April 30, 2004


First things first: Heather Mallick is an idiot. Massacring Yeats alone should be ample justification for thinking of her as one of those we guard that we do not love... Colby cites Housman as the mercenary's poet. Apt, but I still prefer a real soldier-adventurer, American Alan Seeger, who true to his word below, was killed, a soldier in a war not of his own country's making, in Flanders in 1916:

God knows 'twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear...
But I've a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.

Byron also comes to mind.

Posted by BruceR at 05:01 PM


Winning assurances that the perpetrators [of the original ambush] will be turned over remains a US goal in the Falluja talks. It is unclear whether it will be achieved: at one stage the insurgents responded with a reciprocal demand that US forces and commanders be handed over for the deaths of Iraqis in the city during the siege.

--Guardian, today

(LGF/National Review response: If only they'd listened to Rumsfeld.)

Open challenge: can anyone point to a single in-the-know source saying that the CPA/CentCom/the Pentagon/the White House were holding the Marines back from doing exactly what they wanted to in Fallujah? Just one, 'cause I haven't seen any, and yet this idea that the political leadership has wussed out and the Marines wanted to kick more ass seems to be growing by the hour.

UPDATE: A lot of my initial skepticism that Fallujah would turn out well was based in the size of the Marine force that was available. Looking at this map, you're looking at 10-11 km of frontage, working out to at least 500m of front per platoon, without ready relief, assuming a full three Marine battalions deployed... very thin gruel for a long-term urban operation. Offensive operations with that kind of force would have been extremely circumscribed against any kind of organized resistance.

Posted by BruceR at 11:40 AM


As the government conducts a major review of its military capabilities, [Richard] Clarke suggested Canada might want to scrap one or all of its three branches. "It's not necessarily the case that every member of NATO has to have a robust navy, a robust army and a robust air force," Clarke said Monday.

--Calgary Herald. Actually, most serious Canadian defence experts (yours truly is seriously unserious) believe dropping a service, or at least, dramatically scaling it back, is inevitable at this point, anyway. The safe bet (it's 3:2, but you've got to wait 10 years for the payoff) is that it will be the Air Force which goes non-combat first, like New Zealand, rather than replace the CF-18 fleet. But we'll see. We wrote about this more back in December.

Posted by BruceR at 01:55 AM


Glenn? Volokh? What are you waiting for?

Patriot Act suppresses news of challenge to Patriot Act

Posted by BruceR at 12:51 AM


At one point, the investigators say: "A CACI [mercenary company] instructor [at Abu Ghraib prison] was terminated because he allowed and/or instructed MPs who were not trained in interrogation techniques to facilitate interrogations by setting conditions which were neither authorised [nor] in accordance with applicable regulations/policy."

Colonel Jill Morgenthaler, speaking for central command, told the Guardian: "One contractor was originally included with six soldiers, accused for his treatment of the prisoners, but we had no jurisdiction over him. It was left up to the contractor [his employer] on how to deal with him."

She did not specify the accusation facing the contractor, but according to several sources with detailed knowledge of the case, he raped an Iraqi inmate in his mid-teens.

--Guardian, today. There's more:

"It's insanity," said Robert Baer, a former CIA agent, who has examined the case, and is concerned about the private contractors' free-ranging role. "These are rank amateurs and there is no legally binding law on these guys as far as I could tell. Why did they let them in the prison?"

Posted by BruceR at 12:45 AM


It is not clear whether [Marine general] Conway conveyed the terms of the deal to his superiors in Baghdad and at the Pentagon, or even to leaders of the U.S. occupation authority. One person familiar with the deal said it took senior U.S. military and civilian officials in Baghdad by surprise.

That low humming noise you're probably hearing is the sound of Clausewitz's decayed remains hitting their peak RPMs.

Still more:

A Marine officer familiar with the arrangement acknowledged that some former insurgents may be part of the force, creating the potential situation of U.S. troops having to work with people who have very recently been shooting at them.

Comic Book Guy jokes aside, this could well be a smart move on the Marines' part, but only if you ascribe to one key assumption... that the resistance in Fallujah is largely non-political, tribal, and localist, as we've argued here all along. Then it's brilliant. It gives the tribesmen still fighting the Marines an exit strategy and enough of a victory to go home with, while isolating any remaining foreign/diehard nationalist elements, whose numbers are, I've been arguing, probably pretty minimal, from their covering population. Now, if you believe there's an actual coordinated nationalist, reactionary, Sunni-based resistance focussed in Fallujah, one sponsored and aided by foreigners to boot, it's insane.

And yes, at best it is still rather like giving Capone the keys to Chicago, in this interpretation. But then, that's basically what happened with Capone in real life, too. So this could be interpreted as an acceptance of reality by the troops in the field. Whether it percolates up to the Green Zone or D.C. is another matter.

I can't frankly understand the DailyPundits of the world who have been portraying this as those Washington politicians tying the Marines' hands. They simply can't see through their own biases any more to actually read the stories coming back from Iraq. In fact, nearly every story has been hinting at the exact opposite; that the Marines have been counselling restraint since the initial ambush a month ago, and they keep getting pushed into taking more dramatic action in Fallujah by their superiors. This seems like just the latest manifestation. Me, I wouldn't dare criticize the Corps. They're there, I'm not. People should trust them to do what's right, without muttering about defeat. Maybe, just maybe, there was never an actual battle worth winning here in the first place, and it's taken a month of casualties for the Marines to convince their bosses of that. I'm not saying I know that for sure, but surely it's at the least a hypothesis worth entertaining.

Posted by BruceR at 12:35 AM

April 29, 2004


Some people are citing an Insight article, claiming some kind of WMD evidence coverup. It's bizarre... there's no evidence in the article worth noting that we didn't already hear from Kay (or in some cases, Powell), so it's hard to see the fuss now. For instance:

Near the northern Iraqi town of Bai'ji, where Saddam had built a chemical-weapons plant known to the United States from nearly 12 years of inspections, elements of the 4th Infantry Division found 55-gallon drums containing a substance identified through mass spectrometry analysis as cyclosarin - a nerve agent.

This turned out to be rocket fuel.

Again, this January, Danish forces found 120-millimeter mortar shells filled with a mysterious liquid that initially tested positive for blister agents. But subsequent tests by the United States disputed that finding. "If it wasn't a chemical agent, what was it?"

A chemical false-positive?

The Iraqis never provided any explanation of what had happened to their VX stockpiles [from the 1980s].

"The sarin produced by Iraq in the 1980s was found to have up to 40% impurities, entailing it would deteriorate within two years."

A line of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, "not fully declared at an undeclared production facility and an admission that they had tested one of their declared UAVs out to a range of 500 kilometers [311 miles], 350 kilometers [217 miles] beyond the permissible limit.

Ah yes, the drones of death. This admission relates to the matching allegation by Colin Powell, made in his now famous UN speech, that they'd detected such a flight. Model airplane, no guidance or payload, flew 6 times around an 80 km track. Very impressive from a hobbyist's point of view, militarily completely useless.

But while the president's critics and the media might plausibly hide behind ambiguity and a lack of sensational- looking finds for not reporting some discoveries, in the case of Saddam's ballistic-missile programs they have no excuse for their silence. "Where were the missiles? We found them," another senior administration official told Insight.

We? Well, the UN did, really. And they were in the process of being destroyed by UN inspectors when the US moved to war.

Everything else in the story is more false-positives, or more of those "weapons-of-mass-destruction-related program activities."

Posted by BruceR at 08:42 PM


Nice piece on Fallujah, this, by Stirling Newberry. He's a better military commentator than this gassy fool, at any rate, who continues to inexplicably get kudos for throwing impressive sounding military words together, seemingly almost at random. No, better to waste your blog time reading this guy, instead:

It is impossible to have a small force of "500", kill 600 people "most of whom are military aged males", and still have a viable resistence [sic] force that can stand off 3000 heavily armored marines backed by gunships and bombing... Note that the predictions by many that the US would be able to grind the guerillas down have been completely off the mark. If the causalty [sic] ratios presented by the US government were accurate, then these predictions of straight military victory would follow. The US numbers have the US killing at 1:100 in many cases, and at 1:20 at worst. Based on the numbers released from hospitals in Iraq, in early May I estimated that 1:6 was a better fatality ratio, and that based on the superiority of US medicine, that our casualty ratio was closer to 1:3.

In other Agonist-derived news, the U.S. army is clawing back its 105mm howitzers from ski resorts.

Posted by BruceR at 07:36 PM


The new flag is the work of an Iraqi artist resident in London called Rifat Chadirji whose design was the best of those considered. He is also the brother of Nassir al-Chaderchi, the chairman of the IGC committee charged with choosing a new flag for Iraq. "I had no idea about a competition to design the flag. My brother just called me and asked me to design a flag on behalf of the IGC. Nobody told me about a competition," Mr Chadirji told The Independent yesterday.

--Christ, even the flag competition was hopelessly corrupt.

Here's some Iraqi opinion. Here's some more.

Posted by BruceR at 07:10 PM


This is a fascinating hypothesis, true or not. But... "Mr. Hussein's seasoned military officer corps?" They're kidding, there, right?

I'm just curious... what happens when the Republican Guard general the Americans just appointed to peacekeep in Fallujah runs into the Republican Guard/M-14 officers who've been running the resistance, and who he's promised to bring to justice? They cut out and grab a beer, or what?

Ah, but if it really is Gen. Salah Abboud al-Jabouri the Americans are dealing with now, isn't that ironic? First they're trying to "decapitate" you along with the rest of the playing-cards-to-be, then they want you to fix things up in Fallujah. Sheesh, what a year he's had.

UPDATE: The name of the fellow is actually Gen. Jasim Mohamed Saleh.

Posted by BruceR at 05:52 PM

DRY GULCH, POPULATION 2,000... 1,999... 1,998

Marine Lieutenant-Colonel Brennan Byrne told reporters in Fallujah that a deal was reached under which Marines would withdraw and a newly created Iraqi force led by a former general in Saddam Hussein's army would take over security in the city of 200,000...

Heavy U.S. bombardment of the city for the past two nights, televised around the world, heightened international pressure to negotiate a truce and spare civilian casualties in the city of 300,000...

--Globe and Mail, today

Also notable:

On the southern edge of Fallujah, U.S. marines packed up Thursday, saying they had been ordered to withdraw from the industrial zone they have held throughout the siege. Bulldozers flattened a sand barrier that troops had set up.

The Marines lost at least a dozen men securing that industrial area back at the beginning of all this, recall. Take the hill, then give it up... take the hill again, then give it up... the whole thing appears to have been a tremendous waste of lives and goodwill to this point.

UPDATE: And now they're denying the whole thing.

Posted by BruceR at 05:30 PM


This is a great piece by Steyn... one of his best, recently. "The British did it better" argument re Iraq and imperialism-in-general is so obviously unsupportable by the facts of the 19th century that it should not need a refutation at all: they screwed up a lot when it was their turn, too.

Posted by BruceR at 02:42 PM


Globe and Mail, today:

Mr. El-Maati says that shortly after his arrest he placated his torturers by falsely confessing to a bomb plot targeting Ottawa, and by falsely implicating others, including [Maher] Arar...

Flit, Nov. 26:

Arar, whose name was almost certainly produced through the torture of one of the other Canadians involved, was evidently sent to Syria for ten months in a move approved at the highest level of the U.S. Justice department, in the hope he would name more names through his own torture. Unfortunately, he turned out to be innocent, so that didn't quite work out.

