Meet Gen. Saleh

A correction on the name and background of the Iraqi general taking over Fallujah.

A correction on an “earlier post”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/000753.php. The “Gen. Salah” taking over the FPA is now being reported as Maj. Gen. Jassim Mohammed Saleh, a former Republican Guard and commander of Saddam’s infantry. He arrived in Fallujah today wearing his old uniform to the cheers of bystanders.
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Maj. Gen. Jassim Mohammed Saleh attends the Friday midday prayer at al-Rawda al-Mohammedieh mosque in Falluja on Friday. (AFP)
“We have now begun forming a new emergency military force,” he told Reuters, saying people in Falluja “rejected” US troops.
Somewhat alarmingly, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, a U.S. military spokesman, offered no details about Saleh’s background but said the Marines had screened the former general and had full confidence in him. Officials of the U.S.-led coalition also said they had not information on Salah’s history. But details emerged from other media outlets.
He’s a former Ba’athist, but all members of the Army were required to be in the party. He was a former chief-of-staff for a Republican Guard brigade in the late 1980s and later commanded the 38th Infantry Division. The _Seattle Post-Intelligencer_ says he was then promoted to head all of the Iraqi army’s infantry forces.
His last posting was as a division commander in the al-Quds (Jerusalem) army, which was initially founded to liberate Jerusalem but grew into a vast paramilitary force. He spent the last year assigned to a military base in Ramadi, just west of Fallujah.
Saleh is a Fallujah native and belongs to the Mohammadi tribe, the town’s largest, and is a close relative of the tribe’s leader. Fallujah natives reached in neighboring Jordan confirmed Saleh is a well-known figure in the clan, according to the _P-I_.
He was apparently well-liked by his men, but never rose in the Ba’ath Party ranks and never was seen as very political.
Still, some Marines aren’t happy about the pullback and the transfer of command to Saleh, who will still report to American military authorities.
“It’s a mistake. People have lost lives in Falluja and now they die for nothing. But we have to give the Iraqis the chance to prove they can do it by themselves and we can still go back if it doesn’t work,” said Corporal Clint Burfort from Iowa.
Also, at least one member of the Governing Council was displeased:

Mahmoud Othman, a Kurd on the US-appointed Governing Council, said it was worthwhile to end fighting. But he added: “It’s not a good precedent … As usual, the Americans, without consulting anyone at all, have gone ahead with a policy to replace an earlier, failed policy … I’m not crazy about coming back to make a deal with someone from the Republican Guard.”

Neither are a lot of people, but it if ends the killing in Fallujah, then it should be considered. I just hope they thoroughly vetted this guy.

Private Contractors in Iraqi Prison Scandal

Private contractors involved in Iraqi prison scandal. Why are these guys there again?

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Sickening. In the growing scandal about the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison comes this lovely detail:

A military report into the Abu Ghraib case – parts of which were made available to the Guardian – makes it clear that private contractors were supervising interrogations in the prison, which was notorious for torture and executions under Saddam Hussein.
One civilian contractor was accused of raping a young male prisoner but has not been charged because military law has no jurisdiction over him.

The two companies involved at Abu Ghraib are CACI International Inc and the Titan Corporation. More info:

According to the military report on Abu Ghraib, both played an important role at the prison.
At one point, the investigators say: “A CACI instructor was terminated because he allowed and/or instructed MPs who were not trained in interrogation techniques to facilitate interrogations by setting conditions which were neither authorised [nor] in accordance with applicable regulations/policy.”
Colonel Jill Morgenthaler, speaking for central command, told the Guardian: “One contractor was originally included with six soldiers, accused for his treatment of the prisoners, but we had no jurisdiction over him. It was left up to the contractor on how to deal with him.”
She did not specify the accusation facing the contractor, but according to several sources with detailed knowledge of the case, he raped an Iraqi inmate in his mid-teens.

The lawyer for the six enlisted men accused of abuses is trying to blame the leadership at the prison for the abuses.

