Sunday, January 14, 2007

Surge: US troops prepare for George Bush's last stand

But with allies they don't trust and enemies who confuse them, commanders know it will be bloody

By Kim Sengupta
The Independent
Published: 14 January 2007

"......The main target, the Mehdi army, has around 50,000 well-armed fighters in the capital, mostly concentrated in Sadr City, the vast slum next to Baghdad, and the Shia holy city of Najaf and surrounding areas. But Mr Sadr also has 25,000 more militiamen in the south, where British forces will be in the firing line of retaliation for what the Americans do in Baghdad......

To many, this rhetoric is paving the way for a wider escalation. William Arkin writes in The Washington Post: "There is an ominous element here ... To me that means the threat of strikes on targets in those countries." A British analyst, Robert Emerson, adds: "The Americans want to take on the Shia militias. Iran backs them, and will undoubtedly step up covert aid to them. How long will the Americans let that continue before they do something?" Even if there is no "hot pursuit", the Iranian response to US action in Baghdad is likely to place British forces in danger......

The soldiers will aim to create mini "green zones" - cut-down versions of the area in the capital where US and British officials, and the Iraqi government, take refuge - guarded by checkpoints, sandbags and barbed wire. Residents would be issued with ID badges, and their every entry and exit logged.....

Ironically, these death squads are the direct by-product of US policy. At the beginning of 2004, with no end to the Sunni insurgency in sight, the Pentagon was reported to have decided to train Shia and Kurdish fighters to carry out "irregular missions". The policy, exposed in the US media, was called the "Salvador Option" after the US-backed counter-insurgency in Latin America more than 20 years ago, which led to 70,000 deaths and countless violations of human rights. Some of the most persistent allegations of abuse have been made against the Wolf Brigade. Their main US adviser until April last year was James Steele, who states in his autobiography that he commanded the US military group in El Salvador during the height of the guerrilla war. The complaints against Iraqi special forces continue......

Critics point out that Baghdad is not Tal Afar, a small place in a remote area. There is also deep scepticism about the ability of the Iraqi armed forces to fulfil their role in the equation. They were supposed to play a major part along the Americans in Operations "Forward Together" and "Forward Together II" in Baghdad last summer. However, at that time, only two of the six battalions supposed to take part in the mission actually turned up.

The correct analogy for the coming battle for Baghdad is not Tal Afar, but a US operation carried out in the Iraqi capital last year. More than 12,000 US troops, supported by helicopter gunships swooping over the rooftops, were sent in to destroy the Shia militias and break the back of the Sunni insurgency.

But by the end of the campaign the power of the gunmen had not diminished, and the scale of bloodshed had risen. It is an ominous template for a struggle on which not only President Bush's credibility, but the future of Iraq is likely to depend."


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