Friday, February 17, 2006

Fruits of War

SusanG at Daily Kos succintly summarizes BushCheney's war against Iraq.


Juan Cole's comment regarding the findings of the UN Report on the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. America's oubliette.

The Artful Dodge

Don't like taxes? Here's one that you pay only if you want to (some exceptions may apply).

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Learning Curves

About a year ago I spent an evening drinking beer with an Iraq war veteran who was among the first American troops to enter Baghdad in 2003. He said that American forces displayed amazing prowess in the invasion but noted that they lost that edge once the occupation began. At the same time, he saw Iraqis becoming more organized and sophisticated in their resistance to the occupation.

That discussion comes back to me as I read several recent articles. An article about improvised explosive devices in Asia Times notes:
“[The IED] being described as the defining weapon of the war in Iraq, lethal though low in technological sophistication. The IED is a simple weapon, easy and cheap to build, and easier to hide. This makes it an attractive weapon for insurgents....[snip]

The battle of the roadside bombs in Iraq is not just about detonating or defusing IEDs. It is about innovation and counter-innovation, ingenuity and guile. And the insurgents seem always a step ahead....”

Asia Times also reports on the findings of the International Crisis Group analysis of the Iraqi insurgency:

“...The 30-page report, based primarily on an analysis of the public communications of insurgent groups, as well as interviews and past studies about the insurgency, also concludes that rebel groups have adapted quickly and effectively to changing US tactics - in both the military and political spheres.

‘Over time, the insurgency appears to have become more coordinated, confident, sensitive to its constituents' demands and adept at learning from the enemy's successes and its own failures,’ said the report...."

The full report is here.

What we here, then, is a classic insurgency, taking advantage of whatever tactics work against a better armed, far more powerful foe. My drinking companion saw this beginning as early as 2003. Three years on, the insurgents’ adaptability and creativity have certainly limited the effectiveness of American forces in Iraq.

Americans, too, have adapted to changing conditions. The Washington Post reports on new tactics that show success in fighting the insurgency in Tal Afar, an insurgent stronghold. But even as one unit shows creativity and initiative, the long-term prospects
remain limited.

“...[It is not] clear that [this] example can be followed elsewhere by American commanders in the country. The biggest problem U.S. troops in Iraq face is Baghdad, a city about 30 times the size of Tall Afar. With the current number of American troops in Iraq, it would be impossible to copy the approach used here, with outposts every few blocks.

‘Baghdad is a much tougher nut to crack than this...It's a matter of scale -- you'd need a huge number of troops to replicate what we've done here.’ "

A “huge number of troops”. America heard this before.

Who is learning faster than whom?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


Anyone who thinks BushCheney actually plans to withdraw from Iraq should read Tom Englhardt's post at TomDispatch. Whatever else the administration says about US troops leaving Iraq is belied by the vast construction now underway at four large bases and the new US embassy in Baghdad.

"In a country in such startling disarray, these bases, with some of the most expensive and advanced communications systems on the planet, are like vast spaceships that have landed from another solar system. Representing a staggering investment of resources, effort, and geostrategic dreaming, they are the unlikeliest places for the Bush administration to hand over willingly to even the friendliest of Iraqi governments."

Of course, permanance is a relative thing. Englehardt refers to the huge American bases at Danang and Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam. Those, too, seemed like permanent American presence in that country only to be abandoned. Another reference also comes to mind:

"I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed,
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away."

-Percy Bysshe Shelley

Perhaps in some future an Iraqi will gaze at the remains of vast American hubris. But for the near term, these bases show that America has no plans to withdraw from Iraq. The war will continue.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

My One and Only Firefight

February 12 almost got by me without remembering my first and only “firefight” in Vietnam. I had thought about it and the events leading to it in the previous days but on the day itself, I was aware only that the world was marking the 197th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth and Abraham Lincoln’s 198th. Later in the day, the “firefight” came to mind. I use the term firefight advisedly since there wasn’t much to it. Nonetheless, it sticks in my mind.

My company walked out from Firebase Fontaine around mid-day. We were all kind of pissed about that. After all, we were Air Cavalry and should have been flying out on our mission, not walking. (This was about the same time as Operation Lam Son 719, where US-backed South Vietnamese troops invaded Laos, probably the reason for our lack of air transport). After a few hours walking, we stopped because our medic was sick. He was off to the side vomiting. The rest of us were sitting in a long line alternately facing in either direction when Georgia yelled, “Gooks!” and began firing.

I swung around to face the direction of fire. I vaguely remember getting hung up on some brush and having to think my way out of it while the world around me exploded. Once in position, I switched my M16 to semi-automatic and began squeezing the trigger, taking careful aim and picking my shots, just as I had been trained to do. Then I realized that I had no target, at which point I switched to full automatic and cut loose with everything I had, changing magazines as rapidly as I could. The rest of my squad was blazing away beside me.

