Monday, March 27, 2006


This is a follow up to a previous post. It seems that proper analysists agree that yesterday's attack in Baghdad will have achieved exactly the opposite of what was initially intended.
Iraq's radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr may turn to political advantage the bloody results of a U.S.-Iraqi raid on a mosque compound in Baghdad.

Twenty bullet-riddled bodies lay in a Shi'ite community hall near a mosque in Sadr City after Sunday's raid, though there were widely conflicting accounts of how they were killed.

Political analysts say anger over the killings is likely to give Sadr political ammunition both on the street and at the negotiating table with Iraqi leaders who have been struggling to form a government more than three months after elections.

"Sadr has always appealed to the poor and disadvantaged. These killings will enable him to recruit more people for his Mehdi Army militia," said Hazim al-Nu'aimy, a political science professor at Mustansiriya University in Baghdad.
Joost Hiltermann, project director for the International Crisis Group, said Sadr, who like rival Shi'ite leaders has links to Tehran, could stir up trouble at a time when the United States and Iran are preparing for talks on stabilising Iraq.

"The mosque incident will definitely boost his cause," said Hiltermann, whose organisation analyses world conflicts.

"The Shi'ites now believe the Americans, who brought them to power, are engaged in what they call the second betrayal. First the Americans abandoned them in the first Gulf War and now they believe the Americans are turning their backs on them," he said.
It's not rocket science if truth be told. Al Sadr, a rather callous fellow by all accounts, probably cheered when he heard news of the incident. It's worth reading that article in full. For the record, al Sadr's aides, as well as using inflamatory languange, are publicly calling for calm.

The full details of what happened are almost impossible to pin down. It does seem that claims of civilians deaths were not, after all, spurious. An elderly member of the Dawa party appears to have been one of those killed. Iraqi TV has been broadcasting images of the aftermath of the attack.
Iraqi television has been showing footage of bloody corpses at what was said to be Sadr City's Mustafa mosque.

Many of the dead were elderly and their identity papers indicated they were members of prominent political parties, according to the TV footage.
Quite a bit more analysis from Juan Cole. He suspects that the attack could be have been a case of mistaken identity, that the US/Iraqi force had intended to attack a Sunni terrorist cell but ended up in the wrong area. Given Khalilzad's comments on the Mahdi Army last week, I'm not altogether convinced on that.

Professor Cole points out that Iraqi TV is adopting an "uncharacteristically anti-American" approach toward coverage of the attack as can be seen from the linked Reuters report.
Iraqiya state television carried lengthy footage of the bloodied corpses of men in civilian clothes, in a room where no weapons were visible, calling them victims of U.S. gunfire.

"American forces raid and burn Mustafa mosque. A number of citizens martyred inside," it said in an on-screen headline.
As already noted, it isn't clear whether there's any truth to these claims. It is clear that very many heart and minds will have been lost.

The US military, however, maintains that those killed were "insurgents". They also maintain that the fighting was conducted by Iraqi special forces, that US troops acted only in an advisory capacity, and that no mosque was attacked or damaged.

The "insurgent" claim seems particularly questionable given that the buildings attacked were a Mahdi Army base. Perhaps there was a case of mistaken identity but another explanation is also possible. The US military has long described pretty much everyone killed in coalition action as insurgents or terrorists. It's a blanket description used in an almost knee-jerk manner whenever they're asked about possible civilian casualties. I suspect this might be the real reason behind the claim that the assault was directed against a "terrorist cell".

The angry reaction of Shiite leaders certainly does nothing to support the claim that the dead were Sunni insurgents. That angry reaction to the attack has also has an effect on the political process.
Jawad al-Maliki, a lawmaker from the United Iraqi Alliance, said the Shiite bloc had canceled Monday's session of negotiations to form a new government because of the raid.

"We suspended today's meetings to discuss the formation of the government because of what happened at the al-Moustafa mosque," al-Maliki said, adding that the alliance was expected to decide Tuesday when to resume the talks.
Agreement, sadly, appear not to be imminent but rather to be a distant hope.

President Talibani (a Kurd) has asked Zhalilzad for a joint investigation, saying "I will personally supervise, and we will learn who was responsible. Those who are behind this attack must be brought to the justice and punished".

In short then, this attack has already caused an awful lot of trouble. The fallout from it is likely to be considerable and long lasting. Not good.

One further point. The Iraqi unit involved in this is apparently the 1st Iraqi Special Operations Forces Brigade. It is, as its name suggests, an elite special forces unit. But who do they answer to? Who gives them their orders? The Iraqi government? That seems extraordinarily far-fetched in this case. There doesn't appear to be an effective Iraqi government at the moment after all. It seems far more likely that they're currently taking orders from US military command.

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