Tuesday, August 17, 2004

American Soldiers Aren't Stupid

This story illustrates why it's strange that critics of the operations under way in Najaf persistently fail to give the marines any credit. The unshakeable assumption seems to be that American troops are dunderheads who can't possibly know what they're doing.

United States marines and Shia militiamen clashed in the alleys around the Imam Ali mosque in Najaf yesterday as delegates at a national conference sought new negotiations to end southern Iraq's insurgency.

American tanks came within a few hundred yards of the mosque, engaging Mahdi army insurgents who are rebelling against the interim government in the name of the Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. But they did not fire on the shrine, one of the holiest in Shia Islam.

Nearly 3,000 Shia civilians have gathered inside, acting as human shields. In the deserted streets of the old town and in Najaf's vast cemetery, Mahdi army fighters launched hit-and-run raids on US marine positions.

"They just come up, open fire and disappear," said a marine tank gunner. "There are a lot of foxholes and warrens here so it makes engagement difficult. If they are attacking us from close to the mosque we are under orders not to fire." (emphasis added)
It goes without saying that the marines are undertaking this policy of restraint at considerable added risk to their own lives. Nevertheless, if they can maintain the cordon long enough, it should be possible to starve al-Sadr's supporters into submission without actually attacking the Imam Ali mosque.

As for the notion that there are any options left for dealing with Muqtada al-Sadr other than force, the following snippet pours cold water on that:
The conference, called to elect an interim parliament, met for a second day yesterday. It resolved to send a 100-member delegation to Najaf.

It is understood that the delegates will seek to persuade Sadr and his followers to leave the shrine and turn the Mahdi army into a political movement. A Sadr aide said the offer was likely to be rejected. (emphasis added)
Notice who's doing the rejecting? And yet it is the Americans who are inevitably to blame in the eyes of some ...