Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Rumors and Open-Source Media Research

In December General Petraeus reported that there was a 60% decrease in violence overall in Iraq. American military deaths since October are less than a third of the figure a year ago (See, e.g. The Economist, “Can a lull be turned into real peace?” December 15, 2007, 29.).

Great things are happening here. A Shi’ite tribal sheikh and his Sunni counterpart from Little Barwana and Big Barwana, respectively, have signed peace deals ending two years of bloodshed. That deal was brokered by U.S. soldiers. (Stars and Stripes, Mideast Ed., cover story, January 27, 2008.)

The radical Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al Sadr called a cease fire of his Mahdi Army militia (a.k.a. Jaish al Mahdi) in August. Now he even wants a dialogue with the U.S. military here in Iraq. Again, overall, good – no, great – things are happening in Iraq. Yet there are still some very bad areas, particularly north of Baghdad, where my buddy Johnny died a few months ago by a roadside bomb. That area is called Multi-National Forces-North (simply MNF-N).

Five soldiers just died in a complex attack in Mosul. (Note: the complex attack involved an explosion followed by small arms fire.) Mosul, which is north of Baghdad and Ramadi, is the last al Qaeda bastion in Iraq apparently. Not long ago 40 people were killed when an entire house blew up there. (Hamid Ahmed, AP Report: “Iraq sends troops to Mosul for mission” Jan 28, 2008.) There are assassinations against Iraqi police leaders there and elsewhere, of course. Tikrit, which is near Mosul, has had several big attacks lately too.

Baghdad still has its share of problems. Two U.S. military soldiers were killed in separate bombings over the past few days. Yet, about 75% of Baghdad’s neighborhoods are secure, a dramatic increase from 8% a year ago. (Jim Michaels, USA Today, “75% of areas in Baghdad secure,” Jan 18-20, 2008.)

Now, let’s take a look at Anbar, here in the Euphrates river valley (or, MNF-W for West). Aside from a couple attacks aimed against assassinating some pro-American, anti-al Qaeda Sunni sheikhs over the last several days (and I’d blame those attacks on bin Laden’s recent urging to kill sheikhs of the Anbar Awakening), the area is still pretty docile. Most of the terrorists have been driven from here and have moved up north. (e.g. Kim Gamel, AP Report: “5 U.S. soldiers killed in northern Iraq,” http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080128/ap_on_re_mi_ea/iraq, retrieved January 28, 2008.)

Many of Iraq’s foreign fighters (Saudis, Libyans and terrorists from the Maghrib, or north Africa) entered into the Anbar province from Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria in the past, but since we’ve been here, the bulk of the foreign fighters have tended to enter more north via Syria and in towards Tall Afar. (See, e.g. Karen DeYoung, The Washington Post, “Papers offer insight into foreign fighters,” c. January 22, 2008.)

So, the rumors are we’re moving out of Anbar and possibly (an additional rumor) the length of our tour will get extended a month or two. And, where do you think we’d go? Hummm….not hard to guess that: from the frying pan into the fire!

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