Sy Hersh, last July:

"Syria also provided the United States with intelligence about future Al Qaeda plans... The Syrians also helped the United States avert a suspected plot against an American target in Ottawa."

The moral of the story? El-Maati, as we said long ago, was a legit suspect. He had acted suspiciously, and his brother was on a terrorist watch list. He was picked up passing through the Middle East by the Syrians, and predictably tortured, and predictably said whatever would keep the torturers away.

The Syrians duly reported his pain-avoiding statements to American and/or Canadian authorities. The Canadians said, "hm, that's nice, call us when you have some real evidence," or words to that effect, apparently doing little more than start files on the new suspects, but they did share their files on the names named with American authorities. The Americans, when one of those names passed through New York on business, grabbed him, violated their nation's Vienna obligations by not notifying Canadian authorities of their plans, and shipped him off to the torturers.

Obviously, if names of random acquaintances screamed on the rack count as evidence of terrorism by a Canadian citizen, all of us who know or work with a Muslim are potentially suspect to similar persecution passing through the States; last I looked, that's just about everybody. But it will be deeply tragic if the problem should come to be seen as stemming somehow from "intelligence sharing;" that's a good thing, of which we need more.

No, the real worry here is that, if the Americans don't overtly disavow Justice Department overreach in this case, that kind of sharing of vital security data with other countries is just going to dry up even further, creating a larger hole for real terrorists to exploit. I sympathize with the Arar family's suit against the Canadian government and its security agencies, but I really think it's a case of looking for one's keys where the light is: the resulting chill can only make our government more reluctant to work with American agencies on terrorism, and it's hard to see that being an overall positive. Based on all the information that's come to light to date, the real fault still lies over the border.

Posted by BruceR at 11:23 AM


A Pentagon official is being investigated for trying to reverse a CPA decision to go with a "quick-fix" cellular network for Iraq police and emergency personnel. Iraq is mostly on the technically inferior GSM standard now, meaning this allegedly could have been done more cheaply and quickly using that technology, but the American consortium's man in the Pentagon was apparently pushing the CPA to take the opportunity to convert the entire country over to the Qualcomm-designed CDMA standard used in the States. All the infighting over the CPA contract seems to have led to significant delays in getting firefighters and the like the means to talk with each other in emergencies, at a time when working public emergency services would seem to be a good thing to have had over there.

"Hey, we won the war," [the investigated official] said in an interview. "Is it not in our interests to have the most advanced system that we possibly can that can then become the dominant standard in the region?"

Steven Den Beste worked for Qualcomm and helped design the first CDMA handsets.

Days since story broke that Den Beste has said anything about this: One. And counting.

(We already know what he's going to say, pretty much. Den Beste is contemptuous of GSM, which he sees as an example of European technological and political backwardness. It's just going to be interesting to see how long it's going to take him to discuss an Iraq-related issue he actually has unique expertise on.*)

*After all, he did step up to the plate with a spirited defense of cell company profit-making when they all crapped out during the big blackout last August.

UPDATE: Den Beste writes in:

Please take note of this post by me. That's from more than a year ago, and in that article I said that Iraq should keep using GSM. Another point: I was not involved in designing "the first CDMA handsets". Actually, Qualcomm was well into development of its third major generation of handsets when I started working there. They had been selling handsets commercially for about five years at that point.

So what the hell was your point, BruceR? Okay, I was obviously too oblique when I wrote this earlier this morning. My point, if I had one, is that blogger expertise and ethics are an interesting thing. The closer we are to a story as people, the more interesting and valuable our opinion is. But there's a limit beyond which a story is too close, that for various reasons (privacy, work concerns, etc.) the specific blogger in question can no longer address, even when that's when we most want them to. There's sort of a "middle distance" between the limit of ethical restraint and the limit of useful knowledge, where the most useful blogposts lie.

A lawyer-blogger talking about, say, the military, risks being uninformed and useless. He'd be really informed on his own court cases, but obviously he can't talk about those. The interesting lawyer-blogger posts are those in between, in that middle distance where he knows more than, well, us, but less than the actual participants.

This is true on Flit, as well, of course. There are lots of things I can't or won't write about, because I'm too close to them. There are lots of other things I'm wholly unqualified to write about. It's only in that middle distance that I'm valuable, if ever.

You see this in another way... when you tune into a blog you expect to be covering something you've read about, and they're not. I feel compelled, for instance, to write about Canadian defence-related stories, even if they don't hold any personal interest for me, because I suspect at least some people would raise eyebrows at my silence if I did not. You can't tell otherwise whether a person is not blogging for ethical exclusion reasons, or because he finds the facts simply uncomfortable to relate. Silence, on a blog, speaks volumes.

I was stewing over this exact issue last night, largely because of a couple emails that came after my military medals post below, that asked, in effect, "you don't know American military stuff, so shut up." Aside from the fact that American reservist Phil Carter basically said exactly what I said on his blog today, in a more eloquent fashion mind you, those emails rankled for some reason. If it's in that middle distance I outlined above, so that it's safe to talk about, that means I'm going to be less than perfectly informed about it. Bloggers, in other words, can only ever be half-informed about what they write, definitionally.

Regular journalists have all kinds of conflict-of-interest rules that are meant to prevent them from getting too close to a story. Bloggers, on the other hand, have to self-police. I was genuinely curious on the subway in this morning how Den Beste, who, all the recent vitriol on both sides aside, remains a must-read for me on such matters, would deal with this one, a story which arguably could have been too close for his blogging comfort. I'm happy (and a little impressed) that he and other bloggers can still be comfortable giving us their own opinion about the current affairs affecting their own chosen livelihoods this way. If my post above came across as overly snarky or like I was suggesting Den Beste has become some kind of industry apologist, it's me who should apologize. Clearly, he's not.

Posted by BruceR at 10:44 AM

April 28, 2004


Take it as granted that giving Iraq a new flag right now was a dumb idea. In case you're interested, here is a good history on what the flag of Iraq looked like prior to the 1963 Baathist redesign. You'll note they've kept the Kurdish yellow, but precious little else. Seems to me they could have just gone back to one of those, but what would I know?
Posted by BruceR at 10:27 AM

April 27, 2004


Okay, to avoid any further confusion on the Kerry medals flap.

In military usage, the words "medal" and "decoration" are often used interchangeably, but strictly speaking, military awards come in three general categories:

1) Decorations: awards for gallantry, exceptional service, etc. Like the Silver Star or Purple Heart in the American service, and the Victoria Cross in others.
2) Medals (also "Service Medals"): awards recognizing a particular kind of service, in a particular theatre for instance, or in the Commonwealth armies, to celebrate a national anniversary of some kind. UN or NATO peacekeeping participants will collect medals, as well. The distinguishing feature is that, unlike decorations, medals are generally bestowed on anyone who shows up, more or less. The American military generally bestows rather more of these than Commonwealth armies.
3) Orders: generally found only in Commonwealth armies, membership in certain royal or national orders (in the sense of a group of distinguished personages) is also noted by the bestowing of a service award. These generally take precedence over all but the highest decorations (they're worn on the right of the row, in other words). The Canadian equivalent is the Order of Canada.

The line between a "medal," "order" and a "decoration" can be fuzzy... the British Distinguished Service Order is, strictly speaking, a decoration. Even more confusingly, the DSO also has, for lesser achievement, a matching medal, the Distinguished Service Medal... which is also, strictly speaking, a decoration. The Canadian Forces Decoration (CD), the most common Canadian military service award, is, technically, a medal.

Confused yet?

Medals/decorations/orders are normally only worn on the soldier's full dress uniform. Soldiers in most Western armies, when they receive a medal of any kind, also receive a matching "service ribbon," with colours matching the ribbon of the medal itself. Some armies also allow the wearing of a matching "miniature." Service ribbons are generally worn when in less-than-full-dress uniform ("service dress"), while miniatures are only worn on "mess dress" (the military equivalent of a tuxedo) or civilian formal wear.

A Canadian Forces officer has thus at least four different types of uniform, with matching medals, to wear as appropriate. In addition to full, mess, and service dress, each with its own distinctive service awards, there is also combat dress (now generally a camouflage uniform of some kind), obviously, no medals are worn at all on that. For formal occasions such as parades, full dress (medals) may be worn; service dress (ribbons) is in between (something like office wear). Other armies are generally similar.

It is not unusual, since they are the same award in a different form, to use "medal" in a colloquial sense to refer to either medal, ribbon, or miniature. Thus, to a soldier, it made total sense for Kerry to say he threw his "medals" over a fence 30 years ago, when he meant his service ribbons, but hang onto and frame his (actual) medals. On the related problem, his inability to clearly explain himself on this matter (or any other, as far as I can tell) hangs another tale, but the problem on this particular issue seems to be that same incoherence, rather than any duplicity.

UPDATE: A Flitters correspondent points out the United States military do award some ribbons without matching medals. They're relatively unique in this, as far as I can tell; it's not a Commonwealth practice (which, as mentioned, generally bestow far fewer service awards.)

Posted by BruceR at 05:13 PM

April 23, 2004


Victor Davis Hanson, feeling his oats:

"Any fool who names his troops "Mahdists" is sorely misinformed about the fate of the final resting place of the Great Mahdi, the couplets of Hilaire Beloc [sic], and what happened to thousands of Mahdist zealots at Omdurman."

1) "Mahdi" translates most closely as "Saviour" or "Messiah," or, I suppose, "Christ." You know, that's the great thing about Christianity... after we saw the way Jesus got strung up, all Christians everywhere decided from that point on never to use religious symbology in military contexts ever, ever again. Otherwise, we'd probably have done something crazy, like calling our military actions a "crusade" or give out medals shaped like crosses, or have unit padres, or something like that. Boy, would we have looked silly.

2) Shiite Muslims are more apocalyptic than their Sunni brethren; they're kind of like Christians that way. They believe their actual, physical Mahdi is coming back some day, whereas Sunnis use the word in a more abstract, "small-m" sense. If Hanson stopped to think for more than a second, surely he'd remember that the Mahdi he's referring to was Sunni. You can forgive the Shiites for not being too concerned how a self-proclaimed mahdi of the Sunnis met his end in Sudan a century or so ago, any more than current evangelical Protestants might lose a lot of sleep over the fact that a Catholic priest named Louis Riel thought he was the Second Coming around the same time. (He was apparently mistaken.)

Calling your men an "Army of the Saviour" (Salvation Army?) is certainly a presumptuous act, but in a devout religious leader, hardly unexpected. In this case, Hanson's constant need to talk down to his crowd by throwing in one more witty-obscure historical reference actually makes him look like a bit of a dolt. Isn't the first time.

PS: The Belloc couplet Hanson is referring to is, of course, "Whatever happens, we have got/The Maxim Gun and they [the Mahdists] have not." It's worth noting that, after shortly reclaiming Sudan from the British, the Sudanese Mahdi died peacefully (well, of typhus, anyway) as the ruler of a free country, which would remain so for another 13 years before the British reconquest. Hanson's "final resting place" crack refers to the British disinterment and desecration of his corpse after their return... it was hacked up and the pieces thrown in the Nile. No one's quite sure what became of the skull...

PPS: "Mahdist zealots?" (Think about it for a sec.)

Posted by BruceR at 05:26 PM

April 22, 2004


The newly redesigned Poor Man reminds us that Canada has once again shifted into the plus-column of Iraq coalition partners, despite vehement official government opposition to the war.

As opposed to the war itself, where some Canadian exchange officers got swept up in the deployment, this time it's largely because the current list is a list of "partners in the war on terror", or more specifically, countries with personnel under control of U.S. Central Command at the present time. One of the better current lists is here.

