'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Matador Redux (and Whatever Happened to Our Proxy Army?) 

Knight-Ridder's Hannah Allam, who recently made waves by suggesting that the election of Iraq's new government has actually made the situation there worse, along with Mohammed al-Dulaimy, has apparently done some actual reporting about both the cause and effect of Operation Matador. Allam and al-Dulaimy make two claims: (1) Operation Matador began because two Iraqi tribes, tired of foreign trouble-makers in the al-Qaim area, called on the US forces for help and (2) the two tribes greatly regret doing so now.

Here's the bit about why the offensive began:

Long before the American offensive, trouble had been brewing in and around the town of Al-Qaim. Two Iraqi tribes, the Albu Mahal and the Albu Nimr, resented the flood of foreign Islamist extremists who were crossing the border and trying to turn their lands into an insurgent fiefdom.

The overwhelmed villagers were at a loss to defeat the better-armed and better-funded foreigners and their allies from Karbala. With nowhere else to turn, tribal leaders decided to call the Iraqi Defense Ministry.

That's when [Fasal al-]Goud, a sheik of the Albu Nimr, said he called American officials at the Marine base Camp Fallujah to ask for help. Goud had met the officials during the siege of Al-Fallujah, he said.

And here's the bit about it going to hell:

[L]ocal tribesmen said [Operation Matador] was a disaster for their communities that's made them leery of ever again assisting American or Iraqi forces. [ ... ]

In interviews, influential tribal leaders and many residents of the remote border towns said the 1,000 U.S. soldiers who swept into their territories in the weeklong campaign that ended over the weekend didn't distinguish between the Iraqis who supported the United States and the fighters battling it.

``The Americans were bombing whole villages and saying they were only after the foreigners,''' said Fasal al-Goud, a former governor of Anbar province who said he asked U.S. forces for help on behalf of the tribes. ``An AK-47 can't distinguish between a terrorist and a tribesman, so how could a missile or tank?'' [ ... ]

When the offensive ended, however, angry residents returned to find blocks of destruction. Men who'd stayed behind to help were found dead in shot-up houses. Tribal leaders haven't counted their dead; several families hadn't yet returned to the area.

Interestingly a military spokesman, Capt. Jeff Pool, issued a tepid denial when asked if the operation began because tribal leaders reached out to contacts from the Fallujah campaign. Pool said, "We have no knowledge of any local efforts [to contact the US military before the operation]", and he also stated that no "local tribes" participated in the assault. I think it's a good guess that no Iraqis of any kind participated in the assault -- simply because not a single news account mentions any.

The latter point is interesting in context. Last week various news sources compared Operation Matador to Operation Phantom Fury, the Fallujah assault, a fact that resonates with the new information revealed in the KR piece. One of the major Bush administration talking points regarding Phantom Fury was that some number of Iraqi troops aided the American forces -- no one knows the real number, perhaps 1300 showed up. At the time there was a lot of media chatter about Iraq's new army becoming responsible for Iraq's security. I wrote about the Iraqi forces in Fallujah several times last November, speculating that they were primarily Kurdish and that their presence would ultimately spark sectarian violence.

So given the above, given that Matador like Phantom Fury was a house-to-house sweep to rid a town of foreign fighters, given that in Operation Phantom Fury it was considered a good thing that 1300 Iraqis supported the US forces, I ask again: Why were no Iraqi security forces involved in Operation Matador? And why isn't the corporate media interested in this question?

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