One of the soldiers, Staff Sgt Chip Frederick is accused of posing in a photograph sitting on top of a detainee, committing an indecent act and with assault for striking detainees – and ordering detainees to strike each other.
He told CBS: “We had no support, no training whatsoever. And I kept asking my chain of command for certain things … like rules and regulations.”
His lawyer, Gary Myers, told the Guardian that Sgt Frederick had not had the opportunity to read the Geneva Conventions before being put on guard duty, a task he was not trained to perform.

Boo-f**kin’-hoo. Does it really require a close reading of the Geneva Conventions to _not_ perform “indecent” acts on prisoners? Does it really require that much training to avoid abusing shackled men, forcing them to simulate oral sex with one another or attaching wires to their testicles? In short, does it take some kind of special training to _not_ act like the Ba’athist thugs you went to war against?
I’m sickened and ashamed by this. Whether this was done by enlisted reservists, private contractors or enabled by shoddy leadership, it’s still horrible that this happened. Anyone with an ounce of common decency would know that treating Iraqi prisoners like this is wrong. I don’t care how little training you have. The soldiers and officers involved should be tried and, if guilty, sent to Leavenworth for a long time. The contractors, who conveniently fall outside the Uniform Code of Military Justice, should be arrested under whatever jurisdiction has them (Iraqi or American, if they’re back in the United States) and tried. I hope they would be convicted and sentenced to an equally long prison term. I’ll bet they get treated better than they treated the Iraqis.
Graphic pictures available here, here, here and here.

New Iraqi Flag: Now Even Bluer!

IGC makes changes to the new Iraqi flag that has sparked controversy, but the alterations are miniscule. The new flag needs to be scrapped and replaced with the previous one until a referendum can be held.

The Governing Council is modifying the new Iraqi flag so it doesn’t look so much like Israel’s, the Council said. The design will remain the same, but the colors will be deepened.
_40096569_iraq_new_flag3_203.gifStill looks like Israel’s flag to me. You’re just not going to get away from that with using the colors blue and white. They’re perfectly nice colors, mind you, but in the neighborhood, they come with certain, ah, implications. And the design still doesn’t address the issues I raised in “my previous post”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/000748.php on this subject.
This has proven a very controversial issue in Iraq and on this site, and rightly so. A temporary, appointed government should not be messing with national symbols.
And make no mistake, flags are important. After 9/11, American flags were flown off almost every stoop and porch in America. The iconic picture of the Marines hoisting the banner at Iwo Jima is burned into the country’s collective memory. The _national anthem_ is about the flag still flying as Washington burned in the face marauding Redcoats in the war of 1812, for goodness’ sake! In times of trouble, a nation’s flag is the rallying point for its citizens, and it makes sense that Iraqis would cling to the previous flag — even if it’s from Saddam’s regime — as a means of holding onto a national identity that has been assaulted in the past year for whatever reasons, good or bad.
Current GC president Massoud Barzani of the Kurdistan Democratic Party makes a valid point, however, when he says: “We cannot raise the flag of a party that committed many crimes against the Iraqi people.”
Should the original flag be kept? No, probably not, for the same reason the Confederate battle flag should be removed from Georgia’s state flag: It is a symbol of a vicious crime against African-Americans and should not be included on official state symbols. Likewise, the Saddam-era flag is a painful reminder of his crimes against his own people.
But the people of Georgia have elections every few years to determine whether to change their flag or not; the Iraqis deserve the same opportunity. The new flag needs to be scrapped and replaced with a previous one until a referendum can be held.

Iraqis taking over Fallujah force

Marines pulling back from Fallujah and putting Saddam-era general in charge. Elsewhere 10 U.S. troops die in three separate incidents.

After three days of negotiations between American commanders and four former Iraqi generals, the parties agreed to replace the U.S. Marines surrounding the rebellious town with former Iraqi soldiers.

