Cheat-Seeking Missles

Friday, October 20, 2006

Test Time In Amarah

British troops left the southern Iraqi city of Amarah in August, and the fighting started promptly thereafter, led by trouble-making cleric/militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr.

As can be expected when radical clerics take control, killings followed, both military in nature (against rival militia) and religious (taking out those perceived to be immoral, like merchants suspected of selling alcohol and women alleged to have engaged in improper sexual behavior).

Today, al-Sadr's forces gave up pretense and seized the city. Here's how it went down, according to AP:

The Mahdi Army fighters stormed three main police stations Friday morning, planting explosives that flattened the buildings, residents said.

About 800 black-clad militiamen with Kalashnikov rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers were patrolling city streets in commandeered police vehicles, eyewitnesses said. Other fighters had set up roadblocks on routes into the city and sound trucks circulated telling residents to stay indoors.

Fighting broke out in Amara on Thursday after the head of police intelligence in the surrounding province, a member of the rival Shiite Badr Brigade militia, was killed by a roadside bomb, prompting his family to kidnap the teenage brother of the local head of the a-Madhi Army.

It's tribal warfare of the sort that has kept the middle east (and Africa) behind the civilization curve for millenia.

Too bad al-Sadr wasn't killed long ago in Falujah, but that didn't happen because we have nice-guy rules of engagement in Iraq. Now the Iraqi government and the US military are faced with a second situation with al-Sadr entrenched in a city, surrounded by civilians he's willing to sacrifice for his power and authority.

Meetings have already occured between the Iraqi government and Sadr -- but what hope is there that this egomaniacal religious fanatic will do anything reasonable? It's three weeks before elections, so what hope is there that the US military will be allowed to undertake what needs to be done to send a signal to the militias that this kind of behavior won't be allowed?

Smart, forceful action is needed by the Iraqi government, and force is needed as well. It was their police al-Sadr killed, and their city he siezed. Roadblock all exit routes and take him on. Don't let a single rat out.

Unfortunately, the earlier Falujah policy of giving people lots of warning in order to avoid civilian casualties can't be used again, because it allowed the crazies to escape to cause mayhem another day. It's a test of will, both political and military.

Will we and our allies in the Iraqi government pass the test this time? Let's hope so. It's a test we can't afford to fail twice.

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