Wednesday, August 25, 2004

All Hat and No Cattle

Seeing as many people have been going on and on about the incipient Iraqi Army's lack of courage under fire, it's rather interesting to find that the much vaunted "Mahdi Army" of "fanatical resistance fighters" is no better when the heat is turned up. It seems Iraqis, whatever their professed loyalties and whoever their paymasters may be, just aren't cut out for Wehrmacht/Red Army/Imperial Japanese style fighting to the last man.

Mahdi army fighters loyal to the Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr had largely abandoned Najaf's Imam Ali shrine yesterday before American forces launched a massive offensive, which was under way last night.
Sources inside the resistance movement said the majority of the militiamen slipped out of the complex after a secret order by Mr Sadr five days ago.
The cleric was no longer in the area immediately around the shrine, which was encircled by American tanks, they said.
"He is 100% not there," one source said. "We are cleverer than the Americans think. Anybody who stays behind is likely to be killed." He added: "We need these people."
A nice bit of empty braggadacio mixed in with a generous dose of candor; Al Sadr does indeed "need these people", not as fighters against a professional army, but as thugs and Sturmabteilung-style block enforcers, which is all his rabble is fit for.
Mr Sadr's aides insisted the cleric was still in Najaf, but many of his fighters appeared to be regrouping in the neighbouring town of Kufa, having been told that the battle for the shrine has effectively been lost.
Someone ought to tell that to the left-leaning side of the blogosphere, where the general opinion seems to be that it is America facing a debacle here, rather than Muqtada al-Sadr.

I think we can see a pattern at work here: to the extent that chancers like al-Sadr appear to have any real strength, it owes more to the American desire to obtain goodwill by showing restraint, and the Western media's need to puff up these opportunists to paint a picture of titanic opposing forces, rather than to anything substantive about the men themselves. Restraint is undoubtedly a good thing, but in the hands of enemies who lack a sense of decency it can also be a weapon.

PS: Also see this report, which suggests that the struggle for the Imam Ali mosque is indeed in its final throes.