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