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(DV) Whitney: Tal Afar -- Crackdown in the Sunni Heartland







Tal Afar: Crackdown in the Sunni Heartland
by Mike Whitney
September 14, 2005

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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.

Ho-hum. Such paltry events never even reach the front page of American newspapers where the ceremony of American suffering is the only topic of interest.

The remaining occupants of the city have reported the killing and maiming of innocent women and children, the use of chemical weapons, and the predictable destruction of Mosques and holy sites. In Tal Afar the Pentagon’s “Hearts and Minds” program seems to be running in high gear.

There was no doubt that Donald Rumsfeld would use the cover of Hurricane Katrina to mount a massive attack in Iraq, and he didn’t disappoint. The military conducted a 10,000-man invasion only to find that the city had been abandoned and that the Iraqi resistance had slipped away without incident. Not one foreign fighter was captured during the siege despite claims that the city was a haven for foreign terrorists.

Colonel Greg Reilly told Al Jazeera that the resistance “went into hiding, avoiding us. That’s why there’s no fighting….They are not putting up a fight.”

Did Reilly really expect the poorly armed resistance to march into battle against Abrams tanks, helicopter gun-ships, and F-18s? The resistance applied classic guerilla tactics and “melted away” before they were confronted by the greater force leaving the Marines with nothing to show for their effort except a few random prisoners. Nevertheless, this hasn’t persuaded the Pentagon to modify their plans of savaging the remaining cities in the Sunni heartland. They still cling to the vain hope that increasing the violence will quash the resistance.

Iraq’s Prime Minister Al Jaafari has shown a surprising enthusiasm for Rumsfeld’s blitzkrieg against the Sunnis. He gave the siege of Tal Afar his personal blessing and said that the hostilities were being conducted “on his orders.” He also announced that he was contributing thousands of newly graduated Iraqi soldiers to the war-effort, even though his decision is bound to be unpopular among the Iraqi public. Al-Jaafari has now put himself in the same position as his predecessor, Iyad Allawi, who lost all credibility when he authorized the invasion of Falluja.

This shows the shortsightedness of the current plan. If Rumsfeld wants to pass off al-Jaafari as a viable political candidate, he must appear to be independent of American influence. By endorsing the attack on Tal Afar, al-Jaafari looks like just another American stooge carrying water for the occupation. Ultimately, this will undermine his legitimacy and disrupt the plan to create a credible “Arab facade” to disguise the administrations intentions.

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.

The media has kept Tal Afar off the front page and framed the debacle as another crucial step in liberating Iraq from the disparate forces of terrorism.

What nonsense. Apart from the conspicuous immorality of the action, the stupidity is almost too hard to bear. Tal Afar is simply a duplication of the same failed policy we have seen over and over again for the last two years.

Has anyone in the Pentagon ever read Che Guevara or any of the other classic tomes of guerrilla warfare?

Why are the same futile policies being replicated day after day when we already know that they are doomed to failure?

Is the fog of hubris so thick at the Defense Dept that they believe that the assault on Tal Afar accomplished anything?

Rumsfeld’s simian theories of warfare have proved to be the greatest boon to the burgeoning Iraqi resistance. Like all headstrong amateurs he soldiers on; ignoring adversity or experience, determined to demonstrate the wisdom of his own narrow vision. Regrettably, that vision is comprised of nothing more than ever-increasing levels of violence erratically extended across the region.

There’s nothing more dangerous than a well-armed dilettante who is convinced of his own genius. Tal Afar leaves no doubt about that.

Mike Whitney lives in Washington state, and can be reached at:

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