Canada's current contribution of 31 personnel comprises the NCCIS Squadron, which currently handles communications between Canadian forces abroad and the national headquarters. It's mostly based in Canada and/or Tampa, actually. For some reason, though, we keep slipping onto that Iraq list as the "35th country," in addition to the U.S. and Britain.

There's other little exaggerations here and there, for instance the inclusion of 650 Australians that are not actually in Iraq that we noted previously.

Other coalition mini-partner news:
*Moldova's 40-odd troops left last month as planned, but the country is sending a contingent of 12 back, presumably after June 30, for a six-month stint.
*Macedonia's 30-man Special Forces platoon is sticking on until at least end of June;
*Kazakhstan's 30-odd platoon, working with the Ukrainians, is withdrawing at the end of May as scheduled, without replacement;
*Estonia, with 55, is in for at least another year;
*New Zealand, which has 60 engineers that just arrived in March and are serving with the Brits, has said they will pull out in September without immediate replacement;
*Georgia's contingent is actually steadily growing;
*So is Albania's.

Posted by BruceR at 03:19 PM


Shorter Trent Telenko: Re-electing Bush will inevitably lead to the invasion of Iran.

He sees this as a good thing.

Posted by BruceR at 09:56 AM

April 21, 2004


Ah, let them reuse the aircraft carrier graphic, Patrick. It's never going to see the light of day anyway: the only question is how many billions will be spent on the whole boondoggle first.

Posted by BruceR at 01:23 PM


I may not like civilian attorneys-general and solicitors-general (and postmasters-general, for that matter) being addressed as "General" personally, but it's hard to see the lexicographical argument why they shouldn't.

Easterbrook argues that "general" is just a modifier, in the sense of "non-specific", and is not intended to connote rank. He is apparently unaware that, in the case of military rank, that is the case as well. Because you see "General", the military rank, is really an abbreviation of the 15th-16th century term "Captain-General", meaning senior of all the king's captains, in the same way that "Attorney-General" is the senior of all royal attorneys. (Both terms arose around the same time, and it's hard to say which came first, but "General" only began being used by as a stand-alone word designating a specific rank around 1700, over 200 years after Britain's first "attorney-general" was appointed.

So at the very least Easterbrook's counterexample "Central Tenet" makes no sense. The better argument would be to ask why we do not refer to General Annan of the United Nations.

Posted by BruceR at 12:52 PM

April 19, 2004


For posterity, some collected correspondence with yet another thin-skinned warblogger, evidently allowing his despondence over Iraq to interfere with normal human courtesy:

Last week, I found this deeply buried in a response to a commenter on Tacitus' own blog:

I just had a long argument with Jim Henley on this one (ed note: that the Sadrists, Hezbollah, the "Baathists" and Sunni insurgents are all working together), in which he ended up basically giving up, because the facts were pretty stark. Short version: the President [Bush] is right, you're wrong.

That didn't sound right to me, so I asked Jim:

You gave up, did you?

Henley responded:

No, it's one of those blog things. You know, you mean to get back to it at some point? I haven't. This was before the Sadrists were a force, and was basically the old "Are Israel and America's enemies an indivisible union?" question. That is, are Hezbollah and Hamas the same kind of threat to the US as Al Qaeda?

To which I responded, cc'ing to Tacitus:

Ah, well then he's just horribly misquoting you. Noted.

Tac's response #1, to both of us:

To misquote, you first have to quote. Think it over, Bruce. Jim, I assumed you'd just walked away from this one (as I recall, the issue was whether those groups were a)working together and b)part of the same overall threat, not whether they were relatively equal in immediate threat). If not, it would be worth continuing -- particularly the part in which we got down into basic questions of a just foreign policy.

My reply:

Your (deserved) snarkiness towards me aside, if I were Mr. Henley, I'd say in order to be taken seriously on an issue like justice, one must first establish himself as a just man. Telling your buddies when one of them is out of the room that "I kicked that guy's ass yesterday" is as dishonourable in this sphere as it is in the real one. Tell me, if I hadn't first, would you have emailed the guy to tell him what you were saying about him, behind his back? Think it over, "Tac."

His response:

A few things:
1) You're not Jim Henley.
2) He's not, generally, "out of the room," nor do we have anything approaching an acrimonious relationship.
3) The assumption of some sort of code of honor whereby critiques* must be cleared via email before public posting is wholly illusory.
I guess I'd respect this more if you really were some sort of earnest defender of Henley, as opposed to a fellow looking for a gotcha moment. But that's not the case.

My response to that:

1) I never said anything about "before," did I? You're the one doing the assuming there. A courtesy note after the fact: "Hey, Jim, your name came up," so at least he had the opportunity to respond in thread if he wished to, would have been in order. As it stands, it just looks like you're puffing yourself up there, posing with a fish you didn't land. ("Even the great Jim Henley admitted defeat to me in this argument, so I don't feel the need to redebate it with any of you lesser beings.")
2) I expect the same honour codes that I apply to myself and to others in the real world to generally apply online. I'm oldfashioned that way; but the alternative is the coarsening of online discourse past utility.
3) You have no idea what my relationship is with Jim, and I'd ask you not to presume. But I don't do gotchas. You disparaged a friend of mine, in his presumed absence, in a public forum; if it had been a military drinking establishment I'd have called you outside, as I would have expected done to me if I had been the offender. Since you claim to be familiar with that milieu, I wonder at your evident surprise.

Tacitus' final response:

Eh. The charitable take on this is that you're obviously intent on indulging in a level of vicarious indignation that Henley himself (who is quite aware that I consider myself to have prevailed on the merits of the argument in question) doesn't appear to be taking. Given that he's an adult and fairly capable of sticking up for himself, I think it's time your faux nobility received the attention it deserves: a spot in the Junk Senders filter.

Apparently it is possible to be a poser and a wanker at the same time. Noted.

It does show, however, the steady-but-recently-increasing coarseness of interactions on the part of the major war-related webloggers that should frankly be souring people on the long term prospects of the whole medium for promoting civil discourse. It's all just a little too yappy for most peoples' tastes, and it's hard to see most grownups not concluding all the pseudonymous name-calling as being beneath them. They're probably right.

*Note how the original name-taking-in-vain on Tacitus' part turns into a "critique" of Henley in his mind. You know, one of those secret, behind-the-back critiques.

Posted by BruceR at 08:31 PM


One source I've found increasingly valuable in understanding Iraq politics since the war is University of Haifa professor Amatzia Baram, who has written some really in-depth analysis of tribal power structures in Iraq. Here's a good one. Here's another.

Posted by BruceR at 07:09 PM


Government contracting officials and company executives concede that private guards have every right to abandon their posts if they deem the situation too unsafe. They are not subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, nor can they be prosecuted under civil laws or declared AWOL.

--From a must-read New York Times article, today.

Posted by BruceR at 12:20 PM

April 16, 2004


Den Beste comments on my RAAF entry, below.

For the record, here's a summary of the original piece in French that says what the French did in Afghanistan:

Sans en préciser le nombre, les responsables militaires français conviennent qu'ils ont été amenés à refuser certains des bombardements qu'on leur avait demandé d'exécuter, en raison de divergences d'appréciation avec les Américains sur l'impact potentiel de ces missions.

The BBC translated this, not incorrectly, as:

"...the French and Americans had a difference of opinion over some bombing missions because of the risk to the civilian population."

Den Beste said at the time:

I read this and went cold. It doesn't matter why; the French were given an order and refused to follow it... American men could have died. Apparently Paris doesn't care about that.

There's a certain amount of inference, there, about exactly what happened from a Forward Air Control perspective, surely. Did the French refuse missions at the point of weapons release, or earlier? We don't know. Was their belief that there was a risk to civilians justified, or not? We don't know. Was the decision a pilot's, or a politician's, or someone in between? We don't know. All we have is the quotes above to base the whole French air force perfidy argument on; everything else is inference.

Fast forward a couple years. Den Beste, today:

The French squadron command refused to fly major missions against certain targets because the French themselves disagreed with the strategic decision to bomb those areas. Australian pilots refused to drop their bombs because they judged there was too great a risk that the bombs would strike the wrong things.

Now, perhaps Den Beste knows something he hasn't linked to, in which case I will happily correct the record. But the original quote in French above says nothing about squadron commands, and nothing about strategic decisions. As worded, it could even very well refer to exactly the same circumstances as the Australian refusal: that based on the situation on the ground that we are not equipped to judge now, a pilot or controller decided to err on the side of caution.

Of course that's what air force pilots are supposed to do. That's not the point. The question is, given only that French quote at the top of the page to go on, why did we then assume French perfidy, and now Australian uprightness?

NOTE: Here's another take on the same incident. The six Manas-based Mirage 2000s flew 1200 sorties in six months between March and October 2002: an average of more than one per day per plane. (Super Etendards were also flying in from the Indian Ocean at the time.)

Posted by BruceR at 04:33 PM


Mr. Speaker, 60 years ago, on June 6, 1944, the Third Canadian Division landed on Juno Beach [Normandy] and, with their courage, helped to free a continent and defeat a tyrant. Many died fighting for a peace they would not see and a future they would not know. To preserve the memory and to tell the story of what Canadians did that day, this budget provides a $1.5-million contribution to the Juno Beach Centre at Courseulles-sur-Mer in Normandy.

--Finance Minister Ralph Goodale, March 23

Sixty years ago, Canadians were working alongside their British and American allies planning for the invasion of Norway and the liberation of Europe... Today, it is every bit as important that Canada step forward – just as we did during the invasion of Norway.

--Paul Martin, April 14

I'm thinking $1.5 million may not be enough, Ralph. Also, the PM needs a bigger font on his cue cards. (Whatever else I've said about Bush, at least his office has so far left the "Caucus" mistake in the web version honestly, unlike their counterparts here.)

Posted by BruceR at 01:13 PM


"Ora vi faccio vedere come muore un Italiano!"

--Seemed only appropriate to put soon-to-be-famous last words from a particularly brave soldier-for-hire in the right language.

Posted by BruceR at 12:22 PM


"I only have one rule!" he shouts. "Everyone fights! No one quits!" That sounded more like two rules to me.

--from Gary Farber's favourite Starship Troopers review.

Posted by BruceR at 12:07 AM

April 15, 2004


Allies. They suck:

Australia's F/A-18 pilots defied the orders of American commanders and refused to drop their bombs on up to 40 missions during the invasion of Iraq, it can now be revealed.

Sydney Morning-Herald, a month ago. I seem to remember France was cast into the jingopundits' outer darkness in part because their pilots did this once or twice in Afghanistan. Strangely however, not even Aussie Tim Blair had anything to say about this one. Isn't that odd?

Posted by BruceR at 01:22 PM

April 14, 2004


I'm sorry, I didn't want to say anything obvious, because I thought it would look like Yank-bashing, but I can resist no longer: speaking as a both-sides-of-the-scrum veteran myself, the Bush appearance last night was the worst press conference appearance by a national leader I have ever seen (and I lived through the Chretien years!). I could see someone thinking that was the best they could expect from their guy, but anyone who truly believes that scrum was an effective communications opportunity is clearly in a different universe from mine.

My favourite mistake, to quote Ms. Crow, the point where I actually started giggling, was when Bush (go now, the transcript's not fixed up for posterity yet) said, on why he didn't invade Afghanistan right away:

It would have been awfully hard to do, as well, by the way -- we would have had to -- we hadn't got our relationship right with Pakistan yet. The Caucus area would have been very difficult from which to base. It just seemed an impractical strategy at the time, and frankly, I didn't contemplate it.

