Battle Blog 16 - 22 August 2004

The past week in Najaf has been confusing, with a series of on—again, off—again agreements to end the fighting, followed by further battles between Sadr's Mehdi militia and US and Iraqi forces.  Last weekend, Prime Minister Iyad Allawi authorized the resumption of military action in Najaf after initial peace talks fell through.  For some reason, the Coalition did not take quickly advantage of Allawi's decision, or perhaps, the Iraqi National Guard was not yet prepared to storm the Imam Ali mosque.

It appears that Sadr is reneging on a deal hammered out Saturday that called for Sadr and his militia to vacate the mosque and to 'turn over the keys' to representatives of the Iraqi government and to aides of Iraq's most senior Shiite leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al—Sistani.  US tanks are on the move again, and there have been reports of further air strikes by AC—130 gunships against Mehdi militia positions near the mosque.  Many Americans are justifiably concerned about the outcome of this standoff in Najaf.  Some perceive it as a sign that we are being hesitant in the face of a so—called Muslim cleric who does not even have the support of the vast majority of Shiites in Iraq.

However, it is more likely that a much bigger geo—strategic maneuver is in play.  While the mainstream press can no longer ignore the Iranian connection to Sadr, most newsrooms fail to take into account the long—term Iranian effort in the Central Region.  It is no coincidence that militia aligned with Sadr bombed an oil pipeline south of Basra on the 21st of August.  The pipeline connects the Rumeila oil fields with storage tanks at the Al—Faw Peninsula, which has been targeted before by terrorists of 'unknown' origin.  This time, the attack did not affect oil exports, but it follows the standard pattern of Iranian efforts to isolate Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula.

While attention is focused on Najaf, action continues in Sadr City in Baghdad.  Some analysts believe the fight here may actually be more important than the battle in Najaf, because this area seems to be Sadr's true center of political power.  In an article by U.S. Army Pfc. Erik LeDrew, Prepared for the Worst, Hoping for the Best, we are taken into the thick of the action with the 1st Cavalry Division's 2d Battalion, 5th Cavalry.  Better known as Task Force Lancer, the unit continuously patrols what is arguably the most dangerous neighborhood in Iraq.  The piece describes in detail an operation in the Sadr city starting in the pre—dawn hours, where mechanized infantry accompanied by tanks, deal with RPG ambushes and Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) throughout the operation.  The battalion commander, Lt. Col. Gary Volesky, stated that his unit had 82 days of sustained combat from April to June with about a 30 day break, before launching out to conduct combat operations to handle the latest uprising.  Lt. Col. Volesky and his men are more determined than ever to see this thing through,

'Our mission here is the most important mission I've had in 20 years of service,' he said. 'My battalion has never failed a mission, and we're not going to fail this one.'

In a remarkable companion piece (Caution: graphic language), CENTCOM released an article from pool reporter Mike Dorning of the Chicago Tribune.  Hopefully, this indicates a return of the pool reporter concept that worked well during Gulf War I.  For too long, the major media have either ignored or deliberately fought the concept of having reporters accompany US units on operations.  Dorning's focus is also on operations of Task Force Lancer as they patrolled the Ar—Rashad neighborhood, which is next to Sadr City.  He also notes that despite continuing problems with the Iraqi National Guard, the guard battalion had a 50 percent turn out rate in response to the latest uprising, which is a marked improvement from the previous battles in April.  This is made all the more remarkable since many guard members and their families are frequently threatened by Sadr's followers.  Sometimes, the threats are carried to their stated conclusion,

An ING member also reported passing by a traffic circle in Sadr City on Friday and seeing two bodies laid out in the circle with ING uniforms laid beside them.  But the ING member could not positively identify the bodies.

Also, remarking on the fighting against the Mehdi militia, Lt. Ben Ferguson of the 2d Battalion, 5th Cavalry said,

'We had a lot during the first two days when it first started again:  Men with RPGs running around.  We shot a lot of them....The norm was , they RPG us, they shoot at us.  Our army is so good.  It's really an overmatch.'

Meanwhile, in Basra, the new Iraqi Air Force took its initial steps this past week by commencing operations with two SB7L—360 SEEKER Reconnaissance Aircraft.  In New Iraqi Air Force Takes Flight, we learn that Iraq and the Coalition are further focusing their efforts on protecting the vital oil facilities in southern Iraq and their border with Iran.  The aircraft is Australian—made, and is a single—engine, two—man, aircraft fitted with advanced surveillance systems.  The Coalition hopes to eventually have a force of ten of these light reconnaissance aircraft by September 21.  The aircraft can provide live feedback down—linked to ground forces and has digital video recording hardware and other reconnaissance technology.

Finally, in a report deferred from last week's Battle Blog due to coverage on the fighting in Najaf, Marines, sailors help unearth evidence of Saddam's crimes describes how Coalition forces are continuing to find evidence of Saddam's barbarity.  Task Force Justice, a I Marine Expeditionary Force team that uncovers evidence of war crimes, recently assisted the Kuwait government in locating and recovering 87 bodies in a mass grave in the middle of the Iraqi desert.  Elements of the 3d Battalion, 24th Marines from Springfield, MO provided security for Navy Seabees and Marine service support troops during the operation.  According to Army Maj. Kate Van Auken of the Justice Department's Regime Crimes Liaison Office,

The Kuwaiti government was missing a total of 605 people before the war with Iraq began.  To date, 322 skeletal remains have been found, and 167 of them positively identified as Kuwaiti through DNA testing or comparing dental records at independent labs in Kuwait, the United States, France, the United Kingdom and India.

