Embedded in Anbar

“Saed’s capture is a lucky break, and maybe it will help. Because these days, Fox Company has been catching hell from insurgents who have been pushed out of the city of Fallujah and into the surrounding countryside since U.S. forces wrested the city from insurgent control last November….”

CAMP DELTA, al-Karma, Iraq — Must make this one short and sweet, as I’m running of of battery on my laptop, but since Thursday evening, I’ve been embedded with the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines of the II Marine Expeditionary Force surrounding the garrisoned town of Fallujah. I’ve not yet had a chance to get into the city proper yet, as the 2-2 doesn’t operate there (that’s the 2-6 and 2-7’s area of operations) but al-Karmah is an interesting little town.
It’s just to the north of Fallujah and Camp Delta, home of Fox Company, is nestled in between Fallujah and al-Karmah next to the old Oil-for-Food warehouse. (It’s now an alleged staging area for the insurgents in the area who regularly poke their heads up and take potshots at the Fox Company.)
I just want to share some notes and observations I’ve made over the last two days.
*Friday, October 28, 2005*
For the short drive to Camp Delta just across a half-hearted stream from the town of al-Karma, the Marines of Fox Company ride only at night. They do this to minimize the IED threat, says Capt. Mike Estes, the company commander, which is still ever-present almost a year after U.S. troops attacked the rebel stronghold of Fallujah and its surrounding towns, such as al-Karmah. Dust and grit pepper the googles of Fox Company, because they ride in high-backed, up-armored lorries instead of humvees.
Earlier, Capt. Chad Walton, a spokesman for the 2nd Marines at Camp Fallujah to the south, said that Fallujah was closed to the outside world, with only residents allowed in after showing ID cards that proved their address. The Marines man five entry checkpoints to the city, turning away anyone who can’t provide the proper credentials or whoever they deem suspicious.
“Obviously, it’s not foolproof,” says Walton. “But it’s way better than it was.”
The Marines of Fox Company agree; they talk of driving through the old city without having a shot fired at them. But Fallujah is thoroughly occupied. Iraqi police and Army take second stage to the Americans, who aren’t shy about showing their presence, in contrast to Baghdad where U.S. patrols are almost scarce these days until you get near major installations such as the airport or the Green Zone. The Iraqis aren’t prepared to take over security operations yet, and it will likely be years before they can. Is a thorough occupation what it’s going to take to pacify the restive cities of the Sunni heartland?
*Saturday, October 29, 2005*
It’s still dark when the Marines of 3rd platoon, Fox Company starts out. The idea is to get a jump on their quarry, the leader of a mortar team that has been peppering Fox Company’s base, Camp Delta just south of al-Karmah. The air is cool on the skin and the sun brightens the sky from the direction of Baghdad. Ahead, date palms are black against the indigo sky, and lush greenery of reeds, cottontails, rice, dates and olive trees line the dirt roads.
3rd Platoon takes it easy. The commander, Lt. Anthony Carter of Endicolt, N.Y., doesn’t believe in the brute force method of cordon-and-knock. It’s easier — and more — effective to take a more discreet and polite approach, he says. Whereas the U.S. Army excels are roaring up in humvees, soldiers piling out and putting on a show of force, Carter’s Marines instead walk up to the house where they believe Ali Muhammad Saed, the mortar team leader, is living.
They’re in luck. He’s out front fiddling with his orange-and-white taxi. He doesn’t seem surprised to see him and sits quietly while Carter orders all other military-age men in the immediate neighborhood to be rounded up and brought to Saed’s house. Soon enough, three men and two boys are brought over and they all squat on the porch of the house. It’s possibly the most peaceful and respectful raid in Iraq’s history.
“The days of just running in the house are over,” Carter says. “If you flash-bang every house, you’re not making many friends.”
Saed’s capture is a lucky break, and maybe it will help. Because these days, Fox Company has been catching hell from insurgents who have been pushed out of the city of Fallujah and into the surrounding countryside since U.S. forces wrested the city from insurgent control last November. While direct engagements are rare — the Marines always win and the insurgents know it — IEDs and suicide car bombs are taking a toll on Fox Company. Since their deployment in July, the 2-2 has had 12 Marines killed. Fox company has nine guys out wounded and Carter’s 3rd Platoon has had 6 purple hearts awarded — out of a force of 37 guys. Only one of 3rd Platoon’s awards came from being shot. The rest have come from IEDs and car bombs. So numerous are incoming mortar attacks on Camp Delta that body armor and helmets are required anytime a Marine goes outside a building.
“It’s not more violent,” says Lance Cpl. Thomas Cummings, 21, of Horicon, Wisc. “But what is violent is more intense.”
This wasn’t supposed to happen. As the political process moved forward, embassy officials said all year, the violence should decrease. There would be a coupling in increased Sunni participation and a decrease in violence. But most of the injuries that have befallen 3rd Platoon, says Lt. Carter, have occurred since the Oct. 15 referendum.
Just two hours later, the nearby boom of an IED followed by the rattling of gunfire were a late coda his remarks. An ambush, somewhere. Someone else was catching it today.