Okay, One, It's "Caucasus."
Two, The Caucasus is nowhere near Afghanistan.

Posted by BruceR at 06:45 PM


Interesting. The Prime Minister's big speech on defence managed to recap everything that has been already announced over the last six months, leave out the one piece of news everybody expected, and put in an unanticipated perk for soldiers.

First off, all the stuff we already knew about:
--continuing the Afghan mission at battalion-strength until mid-2005 (knew it months ago);
--purchasing replacement Search and Rescue aircraft (announced last month in the budget);
--continuing to fund the navy's decade-long quixotic quest to create an all-in-one logistics vessel, that merges the navy's need for deepwater resupply and the army's need for troop lift (can't be done, but we heard today they'd keep trying; Gordius, call your office);
--the defence policy review that was promised years ago by his predecessor.
--the tax break for Canadian soldiers overseas that was announced in the budget, with the added twist that it was going to be extended to "medium intensity" missions (ie, Bosnia and Haiti) as well as Afghan duty. Nice fillip on the PM's part, that.

But where, oh where was the Mobile Gun System announcement that was expected? When Martin came into office, recall, he froze capital spending, which stopped the project to replace Canadian tanks with 105mm wheeled vehicles. The Globe, going into the announcement, even said this would be the big news today. But nothing. Is DND souring on the MGS?

UPDATE: Since I'm linking to the CASR site, here's two other interesting recent reads over there: a new idea for giving Canada and coalition partners access to strategic airlift; and a realistic assessment of the threat of terrorist nukes.

SPOKE-TOO-SOON UPDATE: The text of the speech is up now here. And sure enough, there's the MGS reference: The replacement of our tanks by the mobile gun system is a good example - of the transformation from heavy and largely unusable capacity to the lighter, more mobile capabilities that are required within the new strategic environment. As I noted, it didn't make the first press release, for some reason, but it did make a second release, issued overnight.

Posted by BruceR at 06:06 PM


Mrs. Bush applauds her special guest, Dr. Adnan Pachachi, President of the Iraqi Governing Council, during President Bush's State of the Union Address at the U.S. Capitol Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2004. "Sir, America stands with you and the Iraqi people as you build a free and peaceful nation," said the President in his acknowledgement of Dr. Pachachi.

--Photo caption, Whitehouse.gov

It is not right to punish all the people of Falluja, and we consider these operations by the Americans unacceptable and illegal.

--Adnan Pachachi, last weekend.

Posted by BruceR at 05:42 PM


Don't you worry, um, Tahir Yuldashev, maybe they didn't catch you this time live on CNN, but they'll catch you some day. And when they do, we still won't have a clue who you are.

Posted by BruceR at 05:29 PM


Scenes from Fallujah:

That same day, Brent Bourgeois, a 20-year-old lance corporal from Kenner, La., said he had seen an American helicopter fire a missile at a man with a slingshot.

"Crazy, huh?" the corporal said...

Colonel Baggott said the insurgents were increasingly well organized. But when asked if he knew who the insurgents were, which groups or alliances, he paused for a moment.

"We don't," he said.

New York Times today. I'm beginning to believe I overestimated the much-touted Marine mastery of modern peacemaking doctrine.

Posted by BruceR at 05:05 PM


Many of the wounded were brought in by the muj and they stood around openly conversing with doctors and others. They conferred together about logistical questions; not once did I see the muj threatening people with the ubiquitous Kalashnikovs.

Eyewitness blogger account from the other side in Fallujah. The usual warnings apply.

Posted by BruceR at 03:36 PM


"As Brig Gen Mark Kimmitt, the deputy director of U.S. military operations in Iraq, was speaking by phone on al-Jazeera and insisting that American forces declared a unilateral ceasefire in Fallujah, the channel was airing live images of continued air raids by F16 fighter jets on residential neighborhoods of the town."

--Rule no. 1 of PR: don't phone in live to a hostile TV station. (From Unfair Witness, which also passes on the piece of news that Gen. Kimmitt is being called "Kimmitt the Frog" by Iraqis.)

Posted by BruceR at 02:23 PM


"There was a--nobody in our government, at least, and I don't think the prior government, could envision flying airplanes into buildings on such a massive scale."

--George Bush, last night

The former FBI chief also acknowledged that steps were taken to shield the White House, the 2000 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics and meetings of world leaders from possible attacks by terrorists using a hijacked plane as a missile.

--Globe and Mail, today

At least five months before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, U.S. air defence planners proposed a war-game situation in which a terrorist group hijacked an airliner and flew it into the Pentagon...

--Globe, also today

Posted by BruceR at 01:39 PM


Juan Cole was doing so well in this entry on the Bush presser, and then he has to go and tell an out-and-out objectively-pro-Saddam untruth, that is certain to lead a large number of people to discount his analysis, his blog, and him entirely. The peril of blogger overreach:

Saddam Hussein never gave any real support to the Palestinian cause, and he did not pay suicide bombers to blow themselves up. It is alleged that he funneled money to the orphans of such suicide bombers, but I have never seen any documentation for the claim. Supporting orphans is in any case not the same as funding terrorism.

Ken Layne, who had a lot to do with the takeoff of political blogging in America and deserves a modicum of respect for that, effectively tied together the "documentation" on this issue long ago. Go back and read it... most of the links are still good.

UPDATE: Ironically, Paul McGeough, the Australian reporter who documented the Iraqi payments to the families of suicide bombers, has since moved on to other venues... most recently being threatened with death by an unhinged American soldier in Baghdad.

Posted by BruceR at 01:27 PM

April 13, 2004


Niall Ferguson is absolutely right. How much have any of us amateur pundits read into the 1920 Iraq Revolt? Not enough, anyway.

Posted by BruceR at 08:06 PM


Helene Scherrer names her price, and apparently it's half an hour hanging out in the Green Room with McLachlan and Furtado*.

...the new federal Heritage Minister has promised to punish music file sharers. ''We are going to make sure that downloading stays illegal,'' said Helene Scherrer, a rookie Quebec MP sworn in as minister last December... On April 4, Ms. Schérrèr attended the Juno Awards in Edmonton and spent much of the time in meetings with music industry officials. "Everybody was so worried," she said after the event.

*It should go without saying that would also be MY price.

Posted by BruceR at 10:17 AM


Listened to Leonard Cohen's "Coming Back to You" on the way in. Great song... the whole thing's done in an near-infrasonic mutter, so basso only one of Barbara Gowdy's elephants* could fully appreciate it. When you sing it to yourself, you have to fight the urge to do a Jennifer Warnes and inject, you know, melody in there... but no, you must resist:

There are many in your life
And many still to be
Since you are a shining light
There's many that you'll see
But I have to deal with envy
When you choose the precious few
Who've left their pride on the other side of
Coming back to you

Even in your arms I know
I'll never get it right
Even when you bend to give me
Comfort in the night
I've got to have your word on this
Or none of it is true
And all I've said was just instead of
Coming back to you

That means more to me now then it did back when. So I'm making this Leonard Cohen week on Flit. Enjoy.

*(CanLit injoke, for those of a certain age: to fully appreciate it, you must have both read Gowdy's "The White Bone" about anthropomorphized sex-obsessed pachyderms, and have seen the then-famous Imprint interview of Cohen by Gowdy, which at the time was the sexiest 10 minutes ever seen on TV Ontario, with Gowdy visibly on the prowl for the old Buddhist. I guess she figured it was public television, so no one would ever see her make a fool of herself, but it was still something to see.)

Posted by BruceR at 10:13 AM


From the Fezzik-I-do-not-think-that-word-means-what-you-think-it-means Department:

"Over the years, Ms. Williams said, [Vancouver nudists'] Wreck Beach has become a main draw for naturalists from all over the world."

--Globe and Mail, today. Insert your own clever "stalking the elusive woodpecker" joke, oh, anywhere here.

Posted by BruceR at 10:03 AM

April 12, 2004


There's a nice little DDoS attack going around, that has gotten very little publicity so far, for whatever reason. I wouldn't even be surprised if Atrios' problems today have a little to do with it. It slowed down my office network today, a tad, and I've seen it take a couple major websites down... it's an exploit of known vulnerabilities in Cisco switches. One of them is their switches apparently can be shut down simply by hammering port 80 traffic at them... . There's some more info here if you suspect it might be happening to you. Can't say why it's not getting more play than it has... I'd rate it far more serious if you're a subject of an attack than many of the recent virus alarms that got to the front pages... I suspect people are reticent to admit they've got a vulnerability and prompt still more hacker-poking. If this one hits you during the business day, you might as well send everyone off for an extended lunch, or home, cause it's gonna take a while.

Four out of five switches on the Internet were made by Cisco, by the way. And I've heard very little on criminal investigation of the attackers... nice for the technology press to keep us up to speed and all... I guess even though, with a little more organization and malice on their part, they could have conceivably paralysed electronic communications across a whole continent or two, this one was just too hard to explain, so it didn't warrant public warnings the way, say, "don't open yet another stupid attachment!" does every week or two now.

Posted by BruceR at 10:39 PM


The Poor Man is making fun of me, so I suppose I had better elucidate. Given all the givens in that post below, what would be a means of calming things down and bringing Iraq back to at least semi-independence? And what, if any role, could soldiers for hire have to play? (Long post.)

1) First off, someone's probably got to throw water on the current situation with regard to the Mullah Sadr. Saying the fellow's only options are being "killed or captured" does not encourage a negotiating frame of mind. He's firmly ensconced in Najaf, he's not coming out, and every Shiite in the world is at least moderately alarmed at the thought of replaying Fallujah in their holiest city. Sistani is reportedly even about to issue a fatwa about Americans coming into Najaf in pursuit of the Sadrists... Sadr's down the rabbit hole, and he's only coming out when Sistani gets every last thing he wants from the CPA. That in turn would probably compromise American freedom of movement a little too much for comfort. Contrary to their BIG words, they seem to have a negotiating channel open to Sadr now if they've gotten the police stations back ("Give us back the jails so we can imprison you in one of them later?"); they should just let those talks drag on now, for a while, to let things cool, and tone down the "come out with your hands up" stuff in their public pronouncements.

2) Fallujah's resistance will end when it ends. Even after it ends, it will lock up a brigade of American forces semi-permanently, and there will be a constant sputtering of violence against them. There's no getting around it; the Americans need that highway through the city centre to stay open. It's just going to cost more troops than they have easily to hand in the interim.

3) The June 30 fake date should probably be called off, with or without the consent of the United Nations. It should be immediately replaced with a call for municipal and provincial elections in all 18 provinces, as soon as practicable, and no more than a couple months after the former handover date. National elections and further ratification of the "transitional administrative law" should be postponed indefinitely for now. The CPA/IGC should find a way to handover to itself as the interim body, perhaps with an American president and an Iraqi executive council/cabinet, with a PM chosen by council ballot and accountable by confidence motion.

4) The one thing that should happen on June 30 is a couple key ministries should be handed off to Iraqi ministers, with seats in the executive chamber. One of those should probably be the ministry for internal security.

