Syria and the US campaign to Subdue Western Iraq
US forces are moving to take the Sunni towns that sit along the Syrian border. They are backed by much stronger Iraqi forces than we have previously seen. Tel Afar is the first city to fall. It has been largely emptied of its inhabitants. Kurdish pesh merga forces are the main Iraqi troops being used to combat the Turkmen and Arab towns. Local inhabitants are vowing revenge and fleeing. Most of the Sunni fighters fled the city to find other safe havens. Many will undoubtedly took to towns in Syria for refuge as the campaign continues, just as new fighters and supporter will come across the Syrian border to help. It is in this context that Zalmay Khalilzad and Iraqi's foreign minister have both lashed out at Syria for not stopping the flow of men across the border. (See the quotes below.)
Abdullah Taa'i, writing for Syria Comment, described how the inhabitants of his town, Abu Kamal, and the Syrian border region more generally, sympathize with and support their fellow tribal members in Iraq. The Syrian government has only the most tenuous control over the Jazira region of north-eastern Syria, whether in the north where Kurdish tribes predominate or in the south were Arabs tribes preside. It will take a supreme effort by the Syrians to staunch the flow of fighters across the border. Few of the local inhabitants can be counted on to help or sympathize with the Syrian effort. Most will work to undermine it, whether by joining the many smugglers that operate along the border or by protecting and hiding those fighters that try to cross it. Abdullah believes that the US and Syria must work with the Arab tribal leaders of the region, not try to destroy them. This is not the policy that the US and Iraqi governments are pursuing. Their policy is to subdue the Sunnis with overwhelming force.
ZALMAY KHALILZAD, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: THE STATE DEPARTMENT BRIEFING ROOM, WASHINGTON, D.C. 11:15 A.M. EDT, MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 12, 2005
One key other factor that links to the initial point that I made with regard to security, is the role of external players, particularly Syria. People are coming out from Syria to Iraq. People are coming from other parts of the region to Syria, whether it's to Damascus or whether it's to Lattakia, whether it's to Aleppo, and then from there they come to Iraq to kill Iraqis. The vision of these people, the Zarqawi people, for Iraq is not a democratic, unified, self-reliant, successful Iraq, it's an Iraq that's very much what we saw in Afghanistan under the Taliban - an Islamic caliphate with a dark vision to take the region back; where women will not have the right to vote, where there will be no democracy, where there will be a center of international terror in a rich, powerful country. That's their vision. And Syria is allowing forces who advocate that, who want to prevent Iraq from succeeding, to come across.U.S. troops sweep into empty insurgent haven in Iraq
Our patience is running out with Syria. They need to decide, are they going to be with a successful Iraq or are they going to be an obstacle to the success of Iraq? Iraq will succeed. Iraq will succeed. Syria has to decide what price it's willing to pay in making Iraq's success difficult. And time is running out for Damascus to decide on this issue.
By Jonathan Finer, Washington Post, September 11, 2005
The moment the Iraqi troops launched their attack just after 7 a.m. Saturday, the bullets began to fly. Gunfire echoed off centuries-old stone buildings in the insurgent-controlled neighborhood of Sarai: machine-gun bursts, booming tank rounds and an incessant crackle of AK-47s that lasted for most of an hour.Meanwhile the New York Times reports, September 12, 2005
But the shooting spree was only going in one direction.
"So far, Iraqi army reporting no enemy contact," came the word over the radio, 45 minutes after the first shots were fired, to U.S. troops waiting to join the assault.
By the time the Americans entered Sarai -- in a rare supporting role to an Iraqi battalion comprising mostly the Kurdish pesh merga militiamen, who led the charge -- the labyrinthine warren of close-packed structures and streets too narrow for armored vehicles was eerily deserted.
Under Pressure, Rebels Abandon an Iraqi Stronghold
By RICHARD A. OPPEL Jr.
The American military said Tal Afar had held up to 500 insurgents, most operating out of Sarai, a 120-acre neighborhood of tightly packed homes on the eastern edge of the city. But after entering Sarai, troops found the neighborhood abandoned and discovered tunnels intended to allow insurgents to escape an assault that had been telegraphed months ahead of time.This looks like a classic "Hama rules" endgame for the Sunnis - "Hama rules" being the term Thomas Freedman coined to describe how Hafiz al-Asad subdued the Sunni fundamentalists in Syria by trashing their stronghold in the city of Hama. Iraq will be done on a much larger scale. The Kurds and Shiites will trash the Sunnis, letting them know that there is no escape for them. They must live under the heel of the Shiites or be killed. Unfortunately, the sectarian game in the Levant seems to remain zero-sum. Little possibility of deal-making and liberal coexistence seems to exist.
The two tunnel complexes were "clearly designed for terrorists to escape from Sarai," said Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, the senior American military spokesman in Iraq. "They had seen this coming over the last four months."
He said troops had captured some insurgents who had used the tunnels but were caught at checkpoints, some wearing wigs and dressed as women. "The rats know we're closing in on them," he said.
The commanding officer of the American regiment in Tal Afar, Col. H. R. McMaster, told The Associated Press that Sarai was nearly deserted by late Saturday. "The enemy decided to bail out," he said. A report late Sunday from an A.P. correspondent embedded with American troops described a "classic guerrilla retreat" with insurgents "melting into the countryside."