A note on Jaysh al-Muhammad

In a post on alphabet city, Robert brings up the idea that Jaysh al-Muhammad, which was involved in the planning of the Palestine Hotel attack on Monday, was founded by Saddam Hussein right before the war. He’s sorta right, but there are more details. As usual, it’s more complicated than just saying it’s a creation of Saddam.

In a post on alphabet city, Robert brings up the idea that Jaysh al-Muhammad, which was involved in the planning of the Palestine Hotel attack on Monday, was founded by Saddam Hussein right before the war. He’s sorta right, but there are more details. As usual, it’s more complicated than just saying it’s a creation of Saddam.
Just after the war, Saddam instructed his subordinates to “rebuild your networks.” These networks became the core of the insurgency that included Jaysh al-Muhammad. The majority of JAM’s members are former military men who, by definition, were members of the Ba’ath Party, but that does not mean they subscribe fully to the Ba’athist ideology or that they follow Saddam. They are _generally_ more nationalistic than Ba’athist, but their ideology is a complicated mishmash of Iraqi nationalism and pan-Arabism. (The latter is a plank of Ba’athist ideology, though.) The JAM also attracts money and support from former regime elements and exiles in Syria and Jordan because of a) its relative effectiveness and b) its surface Ba’athist trappings.
How do the _jihadis_ such as Zarqawi fit into this? While Zarqawi was present in Iraq prior to the war, he was confined to the Kurdish area in the north and was working with Ansar al-Islam, a group mainly made up of Kurdish salafists and some veterans of Afghanistan. It was only after the Ba’athist and nationalist insurgency began to make some gains that they were able to get into the fight. They established a great deal of momentum and have been riding it ever since, struggling for control of “the insurgency” against the Ba’athists and nationalists.
The weapons in this internecine struggle are money and appeals to religion. While the Ba’athists can command great sums of cash through old accounts in Syria, Jordan and elsewhere, the _jihadis_ can call on equal funds from the oil-rich sympathizers in the Gulf states. (I’m talking individuals, not necessarily government support — but I wouldn’t rule it out, either.)
The _jihadis_ gain influence within the insurgency by initially providing money and materiel to smaller nationalist groups, but then start lobbying for their new-found beneficiaries to starting being better Muslims. More help, more preaching follows, and soon enough, a group of nationalists have grown their beards, stopped drinking beer and smoking cigarettes and start praying five times a day. What they may have originally seen as a struggle of national resistance has become jihad, with the original leaders of the nationalist group either eliminated or pushed aside in favor of more religious-minded men.
This fight over nationalism/secularism and jihad/fundamentalism is happening all over Iraq, not just in the insurgency. It’s happening in the society at large and within the Iraqi government. It’s also happening all over the Muslim world, and in many ways is the real war on “terror.”

Palestine attack the work of Ba’athists, Jihadis

Monday’s attack on the Palestine Hotel was not targeting journalists, I’ve learned, but a security company, according to my sources in the insurgency.

BAGHDAD — Monday’s attack on the Palestine Hotel was not targeting journalists, I’ve learned, but a security company in the hotel, according to my sources in the insurgency. (You can read the “full article”:http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1122849,00.html I did for TIME.com here.)
According to sources, who remain anonymous, al Qaeda in Iraq and Jaysh al-Muhammad, one of the largest Ba’athist groups, staged the joint operation in order to attack and kill members of one of the security firms stationed in the Palestine. Journalists were not specifically targeted, but because the plan was to get the huge cement truck bomb under the Palestine and bring down much of the building, I’m told, it seems impossible that journalists would have escaped injury.
The Palestine is well-known in Baghdad as a haunt for journalists and security companies.
Al-Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement, saying it attacked “the intelligence agencies, American, Australian and British security companies and the thieves of the treasures of Iraq,” referring to contractors. Insurgent sources also told me they believe the targeted security firm is actually a western or Israeli intelligence agency. Statements signed by Abu Maisara, the “spokesman” for al Qaeda, have been authenticated in the past.
Jaysh al-Muhammad is not mentioned in the statement.
The actual attack was carried out by the Lions of Bara’a bin Malik, a group affiliated with Al Qaeda in Iraq but made up of Iraqi suicide bombers. (Bara’a bin Malik was Islam’s first suicide attacker, who lived — and died — in the time of the Prophet.)
While it seems counter-intuitive that secular Ba’athists would work with _jihadis_ of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s stripe, they sometimes combine forces for large operations against their common enemy: foreigners and infidels. They also often share information and techniques.