5) An article cited below mentioned how the soldiers-for-hire in Iraq are banding together to share intelligence, and also that they more or less follow CPA rules already about what kinds of weapons they're allowed to have. This should be encouraged. There should be a internal-security-run registry for all such groups, and clear operating rules promulgated (say, for any group over a dozen strong; Blackwater has over 400 operatives), with regard to conduct around Iraqi civilians, intelligence sharing and cooperation with the U.S. military, and so on. (The biggest unrecognized problem with the Fallujah ambush was that, unlike the ambush of a regular military unit, there's no obligation by private military men to share lessons learned with the broader military... if contractors are successfully attacked with some new tactic, the chances of the military unit down the road finding out about it before they're attacked the same way are apparently rather slim right now.) The new state of Iraq can share its monopoly of force around a little, but it can't abandon it this way. Having armed men answerable to no Iraqi or U.S. law, or civilian/military command, running around is deeply Hobbesian, and threatens to strangle the new Iraq in its crib, sooner or later.

6) Contrary to Barry McCaffrey's argument today, the U.S. military should drop its efforts to train Iraqi internal security troops, and relinquish formal command to the civilian ministry as soon as possible. Having a few adjunct advisors is one thing, but the Iraqi military units assembled need a clear reporting line to their own people. Doing so brings them closer to a proper and lasting Status of Forces Agreement.

7) There's no reason only guerillas should flow into Iraq. As soon as possible after June 30, the Iraqi internal security ministry should announce the creation of an Iraqi Foreign Legion of their own, to recruit Muslims to the cause of promoting an independent Iraqi state. Training should be by private contractor... time to start the hearts and minds war again.

8) The Americans should do Iraqification right... turning their weapons to point toward neighbouring states, and having as their first priority securing the borders against foreign support. Obviously, this is a long-term objective; but the Americans should announce a plan to turn over all 18 provinces, a province at a time, if need be. The internal security ministry should assign the forces it sees fit, as they come on line, incorporating already dominant military forces (such as the Peshmerga) where that's appropriate, and standing up new organizations when it's not. All forces not considered part of the central, nation-wide military structure (the Foreign Legion and a couple Iraq-recruited brigades, the interim President's Blackwater security detail) should agree to be tied for deployment purposes to their own province, alone. America would continue to control its 11 new superbases, have total air and naval control, etc. etc.

9) The Iraqi ministry would have considerable latitude on how security in each province is arrived at. Mercenaries, local Iraqis trained by a merc cadre, side agreements with the non-American occupiers to stay on a while, what have you. Handover of all 18 provinces would likely take two years or more... there's no rush, and lots of money. The point is there has to be a universally understood military handover plan paralleling the concurrent political handover.

Everything doesn't have to happen on the same day, but Iraqis need to see the process in action. The more violent provinces would be handed over last, providing a minor incentive for all parties. Maybe in a hard-to-control province, like Anbar, you could even revive the American militia levee system, with the local district choosing some of their own senior officers, ratified annually: the military organization doesn't have to be optimized for battlefield effectiveness, so much as be a new font of civic self-respect created with an eye to who holds the local power, and who won't surrender that power to insurgents lightly. (It's also good democracy training.) Absent a parallel political process (as in Afghanistan) this could lead to warlordism, true, so accountability mechanisms would have to be built in from the outset, there... in the American militia example, this was generally handled by removing militia leaders from operational command, without revoking their elected title; worked quite well at that. Or in a more peaceful province, a soldier-for-hire cadre organization, hired by the central government, could attract and build up an Iraqi civil defence organization around it... similar to what happened in India in the 1600s. There's obviously ample excess military talent available to serve in Iraq at the moment... that needs to be turned around into a force multiplier, not a group that gets itself into trouble and forces the Americans to react, as in Fallujah. Given a choice between them spending their time escorting officer's mess kitchen stoves, as at Fallujah, and training Iraqi soldiers, the two military agencies, public and private, should probably switch missions. The Kurdish peshmerga you could just ratify in place (their pay's ultimately coming from the centre, so they'd have some reason to accede).

Response to another Fallujah situation would be tiered-response: first the local provincial troops and police, such as they are, or if they're part of the problem, then the central Iraqi military organization, with the ability to appeal for American intervention before they're in real trouble. (The Americans would retain at a minimum the right to defend their own bases, and chase foreign terrorists wherever they roam.)

More than anything right now, the Americans need to be seen as acting in support of nascent Iraqi national stability... right now they seem to be the ones undercutting the local Iraqi authorities (the IGC, the police) they themselves set up by putting them in impossible "us or them" situations. The American military should probably keep training and using a smaller number of Tiger Scouts for its own purposes, but otherwise get out of the game of making people choose between loyalty to the U.S. and loyalty to Iraq.

I realize the military program above sounds a lot like Vietnamization. It's important to remember the differences as well as the similarities with Vietnam, though. The Vietnamese occupation failed because there was no political liberation process to go with the military disengagement. At the end, the South Vietnamese could look forward to the Americans being gone, and their American-appointed dictator still in power. This time around, there's a political plan (of sorts) but no clearly articulated military disengagement plan (there certainly is one, it's just not clearly articulated... otherwise you still wouldn't have people saying the military's pulling out June 30). For this to work, both must happen in parallel. But what's really needed is communication, and explanation. President Bush seems very handy with the platitude, but at this point people want to hear and comprehend a plan. Call that an "exit strategy," if you must; but it's a need that has yet to be met. Either that's because the American leadership doesn't understand that void exists, or, worse, may have nothing to fill it with.

Posted by BruceR at 09:47 PM


Nearly forgot... since Carter has fessed up, I suppose I had better, too. I thought, and said, the Marines' approach to Falluja would be more subtle, and trade off time (which really, let's face it, they have a lot of, once you stop believing June 30 is going to change anything substantial) for intel, or at the very least would wait for a more propitious moment than in the midst of a confrontation with the Sadrists. I even criticized another blogger who thought it would be more of a "terrible swift sword" approach... he's since said it was less extreme than he expected at first, too, so I suppose we're both hedging toward each other. (Still, I'd have to say he was more right than I was.)

So I was wrong on that: that much is clear. Whether the Fallujah operation unfolded in line with the commander's intent, or took a curve when it came in contact with the enemy, is still hard to make out. But they certainly did carry on after things got serious with less concern about the whole thing being perceived as punitive than I had expected.

The manner of death for the four soldiers-for-hire certainly had a larger impact than many non-Americans suspected. Using mercenaries and their ilk only makes sense if they are in some ways less valuable than trained soldiers. Traditionally, that's been in the area of national morale, and the effect soldier deaths will have on it. The British and French have paid for and lost uncountable mercs in Africa over the decades, but so long as no actual national forces were involved, it was possible to engage in all kinds of proxy conflict. That doesn't seem to be possible for American "contractors" in Iraq.

On the other hand, there certainly hasn't been any solid indication of "actionable intelligence" on the Marines' part going in... no perp names leaked to the local press, and so forth... given that finding those behind the attack on the "contractors" is the ostensible reason for this, it's notable that the Americans have yet to identify any of those individuals by name. Yes, it was expected they wouldn't deliberately demonize them, to avoid the creation of new heroes... but contrast it to the situation with the Shias, where a patient newsreader by now could surely have put together their own orgchart of the senior Sadrist leadership. In Fallujah by contrast, nothing, suggesting they really haven't a schmick. They'll probably get one, of course, after they sift through all the intelligence they've picked up in the last week, but there's no indication this was in any way a manhunt with a known target in mind back at the start point.

It's hard therefore to reject the notion that this was in fact, at least in part, meant to be a punitive response... in that the American military leadership had come to believe that not looking forceful now would have led to being seen as weak, and bring more fatalities than being harsh would. It's hardly clear-cut that they'd be wrong on that score, given the country in question, either. As such, it had to happen ahead of the intel, to a degree. Which still rankles: collective punishment and justice rarely intersect to any lasting satisfaction.

UPDATE: I'm waiting for someone to make the first comparison between going into Fallujah, with too few forces at first, and with a real goal hidden behind an ostensible, "for the public" goal, and going into Iraq proper more or less the same way a year ago.

Posted by BruceR at 07:15 PM


Took an Easter Break. Not much has changed in Iraq. Read Henley for the wrapup.

One thing worth noting: there's been roughly 20 Marine fatalities in Fallujah, since the 3rd of April. Current wound-fatality ratios for the American army are around 5:1, suggesting around 120 of the original 1200 Marines sent into Fallujah have been injured or killed. Which is why Phil Carter is right when he says the Marines have suffered "significant" casualties.

I disagree with Carter's analysis that there is still some good "nation-building" going on in Iraq despite this. Perhaps in the Kurdish areas, but that could even be counterproductive to a unified Iraq... we're beginning to see conditions similar to the breakup of Yugoslavia, where Slovenia was ready and able to walk away, and simply did, and there wasn't much anyone could do about it.

For the rest of the country, it's fair to use the working assumption that every cent of Congressionally-sanctioned reconstructional assistance spent before April 1 has been lost, and will have to be ponied up pretty much all over again. If it hasn't physically been looted, at the very least any "hearts and minds" value has essentially zeroed out. I don't have a figure on that, but it has to be in the tens of billions.

Juan Cole comments on British displeasure. You could write this off as typical griping, if the two cities the British control, Basra and Amara, weren't peaceful today, after some initial fighting in Amara that the British resolved without any fatalities to themselves. Those cities are Shiite, too, and, if anything, more susceptible by their proximity to Iranian subversive activity, if that has anything to do with it. As I've noted here before, Americans have historically made poor peacekeepers, but it has nothing to do with their relative abilities, or national character; they're simply higher-value targets. The Sadrists know as well as anybody, and the British surely never hesitate to remind them, that they can kill as many non-American coalition members as they like, but it won't change one darn thing, politically, for Iraq.

Posted by BruceR at 10:06 AM

April 09, 2004


A couple highlights from the NY Times after-action on the Fallujah ambush, which finally starts to answer some of the questions that needed answering:

"Blackwater employs some 450 "independent contractors" in Iraq to protect Mr. Bremer, guard five regional buildings used by the occupation forces and provide security for supply convoys."

So that's what they do; good to know. And on the ambush itself:

The drivers and other witnesses, he said, described "a classic, well-planned vehicle ambush" in which the five-vehicle convoy was suddenly blocked from the front and the rear by vehicles.

"The ICDC blocked the road, and the ambush happened," he said, referring to the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, a force trained by the United States to guard roads and utilities and to fight insurgents. The assailants first "opened up at point-blank range" on the rear car in the convoy, he said, then fired on the lead vehicle.

The Times doesn't explicitly say it, but the implication is clear: they trapped them all, and then let the Iraqis go. (Remember, this is allegedly the same Fallujah ICDC who Reynolds and Sullivan and many others praised last month as the new minutemen, too.)

A couple other things are clarified now:

*The three flatbed trucks being guarded were for moving kitchen equipment, presumably for Regency Hoteliers. No food involved.

*The convoy met their "escorts" at the intersection of Highways 10 and 1, but the ambush itself occurred deeper inside the city proper.

In other news, the Marines have so far killed 1 out of every 1000 Fallujans, but admit they have yet to move into the city's residential areas AT ALL, and can't secure the areas they have moved into. From the Post story: "They shoot at us and fall back, and we don't have enough men to seal the area they fall back to," said Lt. Andrew Terrell, 24, who was impatiently waiting to be treated for a shrapnel wound so the troops in his Humvee could return to action.

A Marine officer is quoted saying only 20% of the population is actually hostile. That works out to something over 50,000 people. So, it's 2,000 Marines against 50,000 resisters. Oh, yeah, and the Iraqi police are pretty much all on the resisters' side. This one could take a while.

In other overnight Iraq news, the Italians have "temporarily" withdrawn from Nasiriyah, and a Canadian aid worker has been taken hostage.

