An Iraqi boy holds a leaflet in broken English that reads ‘Fallujah, the cemetery of the Americans,’ near a burning car in Fallujah. (AFP/Karim Sahib)
FALLUJAH, Iraq (AP) — In one of the bloodiest days in weeks for the U.S. military, five troops died when a bomb exploded under their military vehicle west of Baghdad on Wednesday. At least four foreign nationals, including one American, were killed in a separate attack and some of the bodies were burned, beaten and hanged from a bridge.
*UPDATE* By now, everyone knows that the burned bodies of the four contractors were dragged from their vehicle, mutilated and strung up. Shades of Mogadishu, 1993.
Some questions: Who were the contractors? What were they doing there? I’ve heard reports from NPR this morning that they may have been connected to the Department of Defense. APTV, the broadcast arm of the Associated Press, showed footage of a DoD identification card found near one of the bodies. Fallujah is considered so hot, however, that no Coalition or other allied forces operate there right now. About 4,000 Marines are based nearby, but they didn’t come to help. No ambulances, no police came either.
[UPDATE 2 AP is reporting that the four contractors worked for Blackwater Security, of North Carolina, (thanks, hah!) which provides security training and guard services. “The company said in a statement Wednesday that it was a government subcontractor providing security for the delivery of food in the Fallujah area.”]
The descriptions of what happened are horrible:
Falluja’s streets were thick with men and boys and chaos.
Boys with scarves over their faces hurled bricks into the burning vehicles. A group of men dragged one of the smoldering corpses into the street and ripped it apart. Someone then tied a chunk of flesh to a rock and tossed it over a telephone wire.
“Viva mujahadeen!” shouted Said Khalaf, a taxi driver. “Long live the resistance!”
Nearby, a boy no older than 10 put his foot on the head of a body and said: “Where is Bush? Let him come here and see this!”
When crowds of men and boys desecrate bodies, this is no longer an insurgency made up of “dead enders” and foreign terrorists. This is a movement with popular support and it should be seen as truly frightening.
Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy operations director for Combined Joint Task Force 7, said the U.S. would be “undeterred” by these attacks. “To buckle under to a bunch of insurgents” would be the ultimate disgrace to the victims’ memories, he said.
In a press release from CJTF-7, Kimmitt called the attacks examples of “a slight uptick in localized engagements,” which he said have had a “negligible impact” on the Coalition’s progress. During the past week, Kimmitt said, daily engagements have averaged 28 per day against Coalition military forces, five per day against Iraqi security forces, and just under four per day against Iraqi civilians.
This “uptick” has lead to a total of 50 dead and 300 wounded U.S. troops in March, making it the second deadliest month of the liberation/occupation/war since President Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” stunt on May 1, 2003. Lord knows how many Iraqis are dead. The cumulative death toll is 599 Americans, 59 British troops and 42 other Coalition deaths, for a total of 700 soldiers dead. Again, no one knows about the number of Iraqi civilians killed.
Meanwhile, he said, the Coalition is “stepping up its offensive tempo” to kill or capture insurgents.
OK. Good. But bear in mind that Central Command has been saying that the capture of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein on Dec. 13, along with documents in his possession, allowed for the infiltration of insurgent cells.
American generals have said that these breakthroughs had given them the upper hand in the battle against Saddam loyalists and created the conditions for the American occupation authority to move forward with confidence to the planned handover of sovereignty under an interim government on June 30 and to an elected government in January 2006.
At the same time, the generals have been saying that their main focus in the conflict has shifted to Islamic terrorists who they believe to have been responsible for many suicide bombings and other attacks on the Iraqi police, civilians and foreigners. These attacks, they say, have effectively carried the Iraqi conflict into a new landscape that makes the fighting here part of the worldwide war on terrorism.
But today’s slaughter was not an Islamic _jihad._ This was nationalism, not Islamism. But that distinction doesn’t seem to matter much.
In a modulation of their assessments in recent days, the generals had begun to say that there may be a merging of diehard loyalists to Mr. Hussein and Islamic militants, with the two groups at least loosely coordinating their attacks.
On Tuesday, Kimmitt, who had previously emphasized the growing role of Islamic terrorists in the conflict, said at a news conference that the military no longer considered the distinction between Saddam loyalists and militant Islamists to be so significant from the viewpoint of military operations.
“I’m not sure trying to over-classify these different groups is helpful,” he said. “It might help somehow in the intelligence community, in terms of trying to find out where they come from and trying to find some trails onto them. But on the operations side we just call them targets.”
Look, I understand that anyone trying to kill you is a target. I think most people get that. But not to keep that distinction in mind when you’re making plans and tactics is a sure sign that the U.S. military has given up the battle to win hearts and minds. I fear the U.S. is on the verge of giving up even the pretense that Operation Iraqi Freedom was about Iraqis’ freedom. God help the Iraqi people if that’s the case. Coupling the awesome firepower that the U.S. military can bring to bear with angry, twitchy soldiers who have stopped seeing the Iraqi people as anything but “the enemy” is a recipe for massive civilian casualties, harsh reaction from the Arab street and more recruitment for radical Islamists like Osama bin Laden. But you shouldn’t blame the troops for this attitude. No one who’s not been there should dismiss the psychological conditioning a soldier must do to protect him- or herself from people who are trying to kill as many Americans as possible. A soldier almost _has_ to see the Iraqis as an enemy, otherwise, he ends up dead very quickly.
While the deaths of those soldiers and contractors falls squarely on the a group of savage killers, the deaths of soldiers’ souls rests — in part — on the war planners and politicians in Washington. You know who you are.
George over at Warblogging has a picture, if you want to see. I don’t want to put it up here, as I don’t think it serves any purpose other than incite strong emotions, of which I think we’re have plenty right now, thank you.