Ninevah votes against Constitution…

Ninevah votes “no,” but not by enough.

… but not enough. “No” votes were 55% and “yes” votes were 45%. This doesn’t sound too out of line to me. This means Iraq has a new constitution.
For the constitution to have failed, it needed to be voted down by at least 66% in any three provinces. Anbar and Sulahadin both reached this point, but Nineveh and Diyalah did not.
The real question now will be whether the Sunnis will accept this vote as fair. Saleh Mutlaq of the National Dialogue Council and others have said they defeated the referendum in all four Sunni-majority provinces: Anbar, Diyala, Sulahhadin and Ninevah. But the numbers released by the IECI today don’t show that, obviously. Dialya and Ninevah have significant non-Sunni populations: Shi’ites in Diyala and Kurds, Christians and Turkomans in Nineveh. Anbar and Sulahhadin both rejected the charter by wide margins.
“As I wrote”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/2005/10/quiet_election_1.php, this is the worst-case scenario:

The absolute worst-case scenario is if the Sunnis come close to defeating the constitution, but fail. There will be accusations of vote-rigging and any political momentum the Sunnis felt was moving their way will be spent. The Shi’ites will have consolidated their power and those Sunnis on the fence might be moved into active opposition. The insurgency might even worsen, if such things are possible, or a close vote might be the trigger for open civil war.

Still, it’s not impossible that Sunnis might see the light of reason in this and decide to come out and vote on Dec. 15 for a permanent government. A last-minute deal between the Iraqi Islamic Party and the Shi’ite and Kurdish groups agreed that the permanent constitution would be more temporary than the name implies. The leaders agreed that after the election in December — which will see an increase in the number of Sunnis in parliament — the constitution will be thrown open to amendments. Shi’ite politicians such as Jawad al-Maliki of the Dawa Party said it would be open to only some fine-tuning. The Iraqi Islamic Party said, however, that the whole thing was open for discussion. The truth is all groups were playing to their base in the hopes of turning out the vote, so the actual state of negotiations lies somewhere in between the two extremes. Luckily, there are still negotiations, which is better than nothing, I suppose.
And already, some Sunni politicians are sounding conciliatory notes. Mishaan al-Jubouri, a Sunni legislator from the Liberation and Reconciliation Party, said, “We will participate in the next elections. We will try to make a democratic, secular majority in the parliament and try to change the constitution.”
He groused that the reason Nineveh didn’t pass was that several Kurdish cities — Makhmor, Okhra and Shikhan — were included in the province that, historically, should not have been included. These cities are all Fallujah-sized or smaller, meaning around 250,000 people or so. (“Probably half a million each now,” A., my office manager, grumbled, voicing the suspicion that Kurds had swamped the city with new voters just before the referendum.)
But, al-Jubouri added, “I don’t think that there was manipulation of the votes _after the closing of the ballot boxes_.” Despite my emphasis, this is a good sign, I think. He also said he is already looking ahead to Dec. 15, when Iraqis go to the polls, _again_, and elect a permanent parliament. “We will run in Babylon, Baghdad, Diyalah, Anbar, Sulahadin, Ninevah and Kirkuk,” he said, and added he would like to form a parliamentary coalition with former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s bloc. “I think he will win a majority of seats in the next parliament.”
But this brings up the point of what the political situation in Iraq will look like down the road. Assuming this smoldering civil war doesn’t ignite further, _this is the political situation:_ A constantly shifting set of alliances with Sunnis generally coming out with the short end of the stick. Stratfor (subscription only, sorry) notes that this means that politics and the trappings of state will fade into the background. “The rest of society — clans, families, corporations, organized crime — are emphasized,” the think tank reports. “An Iraq with eternally shifting politics is not incompatible with the notion of a functioning society.”
Maybe. But a nation with those institutions empowered instead of the state sure sounds different from what the United States has publicly stated is the desired end result: a democratic, united, federal and pluralistic state. In fact, with the exception of corporations, it sounds a lot like Iraq today.
PS: Here’s a table of the final percentages. “Click here”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/upload/2005/10/results_25.pdf for a PDF of all the results.

Results Breakdown by Governorates
Governorate Yes % No %
Anbar 3.04% 96.96%
Babil 94.56% 5.44%
Baghdad 77.70% 22.30%
Basrah 96.02% 3.98%
Dhouk 99.13% 0.87%
Diyala 51.27% 48.73%
Erbil 99.36% 0.64%
Karbala 96.58% 3.42%
Kirkuk 62.91% 37.09%
Misan 97.79% 2.21%
Muthana 98.65% 1.35%
Najaf 95.82% 4.18%
Ninewa 44.92% 55.08%
Qadissiya 96.74% 3.26%
Salahaddeen 18.25% 81.75%
Sulaymania 98.96% 1.04%
Theqar 97.15% 2.85%
Wasit 95.70% 4.30%
     
Total: 78.59% 21.41%

A Thousand Deaths

The more I think about this place and yesterday’s attack on the Palestine/Sheraton compound, the more I feel that it’s time to leave here — and that I’m a coward for thinking that.