Posted by BruceR at 01:06 AM

April 08, 2004


Okay, take as a given the Americans can't leave Iraq, if only for geostrategic reasons. Also assume that the violence this month is, in its own way, an opportunity... giving the Americans lots of freedom to revise their future arrangements for Iraqi self-rule, if the new plan promises to lead to a reduction in the violence. Also accept that there's very little anyone else in the world can do to rein the U.S. in from what it decides to do. Finally, assume that the endstate is to have the American military in Iraq pointing OUT, ie to do something, anything, rather than kill rebellious Iraqis.

The standard response to how to then "fix things" in Iraq have so far amounted to either a) send in more American troops; or b) rely more on international troops, by giving the UN a role, or c) re-establish and train an Iraqi army. None of these are proving palatable alternatives, for all kinds of reasons. An American troop increase would necessitate an increase in military spending and in manning levels... even then it would require the American military running all out just keeping Iraq going for up to three years until the additional brigades came on line and were usable. Foreign troops are scarce, and unmotivated, as their countries really have no stake in the Iraq outcome worth the body bags. And the Iraqi army, having been short-sightedly abolished, is showing a Dumpty-like distaste for reassembly.

So. What can you do? This was, it should be noted, not a big problem for the British in their expansionist phase. They, too, had a strong domestic resistance to increasing the standing army, or foreign military adventurism in general. So the traders who went overseas in the 1600s and 1700s had to shift for themselves. For most, this wasn't so bad, as North American Indians and Caribbean natives proved uninterested in fighting back for the most part, and the English army and navy could be counted on to weigh in if a foreign power got involved, sooner or later. In India, where there already was a substantial population, however, they had to try something else.

Between roughly 1645 and 1670, the Honorable East India Company raised its own nucleus of private military companies, comprising ex-English soldiers (Civil War veterans mostly, one suspects), which it then relied on for the defence of its trading forts until 1748. These units weren't security guards... the actual businesses and establishments used native-recruited "chowdikars" for that. Their primary purpose was to resist any kind of native revolt, and their secondary purpose to resist attacks by the French or their native proxies (the French in India relied from the start on European-trained and officered troops, not European ones). There were no English regular troops in India at all, in fact, before 1754. The naval equivalent, the Bombay Marine, was the leading agency in the fight against Indian Ocean piracy at this time... they had numerous large purpose-built fighting ships, and were seen as as good ship per ship as the Royal Navy itself.

By 1748, the John Company army consisted of two European infantry units, the Bombay (European) Regiment and the Madras Europeans, each with attached artillery. It was in that year that Maj. Stringer Lawrence took command of this force, and started recruiting native sepoys to expand its ranks, as the French had done for decades. Europeans found new roles as officers of the new sepoy units, and in an expanded (for the moment, all-white) artillery. By 1751, the force Clive commanded at the seige of Arcot was only 40% European. At Clive's victory at Plassey in 1757, white John Company personnel were officers and gunners for the most part, although all-white privately-recruited infantry units would remain part of John Company forces for another century.

In the case of India, necessity, and distance from the homeland, worked together to ease any concerns the British peoples might have had about retaining a state "monopoly of force." A similar approach could conceivably be grafted onto the Iraq situation, if the American people were also willing to relax that restriction. The key first step would be contracting out the formation of the new Iraqi army to some of the private contractors already providing the CPA and the major corporations with their security, and gradually removing the American military from that role as much as possible.

Problems? Oh, there's all sorts of them. I'm just pointing it out as how a similar problem was once handled by the last empire, that's all.

Posted by BruceR at 05:43 PM


For god's sake, someone shut down CBC Newsworld and spend the taxpayers' money on something useful. Antiques F'ing Roadshow all last night. Canada's "news channel." Jeez.

Posted by BruceR at 03:01 PM


(See previous post.) Just putting together a few key dates in one place, for reference in what may be an interesting historical aside for some:

1612: The Hon East India Company (hereafter the Company) sets up first factory in India in Surat. Indian Marine (a private Company navy) is formed.
1635: First shipbuilding for the Indian Marine.
1639: The Company establishes itself in Madras.
1645: First records of European soldiers (independent companies of soldiers-for-hire, raised in England) employed by the Company in Madras.
1652: First appearance of European soldiers (30-strong) protecting Company holdings in Bengal.
1658: Headquarters of Company's military wing established in Madras.
1668: Britain turns over recently-captured port of Bombay to the Company. Security handed over to the Bombay Regiment, a privately raised unit comprising soldiers-for-hire recruited in Europe. First record of native soldiers (sepoys) being recruited.
1686: Company naval headquarters moved to Bombay; Indian Marine renamed as "Bombay Marine."
1690: Company founds Calcutta. Company possessions in this area defended by six companies of European Company troops, beginnings of the Bengal Army.

(fast forward a bit)

1757: Bengal Army under Clive defeats Indians at Plassey, securing all of Bengal for the Company
1760: Bombay Marine under Pocock drives French Navy out of Indian Ocean without Royal Navy assistance.

Posted by BruceR at 02:01 PM


I'm beginning to think what we're seeing in Iraq is the haphazard re-emergence of something that history hasn't seen for a while: a non-national armed force.

The most famous, and perhaps largest such, would be the Army of the East India Company ("John Company"), which comprised the strongest military force in India from 1668 to 1857, when it was absorbed into the Indian Army.

Company forces started out as a small group of private European (ie, white) military units, raised to serve the company in India solely, that were augmented with native-raised units as well (the Sepoy regiments). The British kept only a handful of British army units in India (the "Queen's Regiments"), mostly for use against external threats, with the Company army handling internal security for the most part. In situations like the Afghan wars, the "British" commander could take units from both armies, as needed. Only individual rank was not generally transferable between the two forces.

Much of India wasn't controlled by the Company, of course... many nominally independent princely states kept their own militaries to police their own areas, often with their own European officers. More on how this could end up applying to Iraq in a later post.

There's actually a Canadian precedent here, too, by the way: another "Company of Adventurers" deeded land by the Crown, the Northwest Company, may not have needed their own standing army for their more sparsely inhabited territory, but they did assemble a Corps of Voyageurs in the War of 1812 to fight alongside handfuls of British troops: being present at the capture of Mackinac in 1812, its successful defence in 1814, and the capture of Prairie du Chien in 1814. The first Mackinac victory had the convenient side effect (for the Montreal-based company) of crippling the operations of the American Fur Company, the Albany-based Astor concern. A year later, Astor's employees in Oregon would choose to sell/surrender their trading fort in that territory, then the only "American" fort on the Pacific, to another Northwest Company armed expedition, rather than defend it. This touched off a boundary dispute that would take some time for Britain and America to settle.

Posted by BruceR at 01:05 PM


Although it doesn't say specifically, given that it's an abandonment involving Ukrainian troops, with one fatality, it's likely this is an eyewitness account of the seige and abandonment of the Kut base by an American soldier on scene.

UPDATE: Account moved here.

Posted by BruceR at 12:15 PM


"All this will involve great sacrifices and the expenditure not only of much money, but of more of the English blood of which the noblest has already been poured forth. And we are not so strong as we were. At first all nations sympathized with us, but now they look on us coldly and even with hostility. Those who were our friends have become indifferent, those who were indifferent have become our adversaries; and if our misfortunes and disasters go on much longer we shall have Europe saying that they can not trust us, that we are too weak, that our prestige is too low to justify us in undertaking this task."

--Salisbury again, same speech.

Posted by BruceR at 12:27 AM


"Maybe we should have incinerated Fallujah... The only solution I see now is to crush these attackers with overwhelming force, and do so as quickly as possible. And if that means razing Fallujah and Ramadi, so be it."

--Bill Quick, Daily Pundit

"We were told that they were going to smash the Mahdi, but now we are to make peace with the smashed Mahdi. If you smash the Mahdi thoroughly he will be of no use to you, and if you do not smash him thoroughly he may maintain at the bottom of his heart a certain resentment against the process of being smashed."

--Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil, 3d Marquess of Salisbury, speaking in 1885, the last time a "Mahdi" took arms against the West.

Posted by BruceR at 12:13 AM

April 07, 2004


...I really loved this Penny-Arcade.

Posted by BruceR at 08:47 PM


The Ukrainians aren't having a good day, having surrendered their base in Kut to the Mahdi militia. Just one more city to retake now, I guess.

It should probably be noted that the Spanish, who several have claimed were in the throes of a panicky retreat due to their craven national character flaws, are at least still at THEIR bases.

One more thing: it's always nice to claim your opponents are irrational, but they very rarely are. You should always assume they have a half-way reasonable estimation of their own chances of success. So why revolt now? The logical conclusion is that those factions who've been saving their strength for post-June 30 have figured out that's basically a lie, that the Americans aren't handing over anything important any time soon, so there's no point in waiting any longer to start heading for the pole position. In which case, maybe we non-Iraqis should stop treating it as a date of any significance, either. At most, all that's going to happen on June 30 now is the Americans appointing a pliant figurehead as Prime Minister, without even as much to actually control as Karzai has in Kabul. Other than attracting a few bomb and rocket attacks meant for Bremer, it's hard to see what the resultant Stooge Primus will be good for. Good pick in a death pool, though.

NOTE: There have been no reports of any Marine fatalities in Fallujah released in the last two days. I suspect we're going to see this kind of embargo more often from now on.

Posted by BruceR at 06:51 PM


This is not good. Dostum is a murderous psychopath, but at least for a brief time he was OUR psychopath. For him to part ways with Karzai (shortly after Karzai apparently tried to unseat the much more sane Ismail Khan last month, and failed) could well result in a further day in national elections, which should show up more or less around the time Kyoto is ratified at this rate.

Posted by BruceR at 06:45 PM

April 06, 2004


The military in Iraq is holding onto the 24,000 troops from the last troop rotation that didn't get flown out before things went south in Fallujah and Sadr City. This was, of course, inevitable, even if those troops have already been there a year.

Also note the news on the foreign contingents:

"Honduran officials say they will pull their 370 troops out of Iraq during the summer. Some U.S. military officials in Iraq have speculated that El Salvador, Nicaragua and possibly the Dominican Republic, all parts of the Plus Ultra Brigade serving with the Spaniards, would also depart. Guatemala President Oscar Berger said his nation would not send troops as promised.

"President Bush was unsuccessful last month in lobbying the Dutch prime minister to keep his nation's 1,300 troops in Iraq beyond June. South Korea has announced that the 3,600 troops it promised to send to Kirkuk to relieve the United States' 173rd Airborne will not go because of U.S. pressure to participate in "offensive operations." South Korean leaders said they would consider sending forces to other parts of Iraq to help rebuild the country."

UPDATE: Norway's pulling the pin, too. (Found on the Agonist).

Posted by BruceR at 10:29 AM


"The Blackwater commandos, most of whom are former Special Forces troops, are on contract to provide security for the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Najaf.

"With their ammunition nearly gone, a wounded and badly bleeding Marine on the rooftop, and no reinforcement by the U.S. military in the immediate offing, the company sent in helicopters to drop ammunition and pick up the Marine."

--Washington Post, today. Now they're "commandos," apparently; I guess the WashPost couldn't take the "contractor" euphemism any longer, either.

In the same story, note how the Fallujah attack now seems to have been on a convoy carrying "food and kitchen equipment," probably to a "U.S. military dining facility." Hmm. Once "kitchen equipment" is included, one could see the value of the goods in a convoy rising to the point where a five-figure guard overhead (2 days x 4 guards x $1,500/day) starts to make sense. It would also seem to make that convoy a "legit" rear-area military target, regardless of whose soldiers were doing the guarding. It does seem clear, though, that the goods in question were not destined for Fallujah, or Iraqis directly, for what that's worth.

