Iraqi and American troops seized control of an insurgent stronghold in northern Iraq yesterday after militants fled leaving dozens dead and hundreds wounded.
Infantry backed by aircraft and tanks encountered little resistance when they entered the city of Tal Afar after a two-day offensive, although troops found entire districts had been abandoned by the civilian population in advance.
[. . .]
A joint US-Iraqi operation codenamed Operation Cyclone also started yesterday in Rutbah, a town near the Jordanian border, and further north soldiers closed the Rabiyah border crossing with Syria, an alleged transit point for guerrillas.
The US military said more than 141 insurgents were killed and 211 suspects captured during the offensive in Tal Afar and its two-week build-up. "There's no areas they are controlling, they are either on the run or dead," said Major Robert Molinari, a US commander.
About 5,000 Iraqi troops and a 3,500-strong US force from the 3rd Armoured Cavalry Regiment encircled the city late last month. Sporadic resistance on Saturday claimed the lives of five Iraqi soldiers. But there was evidence that the Iraqi army's role was inflated and its leadership dogged by corruption, betrayal and sectarianism.
The above was e-mailed by Pru and is from Rory Carroll and Michael Howard's "Dozens killed as Iraqi and US forces capture insurgent stronghold" (London's The Guardian). Pru notes that Elaine was correct this morning, that the New York Times apparently has figures no one else does. It's Sunday, we're focusing on what's being reported outside the US mainstream media and, as always, we close with something Pru's brought to our attention -- this week, it's the latest from Dahr Jamail.
But to stay on the New York Times for a moment, as Elaine noted this morning, Robert F. Worth's "Iraqi-U.S. Units Battle to Clear a Rebel Area" which alleged "an Iraqi-led force of 11,000 soldiers began moving into the city, supported by American tanks and armored vehicles from the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment." Worth used his eagle eyes from the Green Zone to scope out those numbers apparently. Or maybe he just went with a military press briefing? The Green Zone reporting is a glaring embarrassment (see editorial) and once again it blows up in the Times' face. (The article notes that Qais Mizher "contributed reporting" as an end credit at the bottom of the article's conclusion on page ten. If Mizher was in Tal Afar, Mizher should be credited in the byline on the front page. The entire article appears to report from Tal Afar despite the dateline "Baghad." Which is why the article's so laughable.)
James in Brighton e-mails to note Jonathan Charles' "Iraq: Another Vietnam for the US?" (BBC):
The American troops - just like their predecessors in Vietnam - do appear to have low morale.
So far, almost 1,900 have been killed and the number rises every day.
The soldiers can sense that life isn't improving here.
One captain I spoke to said he feels as though his men are moving around Baghdad with their backs against the walls.
He told me they can feel what control they had slipping from their grasp.
He said in his unit, part of an infantry division, many of his soldiers are beginning to lose faith in their mission.
Falling morale goes hand-in-hand with a lack of discipline.
There was a vivid example of that here earlier this week when an Iraqi working as a TV sound recordist for the Reuters news agency was shot dead by an American soldier.
His only mistake was to have approached an area where there had been a shooting incident.
Jessica also e-mailed an article with figures, an AP article, Jacob Silberberg's "Guns fall silent in second day of Tal Afar offensive; 156 insurgents killed" that's carried on Canada's CBC website:
"About 5,000 Iraqi soldiers, backed by a 3,500-strong American armoured force, reported 156 insurgents killed and 246 captured."
An Aljazeera report Elaine cited, "Iraqi troops sweep through Tal Afar," also used the 5,000 and 3,500 figures.
Krista e-mails to note (via Watching America) "In Iraq, Insurgents Have 'Gained the Upper Hand'" (Pakistan's The Nation):
It should be noted that in the present circumstances, such a large, sectarian procession was bound to catch the eye of the Sunni-dominated insurgency, bent on destabilizing Iraq by any means. At the same time, a hidden hand trying to sharpen sectarian differences might have exploited the situation. Indeed, the Iraqi prime minister sees the terrorists’ resort to mortar fire rather than suicide attack as nothing less than the success of his overall security operation, which means they had rightly expected an attack.
However, the fact that close to 1,000 people died in what turned out to be the deadliest day since the war speaks volumes about how easy it has become to spark fear, and how close to the proverbial straw is to breaking the camel’s back. All this while the neo-con lobby in Washington refuses to accept that the insurgency has gained the upper hand and Iraq is out of control.