BAGHDAD — No, the title doesn’t refer to a body count. It’s what I’m feeling in my soul. The more I think about this place and yesterday’s attack on the Palestine/Sheraton compound, the more I feel that it’s time to leave here — and that I’m a coward for thinking that.
I don’t want to desert this story. I don’t want to let my friends down. I don’t want to leave my staff, who have bravely stuck by us and who _can’t leave_ like I can. But I also don’t want to die for this story. I’m torn in half over this. I have a macho, “tough it out” mentality about this place while also wondering, “Have I worried my family and friends enough on this?”
I don’t know for sure if yesterday’s attack was aimed specifically at journalists, but if that cement truck had gotten 20-30 feet further in, it might have been powerful enough to bring down a good part of the Palestine Hotel. For sure, westerners were the targets, and whether journalists were just lumped in for good measure is cold comfort.
Just now, about five minutes ago, there has been another huge boom that rolled over the house. We’re not sure where it is, but we’ll know soon. We always do.
I don’t think it’s as big as yesterday’s cement-truck bomb, which was so large that I didn’t even register the sound of the explosion. It was almost a sub-sonic rumble, and then my windows rattled. Everyone here in the house thought it was the wind.
So I don’t know what I’m going to do, but decamping to someplace less hostile is looking more and more necessary. And that just _kills_ me.

Three car bombs in Baghdad

There are reports of a mortar attack and two large car bombs at the Sheraton Hotel, home of Fox News and, next door in the Palestine, the Associated Press.

BAGHDAD — There are reports of a mortar attack and two large car bombs at the Sheraton Hotel, home of Fox News and, next door in the Palestine, the Associated Press. There has been a third car bomb attack on the al-Sadeer Hotel up the road from me.
[UPDATE 10/24/05 6:03:43 PM: Now it appears it’s three car bombs at the Palestine/Sheraton compound instead of mortars… No attack on al-Sadeer as near as I can tell. CNN’s footage is chilling; two smaller explosions in front of AP cameras on the Palestine Hotel, and then a third huge explosion. As you watch, you can see a tanker truck cement mixer enter the compound before exploding in a massive cloud of fire, dust and smoke.
[This means they knew where the cameras are. They know how to get into the compound. And there’s a good chance the first two explosions were designed to get journalists’ attention, draw them to the windows and then explode the third one.
[No good word on casulaties yet. Nothing reliable.]
Things are confusing right now and we’re unsure what has happened, but that’s the latest. The blasts rattled my windows and I’m three or so kilometers away.

Preliminary Election numbers

Preliminary numbers from the Independent Electoral Commission in Iraq, based on an audit of 20 percent of ballot boxes from last Saturday’s constitutional referendum show massive “yes” votes in most provinces. But the most closely watched one, Ninevah, is rapidly turning into the Ohio of Iraq.

BAGHDAD — Preliminary numbers from the Independent Electoral Commission in Iraq, based on an audit of 20 percent of ballot boxes from last Saturday’s constitutional referendum show massive “yes” votes in most provinces. But the most closely watched one, Ninevah, is rapidly turning into the Ohio of Iraq.

Province No Yes
Baghdad 21.83% 78.17%
Dhouk 0.89% 99.11%
Diyala 48.24% 51.76%
Karbala 3.46% 96.54%
Kirkuk 38% 62%
Misan 2.16% 97.84%
Muthana 1.34% 98.66%
Najaf 3.97% 96.03%
Qadissiya 3.24% 96.76%
Salahadeen 81.15% 18.85%
Sulaymania 1.05% 98.95%
Theqar 2.94% 97.06%
Wasit 4.20% 95.80%

*Still to come:*
_Ninevah_, Anbar, Babil, Basra and Erbil.
In a statement, the IECI said, “These results are not a demographically significant sample of all polling stations so they cannot be used to predict the final outcome of the Referendum.” Babil, Basra, Erbil and Ninevah are currently undergoing field audits, while Anbar votes are still being input into the system, the statement said. No one expects Anbar to vote for the referendum, and Babil, Basra and Erbil are expected to vote “yes” in high percentages. That leaves Ninevah and Mosul as the swing votes that will decide this election, as it takes a two-thirds “no” vote in three provinces to veto the constitution.
“I wrote about the voting hanky-panky going on in Ninevah on Monday”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/2005/10/curious_numbers.php, and it seems like the IECI is taking it seriously. I don’t know how it will go, but I sure hope that they can show the vote was fair.