The growing consensus on this seems to be that the private guards in this case took a chance on driving a military logistics convoy they were escorting through a town known to be extremely hostile, for some reason (time? bad info?), and the local tribal leadership picked them off as a target of opportunity, in order to send a message. Now the Marines are sending their own message back.

Posted by BruceR at 10:08 AM

April 05, 2004


"Those Blackwater guys," says an intelligence officer in Iraq, "they drive around wearing Oakley sunglasses and pointing their guns out of car windows. They have pointed their guns at me, and it pissed me off. Imagine what a guy in Fallujah thinks."

Time magazine, this week. The same article declines to be definitive on what Blackwater was doing in Fallujah that day. They can't get a straight answer either, apparently.

Newsweek can't get a clear picture of what went on, either.

Posted by BruceR at 05:06 PM


Per Jim Henley, the story of the Iraqi thrown off the dam in Samarra continues to have legs. The American soldiers involved have admitted throwing him and another Iraqi off the dam that night. Their defence is that they saw both of the Iraqis climb out of the water, so they can't have killed one of them.

Widely praised Iraqi blogger Zeyad, however, is fairly confident his cousin is dead. Presumably either he's telling the truth about this, or he's part of the plot to invent an atrocity.

Professional blogger Jeff Jarvis has done more than anyone to put Zeyad's name out to the world, at least when he was saying nice things about America. He hasn't commented on these allegations that I've seen yet, though. It's time for him to say whether he stands by Zeyad now, or not. Every day now that he doesn't is one more day we'll think Jarvis only likes to tout the "colonial" bloggers so long as their obeisance level remains high.

This is important for the entire medium, by the way, because Zeyad was the one who really kept the heat on this story long enough for it to be taken seriously. If it pans out, it may be the first time an amateur blog's amateur journalism became the key motivating element that led to a court martial proceeding (and/or a significant military coverup).

Note from the Post story that the army battalion commander disciplined for trying to bury this was the same guy who famously said Iraqis just needed "a heavy dose of fear and violence."

UPDATE: Henley has more thoughts on this. Personally, I try to only ascribe notability to events when the pet Iraqi bloggers of all persuasions are commenting about them... for instance this week, when both Zeyad and Riverbend have still more raid and abduction stories to tell... but in Zeyad's case, when a familial relative is involved, and he's stuck to his story despite heavy abuse, and this prolonged, bizarre silence from his chief American promoter and mentor (Jarvis), I think he deserves better. (PS: Note the now unfortunate American-killed-in-Fallujah joke Zeyad "just had to tell" in the post linked in this paragraph... written a couple days before the Fallujah atrocities. In this case, blogger humour telegraphed real events to come.)

Posted by BruceR at 02:12 AM


I really have no idea why anyone, let alone someone as smart as Phil Carter, respects this guy. This post has so many problems with it, I don't know where to start. (For instance, saying the "contractors" "saved" the convoy, based on that ABC article, is tactically unlettered, as I try to explain in the updates to the post below.) A basic appreciation of the number of American divisions and brigades in Iraq might be nice. So would any kind of recognition that, six weeks after praising the Fallujah police as the Minutemen of Iraq, he now accuses them of active collusion in the recent ambush. So which is it?

But hey, let the readers judge. I am quite confident that the American approach to Fallujah in the wake of this attack will not involve the kind of brute force assault on the entire city Wretchard outlines. They don't have the troops, they don't have the will, and they don't have the time. "Through the walls of houses?" "Roads swept by fire?" The whole civilian population in "processing areas?" The last thing the Americans are going to do now is Stalingradize Fallujah. They're Marines; they're good at this. They'll come up with something far more subtle than, say, the Russians would in this same situation, so much so that I think a lot of the jingopunditry will be disappointed by the apparent mildness of the response, if and when one becomes obvious. But this kind of low-level atrocity does not warrant any more than that, frankly. (If they wouldn't destroy a mid-sized city to find the killers each time 4 regular soldiers are killed, they're certainly not going to for 4 private "contractors.")

UPDATE: This post is even thicker. Not only does he get the number of Salvadoran troops dead in Najaf wrong (it's one), he conflates Salvadorans with Spanish to make it easier for him to slam the latter country, totally ignoring the fact that the whole Shia area of Iraq was in flames on Sunday, with Italian, British, and American casualties as well, in at least four different cities. The Shiites are not targeting just Spain just in Najaf because their prime minister is weak, for pity's sake; they're targeting the occupiers in Najaf because that's where the Sadrist HQ is,and they're doing it now because now is when the CPA chose to crack down on Sadrism. Any occupying nationality would have received the same treatment. The whole body of the post is just a vacuity to hang the final epigram on. Compare that analysis of yesterday's events in Iraq to this, and ask yourself which side in the war debate is better served at present (even if Prof. Cole still doesn't know the difference between a division and a brigade).

UPDATE #2: Well, looks like we'll have an idea on the American intent re Fallujah within a week or so. It's important to note that the fighting yesterday in Fallujah was very similar to the fighting there 10 days ago, in numbers of troops involved, scope, and casualties (significant fighting at the time that now has been completely forgotten by manny, apparently). Unless you see something much more dramatic, for instance, involving more than the 1,200 Marines the story says are involved (at least that number were already camped out around Fallujah two weeks ago), it would be fair to say this is a resumption of the Marines' "cordon-and-raid" strategy they'd been pursuing in Fallujah since they arrived... just now with a new name: "Vigilant Resolve." God bless military PR...

Note the reference to the Marines closing the highways. In reality of course, those highways were effectively closed, at least to American traffic, if not before than after the soldiers-for-hire were ambushed last week. (See map for reference.) One of the two main highways connecting Baghdad to Western Iraq and Jordan (Highway 10) runs through the centre of town... whoever controls central Fallujah can shut this road any time they want. The ABC story is apparently claiming that the attack occurred where the two highways meet, at the interchange where it meets Highway 10 east of the city... this is why that ABC story linked below would be so remarkable if it were true... it would mean the insurgents ran a complex ambush in broad daylight the one interchange that controls ALL the transportation routes to the west of Baghdad, without any interference... it seems highly unlikely the Marines would not have retained control over this vital ground... more confirmation of that sole ABC story, by someone who demonstrably understands the terrain and the issues involved, is still sorely needed at this point. In any case the Marines' "closing" the highways is likely just an acknowledgement of the current reality that their control of the entire road net in this area was disrupted last week.

Posted by BruceR at 01:57 AM

April 02, 2004


One statement that has gone unchallenged so far is that the soldiers-for-hire killed by Iraqis in Fallujah were escorting food deliveries at the time. (Their company says they were guarding a convoy.)

It's likely that's among the responsibilities of their company in Iraq, but the evidence so far is that was NOT what they were doing that day in particular. There were apparently only the two small Mercedes cars, as the briefing linked to below seems to explicitly state; no other friendly vehicles in the vicinity at all. (This info might have been inaccurate, as it turns out: see updates below). So they likely weren't escorting anyone at the time of the attack. (Nor have there been any reports in recent months of food shortages in Fallujah.)

Nor is it likely they were on some kind of recce, or lost. Early accounts said they were attacked on a side street (again, possibly inaccurate: see updates), in a precise and planned ambush. It's highly unlikely the ambushers would have set up, cleared the street of civilians (which spectators said they did) and so on, unless they knew which side street their targets were going to turn down, and when.

So what were they doing? Still don't know. The soldier-for-hire company's sticking to the food convoy story.

(Quick mathematical note that may or may not confirm what I'm driving at: The Post story says the four dead "contractors" would have been receiving around $4,000 US a day in salary alone. A ten-ton truck carrying U.S. MREs can carry about 1200 cases, (14,000 individual meals), with a cost to a government purchaser of around $60,000 for the lot... generally speaking a less-processed food would have a cheaper per-load cost. At $60,000 a truckload (not counting the cost of the truck), how many truckloads do you figure would warrant such an expensive addition to a company's overhead?)

UPDATE: More information is coming out now which would tend to suggest the soldiers-for-hire in this case were in fact escorting a food shipment, and that the reference to "no other vehicles" made at the CPA press conference referred to above, and early claims of a "side street ambush" might have been inaccurate.

But note that if this story is the one that's true, the killers in question would be even more sophisticated than first assumed. They would have picked off the lead vehicle and rear vehicle of a convoy in a matter of seconds, and then let all the in-between flatbed trucks (presumably with locally-recruited drivers) drive away unscathed. Convoy ambush doctrine assumes that if you bag the front and rear vehicles right at the start (as the article argues happened here), everything between should be at your mercy (that goes double if they're a couple of unmaneuverable flatbed trucks.) The ABC article is saying that if these guys had wanted to capture or destroy the other vehicles, they could have, and they didn't. Again, that would show remarkable confidence, street control, and discipline on the part of the attackers. I would say it would be the decisive argument against foreign attackers or "terrorists," who have generally been trying to cause as much chaos as possible. This new evidence would mean this attack was certainly by local Iraqis, already respected/feared in Fallujah, who want remain respected/feared; otherwise why bother being magnanimous?

UPDATE #2: The article's reference to a "traffic circle on Highway 10," the four-lane highway that bisects Fallujah east-west confused me, so I double checked the aerial map. There don't seem to be any European-style traffic circles on that road per se; but it's possible, if rather unlikely, that the writer is referring to the freeway intersection just off the right edge of the map, in the open area east of the city, where Iraq's two major east-west highways (1 and 10) meet. Maybe it's just me, but a "traffic circle" generally means something different in my experience, so that alone would be reason to doubt some of the ABC's story's details. (Also note this would also be evidence against earlier stories that said the Americans were killed inside the city, and on a side road.) You may well wonder (I certainly am) if Marines that had recently been engaged in active raids into Fallujah would not have had at least eyes on what amounts to the major traffic intersection for the entire area, in open terrain outside the city. How far back to the east would their forward line of own troops have to be, anyway? No, inaccurate reporting is more likely here; the final verdict on what happened in Fallujah will require further confirmation.

Posted by BruceR at 01:13 PM


"We have been saying for over 10 months now that these sorts of attacks that we saw yesterday [in Fallujah], 95, 98 percent of them come from less than 5 -- less than 3 percent of the population in country."

--CPA spokesman Dan Senor, yesterday. Given an Iraqi population of around 27 million, that means the CPA feels they've gotten the number of Iraqis capable and willing to kill Americans definitely down to under 800,000. Hey, it's the last million that's the hardest.

In that same presser, also note the obvious disappointment of Gen. Kimmitt in the U.S.-appointed leadership in Fallujah ("if we can get the city leadership to come out from behind their desks... we can avoid a direct conflict.") The language is evocative of any number of Western movies where the crooked town marshal needed replacin'/killin' because the desperadoes really ran the town: Tombstone comes to mind. Approaching this particular incident from that kind of viewpoint would probably be a sign of great wisdom on Kimmitt's part.

Posted by BruceR at 11:59 AM


Here's some handy-dandy indications of reporters and bloggers who haven't done their basic research before writing about Fallujah.

1) Guessing the population size: "Fallujah has a population of some 500,000 people," --CNN. Reliable estimates put the population at 250,000 to 280,000.

2) Saying the Americans have put a cordon around the city only in response to the recent ambush of 4 mercenaries. (As Wretchard did today.) In fact, the cordon has been in place since at least last Thursday, when the Marines started aggressive sweep operations in the city proper. That's why the Iraqi police are trying to appease the population by saying the "siege" of Fallujah will be lifted if they cooperate... in their minds, they've been locked into their city for a week already.

