Iraqi forces were surprised and nearly overwhelmed by the ferocity of an obscure renegade militia in a weekend battle near the holy city of Najaf and needed far more help from American forces than previously disclosed, American and Iraqi officials said Monday.
The above is from Marc Santora's "Missteps by Iraqi Forces in Battle Raise Questions" in this morning's New York Times. That's about all that is known. Santora attempts to find out more and reports that Shi'ite clerics dispute the knee-jerk claim of "al Qaeda! al Qaeda!" ("it was highly unlikely that Al Qaeda, a Sunni group, would link up with a Shiite messianic group") and disputing the noting that the alleged leader of the allege cult was killed (the claim is that the real leader was Ahmad bin al-Hassan al-Basri).
On the same topic, we'll note Louise Roug and Saad Fakhrildeen's "Doomsday cult said to be at center of Iraqi battle" (Los Angeles Times):
The U.S. account did not provide details about the nature of the mysterious fighters, saying only that they were "militias."
More than 36 hours after the initial assault, estimates by Iraqi officials on the number of dead fighters varied from 150 to 400.
It was unclear how officials had reached the estimates.
Religious authorities in Najaf responsible for taking care of bodies for burial said they had received only eight corpses by Monday night. Other Iraqi officials said many bodies had not been collected from the battlefield.
One U.S. advisor to Iraqi security forces cautioned against exaggerated casualty reports from the Iraqi government.
"There are rumors everywhere," he said. "The whole situation is so bizarre."
As with yesterday, much less is actually known than is asserted as being known. What is known is that a US helicopter was shot down and two US troops died. On the topic of deaths, Martha notes Jonathan Weisman and Ann Scott Tyson's "Soldier's Death Strengthens Senators' Antiwar Resolve" (Washington Post):
Just before Christmas, an Army captain named Brian Freeman cornered Sens. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) and John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) at a Baghdad helicopter landing zone. The war was going badly, he told them. Troops were stretched so thin they were doing tasks they never dreamed of, let alone trained for.
Freeman, 31, took a short holiday leave to see his 14-month-old daughter and 2-year-old son, returned to his base in Karbala, Iraq, and less than two weeks ago died in a hail of bullets and grenades. Insurgents, dressed in U.S. military uniforms, speaking English and driving black American SUVs, got through a checkpoint and attacked, kidnapped four soldiers and later shot them. Freeman died in the assault, the fifth casualty of the brazen attack.
3086 is the current AP count for the total number of US troops who have died in the illegal war. On December 31st, the count reached 3,000. 86 deaths this month so far. Has it even registered? I'm not talking about with people. I'm talking about the press coverage. Shortly the figure will rise to 3100 and are you seeing any coverage this month that has indicated nearly 100 US troops have died? Are some too busy selling the escalation? Are we all still waiting on that missing New York Times poll about how the respondents felt regarding Bully Boy's proposed escalation?
The continued daily violence doesn't get much traction (the New York Times doesn't cover it today -- again today?) so we'll note Borzou Daragahi's "Attacks across Iraq leave 61 dead" (Los Angeles Times):
Children, soldiers and scholars were among the victims Monday in another day of indiscriminate bombings, shootings and shelling around the country that killed at least 61 Iraqis.
Police said at least 12 Iraqis were killed and 28 injured when mortar rounds hit a poor, mostly Shiite neighborhood in southeastern Baghdad. Those killed included a 2-year-old girl.
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