The fallout from the stampede is not likely to be any less disturbing. According to reports from Baghdad it was another "well timed" terrorist attack that turned out well for the insurgents and was not directly sectarian in nature. However, considering the precarious situation at present, it is more than likely to ignite Shiite-Sunni antagonism and push Iraq closer to civil war. The situation is made worse not only because Sunnis form the bulk of the insurgency, but they are also growing more insecure after losing centuries of dominance.
Lou e-mails to note Walden Bello and John Rees's "US Imperialism: The Cracks in the US Machine" (England's Socialist Review):
In any event, the 'Powell doctrine' said that if we have to intervene, we have to do so with massive force from the very beginning or not intervene at all, because we risk getting caught up in a Vietnam-type situation. This debate, and the reality of overextension, has of course become very evident during the Bush period. We've had the Project for the New American Century. This was thought up by the neoconservatives who saw no bounds to US power and pooh-poohed any sort of concerns about overextension. This was the doctrine that guided the US intervention in Iraq. The proponents of this doctrine were so confident in US ability to control things militarily that they thought that 135,000 troops would be able to do the job.
Two years later it is clear that the US is overextended in Iraq. Some US military analysts have said that the only way to stabilise Iraq is with at least 500,000 US troops - some say a million are needed. But there is no way that that level of ground troop intervention will be reached without provoking tremendous civil strife in US society.
At the same time as the US is internally overextended in Iraq and the insurgency is winning, we have a situation whereby the focus on Iraq has basically led to a number of major setbacks for US policy: whether it is in Latin America, where the revolt against neo-liberalism and US power is definitely on the rise; in Europe, where clearly the Atlantic alliance has died with increasing competition, both economic and political; in Afghanistan, where the US is pinned down; or in a number of other areas in the world where, clearly, to talk about the interventionary capability of the US, one has to talk about ground troops' capability, and that is the weak point of the US at the moment.
Robin e-mails to note Nina Berglund's "Iraq wants Krekar extradited" (Norway's Aftenpost):
Shandal said Krekar is suspected of terrorist activity and is charged with being responsible for a string of offenses and terrorist attacks in Northern Iraq when he led guerrilla group Ansar al-Islam.
Iraq's justice minister also charged that Krekar has motivated and encouraged Ansar al-Islam to make new terrorist attacks within Iraq while he's been in exile in Norway.
Krekar is fighting his possible deportation, and recently made remarks that were widely interpreted as threats to Norway if he's sent back.
Krekar denied he has encouraged Ansar al-Islam to attack the Iraqi government. "My case is with Norway," he told TV2 Nettavisen. "For three years now, I haven't done anything against the Iraqi government."
Dominick e-mails to note "British soldier killed in Basra roadside bombing" (Ireland's Breakingnews.ie):
A British soldier was killed today and two others were wounded when a roadside bomb exploded near their convoy in Basra.
Skip e-mails to note Reuters' "Iraqi politicians yet to agree on constitution" (Australia's ABC):
Iraqi politicians have failed to conclude negotiations on a draft constitution and it remains unclear when a final text may be printed.
The setback comes less than five weeks before a referendum on the document is due.
"We don't know when they'll finish," Nicholas Haysom, the United Nations official charged with the printing, said.
[. . .]
He had thought that would come after amendments were made in talks that followed Parliament's previous adoption of the draft on August 28.
Any later, Mr Haysom had said, and it would be a "challenge" to get 5 million copies out to the electorate of about 14 million in time for them to digest it by the referendum on October 15.
Pru e-mails to note Dahr Jamail's "How the US occupation is murdering the truth" (UK's Socialist Review):
Waleed Khaled was shot by US troops last week while working for Reuters TV. In response US army spokesman General Rick Lynch claimed that the US soldiers "took appropriate measures". Lynch said, "What our soldiers on the scene saw was a car travelling forward at a high rate of speed. It looked like cars that we have seen in the past used as suicide bombs… and there were two local nationals inside."
Khaled had two press cards pinned to his chest at the time, one issued by the US army and the other issued by the British news agency. Both cards were found covered in blood and one of them had two bullet holes.
