three things which NYT reporting of government actions rarely did: drawing up the appropiate historical context (even if incompletely), tracking actions to the players in the background, and exposing propaganda lies.

That is, the article starts by pointing out that this is Fallujah all over again, exposing the arrival of the Marines as the source of the troubles, outlining how they escalated initial squirmishes, with great political ignorance; and while Allawi (who, by the way, is "a former enforcer for Saddam Hussein's Baath Party", nice code word for 'assassin') and his government come away better than one would assume, Negroponte is exposed as the decision-maker who chose to push the escalation until an ultimate confrontation with Sadr.

Some key quotes:

...In past week, the interim government has twice halted major American-led attacks on Mr. Sadr's forces as they were about to begin...

...the latest fighting began when a Marine patrol drove directly past one of Mr. Sadr's houses in Najaf - violating an informal agreement that American units would stay away from Mr. Sadr's strongholds, treating them as part of an "exclusion zone" that was at the heart of the cease-fire in the city. [Next step missing even in this article: string of arrests of Sadr deputies]

Two days later, on Aug. 5, fighters in Mr. Sadr's Mahdi Army staged a 2 a.m. attack on a police station in Najaf...

...Ambassador John D. Negroponte, the top American official in Iraq, "decided to pursue the case," one official said. One result was a domino effect, with the fighting in Najaf soon replicated in more than half a dozen cities and towns across southern Iraq...

...Marine commanders in Najaf acknowledge that they did little planning for the battle, but say they gambled that they could reach the walls of the Old City so fast that they would outrun the political firestorm sure to result...

...The ferocity of the rebel resistance surprised the marines, who had seen Saddam Hussein's army disintegrate last year as they marched north to Baghdad. "The ones we fought the other day are a hell of a lot more determined," Lt. Scott Cuomo said... [huh, where have you been in the last 18 months?]

...By early evening on Aug. 5, the battalion had sent out an urgent request for reinforcements .. when the request for help arrived .. American troops in the capital were under intense pressure themselves .. the 120-mile drive from Baghdad, through some of the most rebel-infested territory in Iraq, took two days...

...American forces faced immense pressure not to damage the Imam Ali Mosque .. soldiers fighting inside the graveyard needed permission to fire heavier weapons in the direction of the mosque... [apparently no one cared about heavier weapons damaging the just as holy graveyard, or civilian houses beside it]

...In Baghdad, commanders seemed curiously disconnected. [<-euphemism time] On Monday, Aug. 9, a senior military official told reporters that American forces had cut off Mr. Sadr's forces in the Old City and the cemetery from the rest of Najaf. But no cordon existed, and none would be set up until Thursday, when the second Army battalion arrived...


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