Monday, April 14, 2008


Stephen Farrell and Qais Mizher contribute "Iraq Dismisses 1,300 After Basra Offensive" (New York Times) which opens with: "The Iraqi government has dismissed 1,300 soldiers and policemen who deserted or refused to fight during last month's Shiite-on-Shiite battles in Basra, it said Sunday." Really? Is that who they dismissed because I would think the most pressing issue would be dismissing the ones who defected. Defecting and deserting are two different things. A deserter walks away from the battlefield and the biggest issue for Iraq government forces in Basra wasn't the walk aways, it was the defectors who went over to the other side. For some reason, despite this being reported everywhere else, the paper of record refuses to acknowledge that happened. Day after day. Tina Susman (Los Angeles Times) has a similar issue going on today where she appears to be reporting on two groupings and both are being labeled deserters:

A high-ranking police official in Basra said a roundup of alleged militia sympathizers had begun Saturday and that "a large number" of police officers were arrested at work and accused of membership in militias. "They were high-ranking and with different positions," said the Iraqi official, who was not authorized to speak and would not give his name. He did not specify which militias they were accused of supporting.

A spokesman for the Interior Ministry, Abdul Kareem Khalaf, said fired troops would face court-martial after having deserted for political, religious and ethnic reasons. Khalaf described their offenses as "showing solidarity with outlaws," but did not detail the specific charges they face. Khalaf did not say how many of those fired were police and how many were soldiers.

Khalaf said most of the desertions occurred in Basra, where 921 police officers and soldiers were fired. The other deserters were from Kut, the capital of Wasit province and the scene of intense fighting in the days immediately after the launch of the Basra operation.

A deserter choosing not to take up arms against his own people (in this case, they are all men) is one thing. It's admirable and not really a problem. (The Iraqi military could get around it -- not saying they should -- by restationing them to areas that aren't their own regions.) But members of militias who chose to defect and turn around and fight the Iraqi forces they entered the battlefield on are another issue. (That's not making a judgement about them as people, just noting that, from the military's standpoint, if they choose to take up arms against the side they entered the battlefield -- in this case a civilian area -- with, that usually suggests something very different from laying down arms.)