Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Alamo, Baghdad

It's what the Bush "surge" is all about, a cluster of fortified houses that will become one of about 22-outposts that US forces are planning to establish throughout trouble spots in Baghdad.

The New York Times reports that the outpost has already drawn fire from insurgents:

The "...outpost here, a cluster of fortified houses officially designated a joint security station and unofficially called the Alamo by some of the soldiers, is a test case for President Bush’s new Baghdad security plan. The strategy envisions at least 20 more facilities like it in other troubled neighborhoods, all jointly staffed by Iraqi and American forces.

"Even after the stations are set up, American commanders say, it will be many months, at best, before they can even hope to prevent bombings like the one that killed at least 88 people in a central Baghdad market area on Monday.

"In the week since the Americans arrived, however, the troops have seen the truth of what their commanders warned in announcing the plan: it leaves Americans more exposed than ever, stationary targets for warring militias.

“'I’m a juicy target they are just trying to figure out,' said Capt. Erik Peterson, 29, the commander at the outpost.

"During the week, the soldiers also received their first glimpse of the green Iraqi forces who will share the mission and eventually, they hoped, take it over. The soldiers talked about them with a mixture of bemusement, disdain and mistrust.

“'You could talk about partnership, but you would be lying,' said one soldier who asked that his name not be used, for fear of punishment by his superiors."

The compound was barely in operation before it was attacked with small arms and rocket grenade fire. The first patrol from the fortress into the local neighbourhood drew three sniper attacks. The US troops were fortunate to come through unscathed. They know that their every move is being watched. Neighbours have warned that the Mahdi Army and al-Qaeda have spies watching the compound to see who is giving information to the Americans.

The local, Sunni population leaves no doubt who it wants the Americans to deal with, even painting the message on nearby walls:

“Hey Americans, we want you to destroy the J.A.M.” It was a reference to the largest Shiite militia, the Mahdi Army. In smaller letters, someone had written an equally clear message: “Bush is appalling and dreadful.”

Once the US troops had the Alamo up and running their Iraqi military counterparts showed up. Not surprisingly it was a Shiite contingent and it was gunning for Sunni targets.

"Maj. Chasib Kattab, a boisterous Shiite who commands the Iraqi unit of two companies, about 200 men, started to provide information. But, in a likely hint of things to come, all his tips involved Sunni fighters. He had nothing to say about the Shiite militias."

The fortress campaign seems destined to either become a mediocre success or a complete disaster. It presents the militias, insurgents and terrorists with very enticing, high-value targets. If, or perhaps when, they can identify the vulnerabilities in the structures and the operations of the troops inside, there will be attempts to destroy at least some of these compounds. With the American people already solidly against this war, wiping out one of these fortresses would present a huge psychological victory for the bad guys - whether Sunni, Shiite, al-Qaeda, Iraqi, Iranian, you name it.

No comments: