Yesterday, the military announced they had launched operation "Swarmer," the biggest air assault since the beginning of the Iraq war in the area around Samarra. There was confusion all day in the media about what exactly "air assault" meant, because at first everybody thought this was "shock and awe" all over again. Later on the pentagon explained they were talking about helicopters landing troops, not fixed wing aircraft dropping smart bombs.
Part of the confusion might have been from the day before when the U.S. used what military spokesman Maj. Tim Keefe said were "air and ground assets" to demolish a farm house in Balad, which he said was supposedly occupied by insurgents. In the process, they managed to kill 11 civilians, who were apparently members of an entire family --- "from a 75-year old grandmother to a six-month old baby" ---from what Jeffery Gettlman in the NYT reported. The results of the air and ground attack were, "devastating, according to images broadcast on Arab TV: dead cows, scorched cars, a smashed house and 11 bodies wrapped up in blankets."
In the effort to win hearts and minds, and keep everybody's mind off the lack of any political progress in Baghdad, the U.S. is really going after the insurgents, or al-Qaeda, or whoever is in Samarra, now that the horse is already out of the barn. Today, I heard resistance has been light, which probably has to do with the fact that the insurgents knew well ahead of time what was coming and redeployed the hell out of there.
The Iraqi army makes up half the forces involved in this "offensive," which is great, but from what I hear they're not the problem---the Interior Ministry forces and the police are. No one ever said the U.S. military couldn't train an army, I'm sure the Iraqis are way more capable than they were a year ago. The question now is, after they've got control of Samarra, will the Iraqis stay to make sure al-Qaeda doesn't come back? I seem to remember that U.S. launched another big offensive almost to the minute that W. and John Kerry started their first debate back in October which was supposed to flush the insurgents out of Samarra for good. Whatever happened with that?
Last night Jay Leno joked that this offensive would last as long as it took to get Bush's poll numbers up to around 40% and I think there might be some truth to that. I noticed a distinct lack of Rummy in the press and a whole lot of Scott McClellan. When the White House press secretary is giving the blow by blows on a military operation, you have to wonder. The thing is, I don't think at this late date that big military operations deflect the public's attention away from the chaos and political gridlock that's going on everywhere else in Iraq. We're still getting a heavy dose of "civil war has been averted," but if you listen to what the major players are saying you don't really get that feeling.
On Wednesday, the day before the parliament met for about a half hour to show the cameras that they could actually all sit down together in the same room --- and get nothing done --- Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the powerful Shiite group Sciri, said the only way to provide security for Iraq was to split up the country into autonomous regions. "This way, each region can be guarded by its own people and the criminals won't have a chance." Good idea, sounds like a perfect recipe for civil war, too. Al-Hakim's boss, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who is supposedly the voice of reason, said last week that if the government couldn't ensure safety, the militias would.
When you judge the situation by the lack of progress being made in the moribund parliament and the comments of one of the largest power brokers saying they want to run their own show down in the south, what makes anyone think there's a snow balls chance in hell of a "national unity government" ever happening? Sending 1,5000 troops into Samarra to chase out a few hundred ragtag insurgents who will just relocate to another part of the desert doesn't solve the larger issue of whether there even really is an Iraq to defend anymore.
Posted by bushmeister0 at 12:31 PM EST
Updated: Friday, 17 March 2006 12:33 PM EST