The assault has brought a new vigor to the administration of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who has been eager to demonstrate to Iraqis that officials are working to fight terrorism. The state-run Iraqiya television channel showed repeated images of what it said were Iraqi troops conducting house-to-house searches.
Mr. Dulaimi, the normally soft-spoken defense minister, lashed out in a news conference on Sunday and warned insurgents and those who harbor them that Iraqi forces would "cut their heads and cut out their tongues."
"We will not back down," he said.
Mr. Dulaimi emphasized how the failure in the past to garrison reasonable numbers of troops in cities after military assaults had hurt the war effort. "This will not happen again," he said. "After we clean the city we are not going to leave the city open for terrorists."
He said future offensives would follow the same pattern as in Tal Afar. Assaults are likely in Sinjar and Rabia, west of Tal Afar, he said, and south to the Euphrates, where insurgents hold sway in towns along the river leading west to Syria.
In recent days, tens of thousands of residents scrambled to leave Tal Afar as troops readied for the offensive. Ferdos al-Badi, an Iraqi Red Crescent official, said the camps included more than 2,000 families about three miles outside the city and as many as 2,500 families relocated to Mosul.
This sectarian endgame will exact a heavy price on Syria, which is being asked to assist in subduing Iraq's Sunna community. The US and Iraq want Syria to clamp down on the Eastern tribal regions of Syria, holding down its own Sunni population, while Iraqi and US forces wreck havoc in Western Iraq. The death rattles of Iraq's Sunni community will elicit cries of pain throughout Syria, but nowhere more than among the eastern tribes. Bashar al-Asad has sought to alleviate the sectarian imbalances in Syria over the last five years in an effort to repair the damage done by his father at Hama. The present campaign in Iraq will reopen those wounds.
Success in Iraq will depend on whether its Shiite community can stick together to defeat the Sunnis. The following September 11, 2005 New York Times article by Craig Smith explains why this may not happen.
The Man Who Would Set Shiite Against Shiite
In the last year, the so-called quietists of the clerical establishment banded together in a coalition blessed by Iraq's most influential ayatollah, Ali al-Sistani, and used electoral politics to vault Iraq's Shiite faithful into a commanding position. Followers of Mr. Sadr worked alongside them, but now he is pushing a distinctly different brand of politics. Rather than an autonomous Shiite region in the south, he wants a far more centralized Iraq; rather than face down the Sunni-led insurrection, he suggests making common cause with resentful Sunnis against the American presence.Washington will want to fix this problem quickly. New links seem to be emerging between the violence in Iraq and terrorism in the rest of the world.
Those are not illogical positions for him. Two years ago, he was accused of murdering a rival Shiite cleric sympathetic to the American invasion. Twice his militia rose up against the Americans, and twice the Americans subdued it in battle, the last time crushing his forces in Najaf and forcing him into hiding in the summer of 2004.
But since giving up some of his heavy weapons late last year, Mr. Sadr has been back in view in Najaf, gradually rebuilding his strength. He says he is only seeking to hold Iraq together. "The role of the Mahdi Army is not to stoke sectarian violence but rather to reconcile Iraqis and correct the situation in which they live," he said during a brief encounter in the room one day in August, referring to his militia.
In fact, though, few people believe that Mr. Sadr and his army are focused on reconciliation.
Within days of his comments, clashes with a rival Shiite militia broke out, and tens of thousands of Mr. Sadr's followers took to streets across Iraq to protest official corruption and the loose federalism outlined in the draft constitution.
The unrest was a reminder that the longtime divisions among the Shiites were only covered over by the coalition that competed in the national elections last winter.
Now, many predict Mr. Sadr will break away before new elections in December. His main complaint is over the push for a largely autonomous Shiite region in southern Iraq. His supporters say that they accept a degree of decentralization, but that allowing autonomy would divide the country.
David L. Phillips of the Council on Foreign Relations, author of "Losing Iraq," says that what Mr. Sadr really wants is a say in enforcing Islamic law through the central government's constitutional court - and that his supporters in Baghdad could be the key to voting down the draft constitution when it is put before voters in October. "He could be the swing vote," Mr. Phillips said.
Many analysts who follow Mr. Sadr's evolving role say that he still envisions a Shiite theocracy over all of the country. "He sees himself as the Khomeini of Iraq," said Amatzia Baram, an expert on Iraqi Shiite politics who is at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. Mr. Sadr's followers play down that goal but don't deny it. "Religion is higher than everything," said an aide, Sahib al-Ameri, at Mr. Sadr's home on a recent Saturday. "The most important thing is the dominance of religion."
Terrorist had plans for London attacks
By Pam Hess, UPI (via Washington Times), September 7, 2005
A terrorist captured near the Syrian border last month had a computer "thumb drive" that contained planning information about the July 7 suicide bombings in London, according to a U.S. military officer.
Col. Robert Brown, commander of the 1st Brigade 25th Infantry Division in Mosul, said that the man was captured north of Qaim in western Iraq and that authorities had connected him to the al Qaeda terrorist network.
It is the first evidence of a link between the London bombs and terrorists in Iraq, but fits with other evidence of a growing presence in Iraq by al Qaeda, which has taken responsibility for the British attacks....