An infantry squad in full fire is an unforgettable experience. The noise is deafening, with the crackle of rifles and the heavy thud of the M60 machine gun. The landscape changes immediately; small brush is swept away by the initial fire, as if our purpose was to clear the area. As the firing continues, small trees begin to fall, bullets shattering their trunks. When the firing ended after about 30 to 45 seconds, the air was thick with the acrid smell of cordite. A small patrol went out to look for the targets of our fury as the rest of us regrouped. The patrol returned with a report of blood trails but no bodies. Whoever it was, they got away. They were two Vietnamese carrying packs, probably Viet Cong or North Vietnamese. Targets in a free-fire zone.

As I said, there wasn’t much to this engagement. We took return fire but it was minimal. Nonetheless, I was pumped, my heart racing and scared shitless. I had been in the field for a month by this time and had no contact and hoped it would stay that way although I had no reason to believe I could make it through a year in the infantry in Vietnam without contact. As it turned out, that is exactly what happened but this early in my tour I would never have expected that.

This minimal firefight had some serious antecedents. About a week earlier my company was patrolling in the mountains when we heard an explosion. Word came down that Bravo Company hit the shit and we would be heading to their relief. Then not. Then no one was sure. So we waited, listening to the aerial assault taking place on the next ridge while our commanders figured out what to do. We were close but not close enough to reach Bravo on foot fast enough. The jungle canopy was too thick to bring in choppers to ferry us. I lay on the ground, waiting, figuring that I was about to see my first action.

But the order never came. The commanders decided to airlift Delta Company from the firebase, to relieve Bravo. We would replace Delta on the base. Sweet. Not only did I dodge a possibly ugly experience but I got to return to the (relative) comfort of the firebase after only a week in the field rather than the normal three week rotation. Great for me. Not so great for Delta Company, whose stay was cut short. Even less great for Bravo Company which lost six men killed when a lieutenant led his platoon into a bunker complex. Probably not so great for the Vietnamese, since they came in for murderous rocket and cannon fire from American aircraft.

At the time I wasn’t aware of it, but this event would be my most intense combat experience. Not much to speak of. Which is just fine with me. Combat is generally described as long periods of boredom punctuated with short bursts of sheer terror. I can’t speak for terror (at least beyond this one brief experience) but I got the boredom down pretty well. My experience is that boredom is not quite the right term either; it’s more of an apprehension, an expectation of impending danger, walking on the edge. It’s not as deadly as actual contact but it's not something I can forget.

Sunday, February 12, 2006


Riverbend offers a first hand report of a government raid on an Iraqi neighborhood where her family lives.

It came ten minutes later. A big clanging sound on the garden gate and voices yelling “Ifta7u [OPEN UP]”. I heard my uncle outside, calling out, “We’re opening the gate, we’re opening…” It was moments and they were inside the house. Suddenly, the house was filled with strange men, yelling out orders and stomping into rooms. It was chaotic. We could see flashing lights in the garden and lights coming from the hallways. I could hear Ammoo S. talking loudly outside, telling them his wife and the ‘children’ were the only ones in the house. What were they looking for? Was there something wrong? He asked.

Suddenly, two of them were in the living room. We were all sitting on the sofa, near my aunt. My cousin B. was by then awake, eyes wide with fear. They were holding large lights or ‘torches’ and one of them pointed a Klashnikov at us. “Is there anyone here but you and them?” One of them barked at my aunt. “No- it’s only us and my husband outside with you- you can check the house.” T.’s hands went up to block the glaring light of the torch and one of the men yelled at her to put her hands down, they fell limply in her lap. I squinted in the strong light and as my sight adjusted, I noticed they were wearing masks, only their eyes and mouths showing. I glanced at my cousins and noted that T. was barely breathing. J. was sitting perfectly still, eyes focused on nothing in particular, I vaguely noted that her sweater was on backwards....

We found out a few hours later that one of our neighbors, two houses down, had died. Abu Salih was a man in his seventies and as the Iraqi mercenaries raided his house, he had a heart-attack. His grandson couldn’t get him to the hospital on time because the troops wouldn’t let him leave the house until they’d finished with it. His grandson told us later that day that the Iraqis were checking the houses, but the American troops had the area surrounded and secured. It was a coordinated raid.

They took at least a dozen men from my aunts area alone- their ages between 19 and 40. The street behind us doesn’t have a single house with a male under the age of 50- lawyers, engineers, students, ordinary laborers- all hauled away by the ‘security forces’ of the New Iraq. The only thing they share in common is the fact that they come from Sunni families (with the exception of two who I'm not sure about)....

It’s almost funny- only a month ago, we were watching a commercial on some Arabic satellite channel- Arabiya perhaps. They were showing a commercial for Iraqi security forces and giving a list of numbers Iraqis were supposed to dial in the case of a terrorist attack… You call THIS number if you need the police to protect you from burglars or abductors… You call THAT number if you need the National Guard or special forces to protect you from terrorists… But…

Who do you call to protect you from the New Iraq’s security forces?