Thursday, September 15, 2005

Tal Afar: WTF?

cartoon: Khalil Abu Arafeh, Alquds, 9/12/05

Writing in the Dissent Voice, Mike Whitney says:
The siege of Tal Afar follows a familiar pattern of brutal American incursions into densely populated areas under the pretense of fighting terrorism. It is a ritual that is repeated endlessly despite the dismal results. The Pentagon seems to prefer these grand displays of military strength to anything that might produce a political solution. It brings to mind the old saw, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again: expecting a different result.” This appears to be the guiding principle of the Defense Department with Tal Afar serving as the most recent example.

In the present case, a city of 250,000 has been almost entirely evacuated following weeks of artillery bombardment, aerial bombing raids, downed power lines and water systems, and house-to-house searches.
There's bound to be a great deal of coverage in the mainstream press of a major military operation such as this, isn't there? Isn't there? has this report. It quotes a muy macho major general named Rick Lynch, who says "The rats know we are closing in on them." It talks about "nutritional aid" for the families who've been displaced because, just guessing, U.S. and Iraqi forces knocked their homes down. And it takes at face value Lynch's boast that "at least 141 terrorists had been killed and 236 captured since the operation began on August 26."

But Mike Whitney says otherwise:

There’s very little to discuss about the botched siege of Tal Afar. The assault follows the same basic blueprint of jackboot tactics we’ve seen in similar acts of American aggression. Tens of thousands of lives were disrupted and possibly ruined through forced evacuation, massive property damage has been sustained throughout the city, the mayor resigned in protest of the invasion, the public is more polarized than ever, 152 people were killed in the bombing with countless others detained indefinitely, the resistance fighters escaped unscathed, and the Red Cross reports that the offensive has created a humanitarian crisis that is beyond their limited resources.

In other words, the entire operation was an utter failure.
In the Washington Post Wednesday there was a story about Tal Afar but its focus was a jarringly breezy account of "good-natured" fights among U.S. troops to blow off "unspent aggression." Uh, yeah, interesting story. Real hard-hitting reporting there.

But, ahem, what about the people who live in Tal Afar? Where are the pictures of what remains of the city of 250,000 after days of sustained bombing? Might not that be a subject worthy of exploration?

The same reporter, Jonathan Finer, had a much better story Tuesday that raised huge questions about whether the U.S. forces have even the slightest clue about who is a terrorist and who is not.
A masked teenager in an Iraqi army uniform walked slowly through a crowd of 400 detainees captured Monday, studying each face and rendering his verdict with a simple hand gesture, like a Roman emperor deciding the fate of gladiators.

A thumb pointed down meant the suspect was not thought to be an insurgent and would be released by U.S. soldiers. A thumb pointed up meant a man would be removed from the concertina wire-encased pen, handcuffed with tape or plastic ties and taken by truck to a military base to be interrogated.

Well, at least the "insurgents" selected in this fashion are sure to be treated well in the ever-so-humane Iraqi prison system. Juan Cole sums it up aptly:
So Kurds and Shiites are beating up on Sunni Turkmen allies of Sunni Arabs. That is what is really going on. The number of foreign fighters appears to be small, and US troops that had been guarding against infiltration on the Syrian border were actully moved to Tal Afar for this operation. It is mainly about punishing the Sunni Turkmen for allying with the Sunni Arab guerrillas.
I struggle mightily to find a reason for campaigns like Fallujah and Tal Afar. Americans aren't exactly overwhelmed with information from these assaults, but Iraqis know all too well what's going on. More Iraqi towns are in for the same treatment. Google as I might, there are no pictures from the current Tal Afar campaign that I can find. How long will it be until someone smuggles out a video like this one from Fallujah?

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