The agreement is not a cease-fire plan similar to the one in effect now. It does not depend on insurgents turning in weapons or halting hostilities.
Nevertheless, some U.S. commanders had previously believed such proposals to be dicey propositions in part because the Iraqi troops have been inactive for more than a year. It was unclear yesterday what role, if any, might be played by American advisors or special forces who ordinarily assist in such operations.
The new plan amounts to a reformation of scattered segments the Iraqi Army which was disbanded after U.S. forces toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein.
Roughly 900 to 1000 former Iraqi troops, under the command of a former Iraqi general, would constitute the Fallujah Protection Army, said [the commander of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment in Fallujah, Lt. Col. Brennan] Byrne.
It would gradually take responsibility from the Marines for stabilizing the Sunni stronghold and subduing, if necessary, any insurgent activity in Fallujah. The troops and the commanders would all be Sunni, he said.
“They’ll pick up from us,” said Byrne. “The plan is that eventually the whole of Fallujah will be under the control of the Fallujah Protection Army. The goal is that anyone should be able to come into the city without being attacked.”

The FPA, consisting of about 1,100 former Iraqi soldiers, will be under the command of a “General Salah”. A Lt.-Gen. Salah Abboud al-Jabouri, a native of the Falluja region, served as governor of Anbar province under Saddam and was the Iraqi Army’s deputy chief of staff after the 1991 Gulf War. The _Washington Post_ reports that he participated in the cease-fire talks with U.S. officers which ended that war and before the U.S. invasion last year was named by Saddam to be military adviser to Ali Hassan Majeed (better known as “Chemical Ali” for his use of poison gas against Iraqi Kurds in the late 1980s.) Majeed was the commander responsible for all forces in southern Iraq during the most recent war.
Abboud sounds like a real sweetheart. He had close ties to Saddam but He will now reportedly be under the command of Lt. Gen. James P. Conway, the commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. I just hope this guy in sufficiently vetted.
Interestingly, some of the local militia under the control of tribal leaders as well as former insurgents themselves also could be incorporated into the FPA. This is what SCIRI’s Badr Army has been agitating for in Basra and other mainly Shi’ite cities in the south for some time.
Still, I’m not sure if this is a decent and necessary idea or a another horrible, harebrained scheme that will blow up in the Americans’ faces. If the fighting stops because Fallujah rebels might be less inclined to shoot at other Iraqis, and people can enter and leave the city without getting shot, then that’s no doubt a Good Thing. Fallujah isn’t so strategic that it needs to be under direct control of the Americans. It just needs to be quiet enough so traffic can get through.
If, instead, the Americans have decided that Iraqis are going to be pissed off no matter what they do, then getting former Iraqi generals — who probably have _a bit_ of experience in dealing with _intifadas_ going all the way back to 1991 — might be the best option, militarily. Assuming they can be trusted of course. Many of the top generals in the old Iraqi army were Sunni; cracking down on uppity Shi’ites in 1991 is one thing. Cracking down on your former comrades-in-arms is quite another.
Using Iraqis to beat the snot out of Iraqis is a completely different story _politically_, however. At this point, things seem so thoroughly FUBAR in the political realm that it may not make much difference, other than to get the Iraqis troops involved marked for revenge killings by relatives of the insurgents. But hey, if they’re former Ba’athists, they were probably already marked men anyway.
The Marines seem to think it’s not a retreat.

It could also give the insurgents a way to save face — should they want one. “These people know they’ve been defeated,” said Marine Capt. James Edge, a liaison between the new force and the Marines. “They’re seeing that if they stay in the fight they will be quickly obliterated. This [deal] is an option that allows them to save face.”

I’m not so sure this is about the insurgents saving face. The Marines have the superior firepower, true, but doing what it takes to really defeat the insurgents would incur so many civilian casualties that winning Fallujah would mean losing Iraq — if it’s not lost already. Regardless of what the reality is, this can be — and will be — spun on the Iraqi street that the Marines got beat and pulled out.
UPDATE 14:12 EDT

U.S. warplanes carried out new air strikes and gunfire erupted in parts of this volatile city Thursday night, hours after Marines announced a deal to end a nearly month-long siege that has cost hundreds of lives. … The new fighting in this city 35 miles west of Baghdad came as U.S. jets pounded three areas, including Fallujah’s Golan district that has been the scene of heavy fighting in recent days between Marines and some of the estimated 2,000 Sunni Muslim insurgents in the city. Gunfire was heard from the areas as the jets roared low over Fallujah.

