comsc US Politics | AMERICAblog News: About those 250 insurgents supposedly killed in Najaf yesterday...
Join Email List | About us | AMERICAblog Gay
Elections | Economic Crisis | Jobs | TSA | Limbaugh | Fun Stuff

About those 250 insurgents supposedly killed in Najaf yesterday...

| Reddit | Tumblr | Digg | FARK

I'm a little baffled by the news on yesterday's battle in Najaf. Outlets are breathlessly reporting that an attack on major Shia religious leaders, including Ayatollah Sistani (a "good" Ayatollah, for those keeping score at home), was foiled by Iraqi troops with American support. The lead of most articles is, of course, that 250 fighters were (reportedly) killed, but that's probably the least important element of the story.

The implication generally seems to be that there were Sunni insurgents in the outskirts of Najaf, a holy city in Iraq and the home of Sistani, in the operational stages of an attack on the city, including a major Shia mosque and Sistani himself. When I first read this, I was extremely skeptical. The insurgency is largely decentralized, including widespread reports of infighting, and even when they're able to cooperate on a large scale, insurgents largely use indirect fire (IEDs, mortars, etc.) -- rather than small arms fire (guns) -- against major targets. It sounded to me more like some kind of mass uprising of a particular group or sect.

I wasn't surprised to read, therefore, that Arab press is reporting not one, not two, but three possible scenarios to explain the fighting. One is the Sunni insurgent possibility, but the other two indicate that the fighters were actually Shia. As usual, Juan Cole is indispensable on the intricacies. One Shia narrative suggests an uprising after an attempt to arrest a radical Shia cleric; the other indicates the group consisted of "Twelvers" (sometimes referred to as millenarians) who sought to bring about the return of the Mahdi by assassinating the four main Najaf clerics (basically, we're talking about a cult - far cry from Al Qaeda if we're now fighting religious cults).

It is hard for me to understand why the identities of the fighters is still in question, but I seriously doubt they had any chance to assassinate Sistani (or the other clerics). They could have, however, conceivably hit the Imam Ali shrine in Najaf, which would have been very, very bad in itself.

The one thing this event proves conclusively, however, is that we have no idea what the internal conflicts are in Iraq. U.S. forces were used -- and killed, including yet another helicopter shot down, the third in a week -- to support the Iraqi army, but we don't even know who we were shooting at or why. I should say that I actually support using U.S. air power to back up the Iraqi army (air support being an enormous advantage to ground forces), but the fact that a battle could rage between hundreds of fighters and hundreds (perhaps thousands) or Iraqi and Coalition forces without knowing anything about the enemy is indicative of the chaos that exists on the ground.

blog comments powered by Disqus