The killing brings home that the biggest threat to journalists in Iraq comes from the US military. At least 16 independent journalists have been killed by US troops since the war began.
According to Reporters Without Borders, 67 journalists have died so far in the conflict, more than in 20 years of the Vietnam War.
The leading cause of deaths is the US military and "security contractors".
Sometimes the contractors pose as journalists to gather information on the resistance. This puts us all in jeopardy, because we are all suspected of being spies or collaborators.
Add to that the general levels of crime, the kidnapping rings and random violence, and Iraq is an extremely difficult place to work in.
It is not surprising that most news networks forbid their correspondents from going outside their hotels. But these journalists are writing stories as if they are going out and reporting.
Robert Fisk calls this "hotel journalism" -- reporters parroting military briefings or relying on Iraqi sources for information which may or may not be trustworthy.
The role of a journalist is to check facts. For example in November 2003 the US military announced that one of their convoys was attacked by a huge contingent of resistance fighters in Samara, northern Iraq. They claimed that in the ensuing battle they killed 48 fighters. The next day they bumped the figure up to 53.
A couple of days after the battle a few independent journalists drove to Samara. We interviewed two leading religious figures in the city.
We visited the scene of the battle and spoke to eyewitnesses. We went to the morgue to count bodies. We talked to doctors and interviewed the wounded.
Everyone told the same story. The convoy was attacked by "one or two" fighters, the soldiers panicked and opened fire on everyone they could see. They killed eight civilians and wounded dozen of others.
Neither the media nor the military corrected their stories, instead they spun the event as a victory over the resistance.
That’s what differentiates our reporting from much of the mainstream media. We attempt to check facts, and take risks to uncover the truth.
The mainstream journalists have to toe an editorial line. We take the people's perspective and start from the ground up. You always have to ask, "What are ordinary people saying?"
Some of my colleagues will embed with the military to take "the temperature" of the troops and report on morale.
There are some embedded journalists who have exposed incidents involving US troops -- the best example is the journalist who filmed the execution of a wounded resistance fighter in a mosque in Fallujah last November.
But unless you are embedding to report on the troops, you can only report what the military wants you to report, and go where they take you. This is not journalism.
There are also problems reporting on the resistance. The resistance is complex, some of them are ex-military, some are former Baathists.
But many fighters I have spoken to are motivated by anger at the occupation, or want revenge for a military strike on their city or the death of a loved one at the hands of foreign troops.
Often they tell me they are only defending their homeland. They are ordinary people who will not accept the occupation.
But both the media and the military talk constantly of "foreign fighters". Even the BBC at one point claimed that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Al Qaida were organising the defence of Fallujah from outside the city by telephone.
They call al-Zarqawi the "leader of the Iraqi resistance" despite never providing any hard proof that he exists. I investigated the Zarqawi phenomena in May 2005.
Not one of the Iraqis I interviewed considered him the leader of the resistance.
We have the same problem with the reporting of sectarianism. All you hear is about "communities" on the verge of civil war.
In February 2005 I decided to investigate the impact of sectarianism, but whenever I asked an Iraqi, "Are you Shia or Sunni?" they simply replied, "We are Iraqis and Muslims". They were at pains to point out the integration of Sunni and Shia, whether by marriage or by tribe.
During my investigation I interviewed Sheikh Muayad al-Ahmedi, the imam of the Abu Hanifa mosque in Baghdad, one of the most important Sunni mosques in the country.
He told me that when the Shia Khadamiya mosque was attacked by suicide bombers he called for blood donors and thousands of people turned up. They did not ask, "Is this Shia blood or Sunni blood?"
Similarly during the attack on Fallujah the Shias rushed to support the Sunnis.
In one incident Shias broke through a US roadblock to get aid into the beleaguered city. The imam told me that these two incidents were important in sealing the bond between Sunnis and Shias.
In return Sunnis donated blood and rushed to the aid of Shia worshipers caught in the stampede in Baghdad.
However I have also found that sectarianism is taking root. Many Iraqis tell you that there is a "state sponsored" civil war, with US-backed sectarian militias kidnapping and killing. There are religious leaders who are pushing sectarianism.
Sectarianism is a danger, but we should not underestimate how strong the bond is between the Shia and the Sunnis.
To read Dahr Jamail's reports from Iraq go to www.dahrjamailiraq.com
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