How will this affect the plan? No one seems to know yet.
In other grim news, 10 U.S. troops died in three incidents. Eight died in a car bombing south of Baghdad. One was killed in a convoy attack in the capital and another died from a roadside bomb in Baqoubah, north of the Baghdad. At least 126 U.S. soldiers have died in April,
UPDATE 14:36 EDT And in other news, according to a recent poll, a solid majority of Iraqis are out of patience with the Coalition and the occupation, with 71 percent saying the American and other troops are occupiers and not liberators. (If the Kurds are excluded, 81 percent say this.) Nearly half (46 percent) of those surveyed thought the occupation was doing more harm than good. Thirty-three percent said it was doing more good than harm. Because of the sampling error, whether Iraq was better off was a statistical tie with 42 percent saying it was better off and 39 percent saying it was worse off. A solid 57 percent want the occupation to end immediately. This is despite 53 percent saying they would feel more insecure if the troops left. Yes, they hate the occupation that much.
Alarmingly, more people (52 percent) said attacks against Coalition troops were always or sometimes justified, while only 25 percent said the attacks were always unjustified. Last summer, 64 percent of Baghdadis thought attacks on U.S. troops were either somewhat or completely unjustified. Support for the insurgency, then, seems to be growing. And this was poll was conducted _before_ the April violence.
The “USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll”:http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/iraq/2004-04-28-gallup-iraq-findings.htm, with a sampling error of 1.7 percentage points, was conducted among 3,444 Iraqis throughout the country in late March and early April. The polling was conducted in person, in respondents’ homes.

Syrian attacks fake?

Did Syria fake yesterday’s attacks in Damascus?

Whoa. Were the “Syrian attacks”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/000750.php yesterday faked? The _Jerusalem Post_ thinks so:

The still unexplained attacks in Damascus Tuesday night were a fabrication of Syria’s Baath Party hoping for a carte blanche for a crackdown on the regime’s opponents, claimed the dissident Reform Party of Syria (RPS) Wednesday.
Syria blamed al-Qaida for the attacks, which according to reports left a police officer and at least two militants dead in the Mazza district of the capital, home to several embassies and international organizations.
RPS noted that the attack had little of the telltale markers of an al-Qaida strike, usually a well coordinated, high-potent attack using a combination of suicide bombers and gunmen. Given al-Qaida’s predilection for larger attacks, and its use of Syria as a base for operations casts doubt that the Wahabi group was involved, said RPS.

It’s certainly plausible for a police state like Syria to stage a little diversion, especially considering its recent troubles with restive Kurds in Damascus and Qamishly. If it convinced the world it was in Osama bin Laden’s cross hairs, Damascus could lessen some of pressure Washington is putting on it and gain a free hand to crack down on its Kurds.
Not sure what more to make of this, however. It certainly _seems_ like the attack was relatively unsuccessful, but more as it comes out hopefully.

U.S. Pounds Fallujah; Fighting in Najaf

Heavy fighting in Fallujah and Najaf. Has a turning point been reached.

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Fires light up Fallujah’s skyline as U.S. aircraft and artillery attack
the city’s Jolan district.

U.S. forces pounded Fallujah and Najaf as deadlines expired and American patience with Sunni rebels and Moqtada al-Sadr apparently ran out.

Late last night US aircraft and tanks started blasting the Jolan district of Fallujah.
“I can hear more than 10 explosions a minute. Fires are lighting the night sky,” one witness said. “The earth is shaking under my feet.”
Live television pictures showed two large fires some 150 meters apart.

U.S. Marine commanders in the area told BBC that the attacks were not an all-out assault but were instead “defensive in nature” and that Marines were targeting positions that had fired on them. Stratfor (subscription required, sorry) is reporting that at least one Marine has been killed and several more wounded. Several U.S. armored vehicles were hit and set on fire. Al Arabiya is reporting that U.S. forces were unable to dislodge entrenched forces in the Jolan district.
In Najaf, earlier fighting left 57 to 64 Mahdi Army members dead, American officials say.

The clash occurred after insurgents loosed rocket-propelled grenades and anti-aircraft fire at an M-1 tank patrolling the eastern side of the Euphrates River near Kufa, said General Kimmitt, the chief spokesman for the American command. American forces called in attack helicopters to supplement ground troops, killing the 57 insurgents.