3) Identification of the likely killers as "Al Qaeda", "terrorists," and "foreigners" interchangeably. (As Den Beste does here.) As with the SAM attacks at Baghdad airport, which were also wrongly blamed on foreigners until the clearly non-foreign leader was interviewed by a French journalist, there is zero evidence indicating this was an attack by foreigners, or even undertaken with the intent of meeting any non-local aims. All the evidence points in the opposite direction to Den Beste's conclusion that foreigners are the "primary source of violent resistance" in Iraq. The American military has admitted that, of 12,000 people it now has in its custody, only 150 are from other countries. Even allowing for the imprisonment of innocents, political prisoners, etc., it's impossible to say with an 80:1 ratio like that that the foreigners are the "primary source" of the problems.

Foreign involvement, it should be noted, is much, much more likely in the case of the more well-planned truck bombings, often involving suicide... the successful attack on the UN headquarters, the recent attacks on Shiite Holy Days, the destruction of the Italian Headquarters, are almost certainly the work real terrorist/Islamist cells, sending operatives into country or recruiting them locally, and then blowing themselves up. But this low-level crap like we're seeing in Fallujah is almost certainly local, being done for local reasons. (The late claim of responsibility yesterday by an previously unheard-of group in revenge for Yassin's death can be discarded on its face.)

Interestingly, for the city with "the most mosques in Iraq," there has been zero word through all this from the imams of Fallujah, suggesting the town is actually about as secular as Iraq gets, and discounting any strong Islamist motivation here. (One could probably hazard a hypothesis here about how towns with MORE churches per 1,000 population are LESS likely to breed extremism.)

This current attack is actually most reminiscent of the early fatalities of six British military policemen in Majar al-Kabir, another town that was considered "under siege" by its inhabitants, and which was probably another local secular leader sending a message that the British were messing with his thing and needed to back off a bit. The British did not overreact and the area calmed down. (Note: not without some later problems, however.)

UPDATE: Juan Cole gives more credence to the Yassin-revenge claims. The Christian Science Monitor's Dan Murphy believes Fallujah is a religiously observant town, although he seems to agree this attack was an artefact of tribalism as much as or more than any Islamicist insurrectionism. I wasn't trying to say Fallujah residents aren't deeply religious in their own way, just that religious fervor has not apparently been a major factor in Fallujah violence thus far.

UPDATE #2: Fred Kaplan provides Fallujah fallacy #4: suggesting bringing in the UN would somehow help with this. Attempts to improve nation-wide legitimacy are valuable for their own reasons, yes, but there's no evidence that Fallujans would have behaved any differently regardless of who the occupying power was.

Posted by BruceR at 10:26 AM

April 01, 2004


"The tension is reducing every day. We are seeing a change. People are starting to realize that the soldiers are not here to occupy Fallujah forever-they're here to help us rebuild."
--Taha Bedawi, mayor of Fallujah, last July, quoted on the White House site as one of their "ten voices of liberation". Bedawi was fired by the Americans in November after charges of embezzlement and a violent ransacking of city hall by angry locals. More here.

Posted by BruceR at 12:45 PM


Interesting question: if the Marines wanted to move into Fallujah now to impose a proper curfew, what would it take?

Standard occupation ratios against a hostile citizenry are about 1 soldier per 100 inhabitants sustained, higher during the establishment period. Fallujah has roughly 280,000 residents, suggesting you'd need about 5,000 troops, or one brigade, to really start to put the lockdown. 1st Mar Div, which is occupying Anbar province (basically West Iraq), has two regiments (ie, brigade-sized groups) in theatre. In addition to Fallujah, they're likely responsible for much of the Syrian border, and the nearly-as-tumultuous nearby city of Ramadi. (They're also probably the standby force should anything go wrong in the Polish-led Multinational Division area to their south, among other duties.) Focussing one of those two Marine regiments solely on Fallujah (a safer margin of error would seem to demand more like one-and-a-half) would seem to require a realignment of some of the other forces in Iraq to compensate. In any case, the Americans certainly don't have a lot of troops lying around for this. The current rotation, now nearly completed, is meant to bring them down by the end of the April from 17 brigades, all regular, to 11 regular and 3 National Guard brigades, covering the northern 9 of Iraq's 18 provinces (including Baghdad). The most they could reasonably ever assign to Anbar's needs alone is around a quarter of that, or 3 brigades.

I'm not saying locking down Fallujah isn't an option, but it wouldn't be an easy trick, and may not be sustainable for much more than a couple months.

NOTA BENE: It is fair to say that the Marines here certainly do have more options, simply because of the city size, than were ever available in Mogadishu. With a population of over 1.2 million in that Somalian city, you would have needed an entire division (three brigades minimum, or 12,000 troops) to apply the same force-leverage a single brigade-group can in Fallujah. In Mogadishu, the American-led UN force had nowhere near that, meaning significant reinforcements would have to have been shipped in from the States in that case.

Posted by BruceR at 12:31 PM


Responses to the Fallujah ambush have been interesting. Carter believes it requires prompt retaliation. Henley seems to have decided, after a personal Madrid-related epiphany of some kind (or an April Fools-related seizure --ed.), that this further confirms the pro-war side was right after all. A lot of other people are talking about Baathists, and terrorists, and Islamicists, suggesting they may have completely missed the point here.

Because, when you look at this forensically, this has little to do with the enemies of America, at all.

Okay, what can we tell about Fallujah from yesterday's attack? The attack was well-organized... using enough firepower from smallarms to overwhelm 4 ex special ops operators before they could get out or fire back. The soldiers of fortune in this case were evidently unprepared... the mostly likely reason being they were lured or drawn to that location on a pretext. The attackers enjoyed good street control... not only in the attack, but in the generation of a mob to cover their escape, and to help in sending the right message. Because this was all about sending a message, which we'll get back to in a minute.

The only conclusion is that this one had at least the tacit blessing, if not the foreknowledge, of the real Fallujah leadership.

So who are the leaders? Well, there's no evidence they're terrorists, or Baathists per se (surely they can't be so deluded as to feel fighting Americans now will bring back Saddam; they're not on any deck of playing cards, anyway). We know they're covert, low-profile, organized, violent, and apparently without conventional political aims. In a different context, this mindset would be typical of an organized crime family; in this context, it's probably better referred to as warlordism.

And that's basically what we've got here, it's safe to say. Behind the scenes, there is a shadowy figure, as yet unnamed, and apparently unreachable... the Warlord of Fallujah. What we're dealing with here is tribe-based local factionalism.

The individual may have enjoyed similar status even in Saddam's time; he certainly would have had some relationship with Iraq's prior rulers. We know that the Americans removed, as part of de-Baathification, Fallujah's mayor and police chief last year, appointing replacements. It's safe to assume the previous holders were associates of our anonymous warlord, and the replacements were from another, rival tribal gang, one less powerful pre-war. The Americans armed this rival gang, although not particularly well, but their side rather decisively lost the resulting gang war in February, leaving the Warlord, his side bolstered by numerous demobilized Iraqi army veterans, in firm control of the town. The Americans then did not challenge this again until this week, basically leaving Fallujah alone.

The fact that things did quiet down at this point is the strongest evidence that this is not a revolutionary leader or international terrorist sympathizer the Americans are dealing with. Live and let live worked for him, too. There's no evidence the master of Fallujah tried to export his own control outside the city limits, by attacking nearby bases during the quiet period, for instance.

It's important to see this from his perspective, then. This is not a resistance that's strongly ideologically based. The killers in this case are not trying to bring anyone back, or carry on Bin Laden's jihad. They are, Mafia-like, trying to come to some understanding with the new local authorities. To them the Americans are just the latest people trying to interfere with the normal practice of warlordism. They came in and armed their rivals, so they were defacto a hostile force. The guy is looking for a deal, a ratification.

The choices the incoming Marines had, like all occupiers, were basically two. Decapitation, or deal. If you could kill the guy and his henchman without too much blowback, you could always do that, and decisively shift the local gangland balance back to your "side" that way. The other option is to recognize the existing power structure, and ratify or at least bless it, by dealing with the warlord more or less directly... appointing his cronies to positions of power, giving him control over things like food distribution, in return for his promise to keep Fallujah peaceful. This latter is, of course, the historic British approach to colonialism, and works quite well, especially since it always leaves you with a fallback to option #1 if the arrangement goes south at some later date.

Another way to look at it is option #1 is what was attempted (unsuccessfully) against Gen. Aidid in Somalia, and option #2 is what seems to be keeping the peace with the equally warlordist Ismail Khan in Western Afghanistan at the moment.

Our unnamed warlord tried to first to communicate to the Marines that he needed to be dealt with, through a series of steadily escalating minor attacks over the last couple weeks... mortaring of Marine camps at first, rising up to attacks on convoys. The Marines responded with force of their own, culminating in last Thursday's shootout in the streets of Fallujah proper, probably because they thought they had a fix on the guy that day and could go with option #1.

For whatever reason, that failed. And yesterday's gruesome ambush was the warlord's message back: "I'm still here. I'm still in control. My price just went up." (It's fair to say the killers and mob probably thought the ex-soldiers, travelling armed and in flak jackets, were just another one of those cavalierly-dressed Special Forces teams, and therefore a completely righteous target... albeit an easy one.)

And again, the Marines are back to option 1 or 2. They have crappy human intelligence in Fallujah right now (it's safe to say anyone willing to fight and die against this particular warlord bought it in that big prison break last February or shortly thereafter, cleaning out the potential American allies in the town). Any move that results in collateral damage to the civilian population, without killing the warlord and henchmen, only makes things worse. To then advocate, as Carter does, that they should retaliate immediately anyway would seem unwise.

The problem for the Americans is compounded because, unlike the warlord, they DO have to worry about how their actions are perceived in the rest of Iraq. The fact that Fallujah is thoroughly hostile right now is beside the point... as we have seen, the warlord's control does not inhibit local Iraqi media and stringers from getting images out. Any evidence of impotence or viciousness on their part is unlikely to change the collective opinion in Fallujah, true... it could, however, as this has, have profound impact in the other areas of the world Americans are trying to keep a lid on.

The standard British colonial response, at this impasse, would be to meet sotto voce with the warlord's reps, and make a secret deal. Appoint a couple cronies to the mayor and police chief positions, and trade peace in the streets for a little baksheesh. Even a temporary ceasefire can allow the development of new allies and humint assets in Fallujah, and eventually bring back the decapitation strike, or the tried-and-failed "arm their enemies" approach, as options for them again. The Fallujah resisters, like previous warlords in Somalia or Afghanistan, are not enemies of peace in Iraq, or America, per se. They are obstacles to that peace, which is different. The approach of the Americans, therefore, needs to take that difference into account.

NB: A lot of people are saying things have changed since Mogadishu, that lessons have been learned. (If you ascribe to Bowden's book, that lesson is "don't go after a warlord if you're not sure you're going to kill him," but I suspect they're thinking of a different lesson, something about cutting-and-running.) Of course, the one big difference here is the use of mercenaries... which in another war would have given the Americans maneuver room when it came to resisting public calls for retaliation (cf, Bay of Pigs invasion). It doesn't seem to be working that way, though... if mercenary deaths are seen as as bad as soldier deaths, a lot of the rationale for using mercenaries would seem to be mitigated. Also of note, the Blackwater company has refused to identify the four dead employees... at all. While given the coverage I can certainly understand this, it is also more in line with special operations practice. Are they hiding the families, or hiding the mercs' reason for being where they were? Inevitably, it must be a little of both.

Posted by BruceR at 10:47 AM