The past week in Najaf has been confusing, with a series of on—again, off—again agreements to end the fighting, followed by further battles between Sadr's Mehdi militia and US and Iraqi forces.  Last weekend, Prime Minister Iyad Allawi authorized the resumption of military action in Najaf after initial peace talks fell through.  For some reason, the Coalition did not take quickly advantage of Allawi's decision, or perhaps, the Iraqi National Guard was not yet prepared to storm the Imam Ali mosque.

It appears that Sadr is reneging on a deal hammered out Saturday that called for Sadr and his militia to vacate the mosque and to 'turn over the keys' to representatives of the Iraqi government and to aides of Iraq's most senior Shiite leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al—Sistani.  US tanks are on the move again, and there have been reports of further air strikes by AC—130 gunships against Mehdi militia positions near the mosque.  Many Americans are justifiably concerned about the outcome of this standoff in Najaf.  Some perceive it as a sign that we are being hesitant in the face of a so—called Muslim cleric who does not even have the support of the vast majority of Shiites in Iraq.

However, it is more likely that a much bigger geo—strategic maneuver is in play.  While the mainstream press can no longer ignore the Iranian connection to Sadr, most newsrooms fail to take into account the long—term Iranian effort in the Central Region.  It is no coincidence that militia aligned with Sadr bombed an oil pipeline south of Basra on the 21st of August.  The pipeline connects the Rumeila oil fields with storage tanks at the Al—Faw Peninsula, which has been targeted before by terrorists of 'unknown' origin.  This time, the attack did not affect oil exports, but it follows the standard pattern of Iranian efforts to isolate Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula.

While attention is focused on Najaf, action continues in Sadr City in Baghdad.  Some analysts believe the fight here may actually be more important than the battle in Najaf, because this area seems to be Sadr's true center of political power.  In an article by U.S. Army Pfc. Erik LeDrew, Prepared for the Worst, Hoping for the Best, we are taken into the thick of the action with the 1st Cavalry Division's 2d Battalion, 5th Cavalry.  Better known as Task Force Lancer, the unit continuously patrols what is arguably the most dangerous neighborhood in Iraq.  The piece describes in detail an operation in the Sadr city starting in the pre—dawn hours, where mechanized infantry accompanied by tanks, deal with RPG ambushes and Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) throughout the operation.  The battalion commander, Lt. Col. Gary Volesky, stated that his unit had 82 days of sustained combat from April to June with about a 30 day break, before launching out to conduct combat operations to handle the latest uprising.  Lt. Col. Volesky and his men are more determined than ever to see this thing through,

'Our mission here is the most important mission I've had in 20 years of service,' he said. 'My battalion has never failed a mission, and we're not going to fail this one.'

In a remarkable companion piece (Caution: graphic language), CENTCOM released an article from pool reporter Mike Dorning of the Chicago Tribune.  Hopefully, this indicates a return of the pool reporter concept that worked well during Gulf War I.  For too long, the major media have either ignored or deliberately fought the concept of having reporters accompany US units on operations.  Dorning's focus is also on operations of Task Force Lancer as they patrolled the Ar—Rashad neighborhood, which is next to Sadr City.  He also notes that despite continuing problems with the Iraqi National Guard, the guard battalion had a 50 percent turn out rate in response to the latest uprising, which is a marked improvement from the previous battles in April.  This is made all the more remarkable since many guard members and their families are frequently threatened by Sadr's followers.  Sometimes, the threats are carried to their stated conclusion,

An ING member also reported passing by a traffic circle in Sadr City on Friday and seeing two bodies laid out in the circle with ING uniforms laid beside them.  But the ING member could not positively identify the bodies.

Also, remarking on the fighting against the Mehdi militia, Lt. Ben Ferguson of the 2d Battalion, 5th Cavalry said,

'We had a lot during the first two days when it first started again:  Men with RPGs running around.  We shot a lot of them....The norm was , they RPG us, they shoot at us.  Our army is so good.  It's really an overmatch.'

Meanwhile, in Basra, the new Iraqi Air Force took its initial steps this past week by commencing operations with two SB7L—360 SEEKER Reconnaissance Aircraft.  In New Iraqi Air Force Takes Flight, we learn that Iraq and the Coalition are further focusing their efforts on protecting the vital oil facilities in southern Iraq and their border with Iran.  The aircraft is Australian—made, and is a single—engine, two—man, aircraft fitted with advanced surveillance systems.  The Coalition hopes to eventually have a force of ten of these light reconnaissance aircraft by September 21.  The aircraft can provide live feedback down—linked to ground forces and has digital video recording hardware and other reconnaissance technology.

Finally, in a report deferred from last week's Battle Blog due to coverage on the fighting in Najaf, Marines, sailors help unearth evidence of Saddam's crimes describes how Coalition forces are continuing to find evidence of Saddam's barbarity.  Task Force Justice, a I Marine Expeditionary Force team that uncovers evidence of war crimes, recently assisted the Kuwait government in locating and recovering 87 bodies in a mass grave in the middle of the Iraqi desert.  Elements of the 3d Battalion, 24th Marines from Springfield, MO provided security for Navy Seabees and Marine service support troops during the operation.  According to Army Maj. Kate Van Auken of the Justice Department's Regime Crimes Liaison Office,

The Kuwaiti government was missing a total of 605 people before the war with Iraq began.  To date, 322 skeletal remains have been found, and 167 of them positively identified as Kuwaiti through DNA testing or comparing dental records at independent labs in Kuwait, the United States, France, the United Kingdom and India.