Hell in the North
The attack in Mosul yesterday was the single worst attack against U.S. military personnel in Iraq to date. U.S. military spokesmen in Baghdad say 19 American soldiers were killed and three other military personnel were killed. (Probably Iraqi military, as I don’t think there are too many other nationalities up there.) Other reports put the number of dead at 24 and include contractors and Iraqi civilians in the toll. Needless to say the situation is confusion and such discrepancies are normal in the “chaos following such events”:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A17891-2004Dec21.html.
[UPDATE 1150 +0300 GMT: In a release dated today, the U.S. military says, “Of the 22 people killed, 14 were U.S. military personnel and the remainder four U.S. civilians and four Iraqi Security Forces. Of the 72 wounded, 51 were U.S. Military personnel and the remainder U.S., other country civilians and ISF. Twenty-nine people have been released from the hospital.”
“Other reports”:http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2002127159_iraq22.html say 15 U.S. military dead and five civilian contractors. Two Iraqi soldiers were killed. The same report says the attack was a 122-mm rocket, although “some security experts said the extent of injuries indicated that it was possible a bomb had been planted inside the hall.”]
_The Washington Post_ “reports”:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A17892-2004Dec21.html: “Before yesterday, the worst incidents were the deaths of 17 soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division in the November 2003 collision of two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, also in Mosul, and, two weeks before that, the loss of 15 soldiers when a CH-47 Chinook transport helicopter crashed west of Baghdad. All three occurred after President Bush’s May 2003 declaration that major combat operations in Iraq had ended.”
The insurgent group Ansar al-Sunna claimed responsibility. An offshoot of the Ansar al-Islam group, which operated mainly on the Iranian border near Halabja in the Kurdish areas before the war, Ansar al-Sunna is made up of Salafists and a few nationalists and former Ba’athists. It is friendly with the Wahhabi groups such as Abu Massoud al-Zarqawi’s Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, and it has a significant Kurdish membership, reflecting its roots in the north.
I’m doubtful that it conducted a suicide operation, as Ansar al-Sunna has claimed on its Web site, although I suppose it’s possible. It’s more likely it was a mortar or a rocket that finally managed to hit something. U.S. bases are peppered everyday with incoming indirect fire, but they usually fall harmlessly. This time, however…
But a real question is why were these soldiers sitting down to lunch in a soft-roofed structure? They were in a tent with concrete walls while a hardened dining facility (DFAC) was being built nearby. The new DFAC was supposed to be ready by Thanksgiving, I’m hearing from my guys up there, but it wasn’t. Why not? Was there a screw-up? Was it just that some things take longer than expected in the military some times? Was it because of too many attacks that slowed down the construction? I don’t know, and I’ve not been able to get any answers, because the public affairs officer for Camp Marez turned his phone off last night or it was out of the coverage area.
Iraq is beginning to look more and more like Lebanon in the 1980s. Sectarian violence, a brewing civil war and now a large attack on U.S. forces. In 1983, “241 Marines were killed”:http://www.beirut-memorial.org/ in a suicide truck bombing that led to the pullout of U.S. forces from that beleaguered country.
In the same _Post_ article I referenced above, experts are worried that this attack may show either the ability to gather precise intelligence from _inside_ U.S. bases or mark an escalation of violence that could end in a storming or ground assault of a U.S. base.
As the article continues: “If anti-American violence does hit a new level, pressure is likely to increase on the Bush administration to either boost the U.S. military presence in Iraq or find a fast way to get out.”
Indeed. And neither option is a good one for the White House. With the war already “increasingly unpopular”:http://news.ft.com/cms/s/846d780a-5394-11d9-b6e4-00000e2511c8,dwp_uuid=c1a5b968-e1ed-11d7-81c6-0820abe49a01.html, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld even more so, what will the political fallout of this attack be? Especially if it turns out that the Camp Marez dining tent was the equivalent of a “hillbilly armor” humvee?
In all of this, please remember that although for the American public, the deaths of their countrymen and countrywomen obviously hit close to home, it is the Iraqi public that is really suffering. The twin attacks in Karbala and Najaf two days killed more than 70. and literally hundreds of Iraqis die every
week month in violence. The security situation is dire and it’s likely to get worse as the elections approach. There will be many more grieving families in America and Iraq before this is all over.