This is a critical moment for the Coalition, and it’s no exaggeration to say that these two battles will determine in many ways how Iraq tips. If the Coalition can bring these rebellious cities to heel, there are two possibilities:

  1. The Iraqi fighters that have been killing Coalition forces will run out of steam, men or both and attacks will subside. Don’t expect a formal surrender — although al-Sadr may go into exile in Iran if he’s not captured or killed. Stratfor believes that a significant portion of the Sunni resistance is bottle up in Fallujah, which was the reason for the (unsuccessful) negotiations between Coalition and fighters there. They wanted to escape the city with their heavy weapons to fight another day. This option now appears “inoperative.”
  2. The attacks will be seen as brutal and — especially in Najaf — insultingly provocative. While the Sunni rebels in Fallujah may be wiped out or crippled, the Shi’a in the south may become so inflamed by infidel boots in Najaf and the death or capture of a popular cleric that the south will ignite. The question then is whether Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani will be willing or able to put the genie of Shi’a anger back in its bottle. It’s as yet unclear if his “red line” around Najaf has been crossed by the Americans.

These battles are necessary for the U.S. forces in Iraq, however, as there is a real danger that the supply lines to Baghdad from the south and west will be cut off by fighters. Already Blackhawk choppers are short on rotors and it’s becoming difficult to transport fuel into central Iraq.
The U.S. will emerge from this smoke and fire victorious; there’s no question of that. But will it then be resented but grudgingly accepted by a shocked, awed and cowed population or blindsided by an angry one? If the Iraqis are tired enough of a year of violence — and they may well be — they may resign themselves to Coalition governance no matter how inept it is. We’ll find out next week, I think, but I suspect the Iraqi resistance just got a shot in the arm.

Damascus situation

Terror attacks in Syria today and recently in Jordan may be the start of a regional upsurge in violence.

The former United Nations HQ in Damascus was apparently attacked by terrorists today, but details are sketchy as to what is going on. Reuters is reporting that

“There were at least two terrorists. One was killed and another one injured after they detonated an explosive device… and destroyed at least three vehicles,” a diplomatic source told Reuters.

He said the blast set a United Nations building ablaze, but a Reuters witness at the scene said that while the building had long been used by the U.N., it was now a civilian residence.

A water depot with the United Nations emblem was seen on top of the blackened four-storey building, the windows were blown out, and shards of twisted metal protruded from inside.

Syrian authorities said only that an “armed subversive group” was behind the attack and gave no other details of who might have been responsible

Fox news is also reporting violence with some more details:

A gunbattle with police erupted, pelting nearby buildings with bullets and grenades, Ambassador Imad Moustapha said.

“Unidentified terrorists attacked a U.N. office building in Damascus and this office is surrounded by many embassies as well,” Moustapha told The Associated Press.

He said it was unclear what the attackers’ motives were.

He said one attacker was killed and another captured.

BBC reported earlier that “A main road near the Iranian, Canadian and UK embassies is said to have been hit by three to five blasts and heavy gunfire was heard.”
And Bloomberg is quoting Al-Arabiya as saying “the United Nations building” is on fire

The United Nations building was on fire and a terrorist group started shooting following three explosions in a western Damascus neighborhood, Al-Arabiya news reported, citing the Syrian state news agency SANA.

The explosions occurred at about 8 p.m. local time near the British, Canadian and Iranian embassies, Dubai-based Al-Arabiya said. Another explosion was reported near a shopping mall in the same neighborhood, the station said.

It’s hard to say just what has happened, but it looks like there was some kind of (maybe) unsuccessful attack on the U.N. or other western embassies today. Of course SANA, the official Syrian News Agency, is not much help:

A Security Source on Tuesday evening told SANA that a terrorist and sabotage group opened fire randomly in al-Mezza Street.
“The competent security authorities confronted the terrorist group and the situation was completely controlled”, the Source added.

This attack is part of an upsurge in violence in the region as a whole, following two foiled attacks in Jordan that have left the people of the Hashemite Kingdom scared.