The Islamic Republic of Haditha?


Has Zarqawi established a new Fallujah-on-the-Euphrates in city of Haditha? The Guardian claims this is the case, after "a three-day visit by a reporter working for the Guardian last week." The reporter is unnamed, and the article is single sourced. Haditha is the site of the ambush of six Marine Snipers and the IED attack on an Armored Amphibious Vehicle earlier this month that resulted in the deaths of 14 Marines.

According to the unnamed reporter, Zarqawi's agents are in complete control of the town of 90,000, and has implemented Shariah law, complete with summary beheadings of "American agents" and other pleasantries such as the banning of alcohol, music, cell phones and the vision of a woman's face; the monitoring of "relations between the sexes" ; the whippings and savage beatings of criminals.

Judging from the source of the article, there is much room for skepticism. The Guardian has recently published pieces by a known Islamist (Dilpazier Aslam) and an al Qaeda terrorist (Sa'ad al-Faqih). There are elements of this story on Haditha that are clearly pro-jihadi: the children's desire for beheading videos over video games; the praise of the jihadis from citizens and tribal elders the restoration of order; and other such anecdotes. The following extrapolation of the strength of the terrorists is clearly jihadi propaganda designed to give the illusion of American weakness; "From attacks on US and Iraqi forces it is clear that other Anbar towns, such as Qaim, Rawa, Anna and Ramadi, are to varying degrees under the sway of rebels." This is fuzzy thinking at its finest. Add in the single sourcing of the article, and it credibility is suspect.

But it is entirely possible this story is true. At this stage in the Anbar Campaign, Coalition forces are not devoting many resources to occupying cities. Operation Quick Strike, which was directed at Haditha and surrounding towns, was another cordon and search operation designed to keep the insurgency off balance. Once the Coalition switches to clear and hold operations, towns such as Haditha will no longer remain open to enemy infiltration.

There is another item to consider here. At this time last year, Fallujah was the capital of the Zarqawi empire that stretched across the Anbar province. If the Guardian is correct, Haditha and a couple of backwater farming towns along the Euphrates are now the core of his empire. Zarqawi's area of operation is shrinking, and his support, particularly among Sunnis, is waning. He may be able to occupy Haditha and run it as his personal Islamist state, but he is a far cry from where he was last year, and even further from disrupting Iraq's political process.



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READER COMMENTS: "The Islamic Republic of Haditha?"

Posted by Marcus Aurelius at August 24, 2005 7:45 AM ET:

Yesterday Powerline had good commentary on how the MSM does not talk about the above except to puff up the terrorists.

They report every death and then focus in on that death so closely there is no overall sense of what is going on, it all becomes meaningless. They are not even showing the trees they are focused on individual pieces of moss. The forest? Hahahahahahaha.

Posted by AMac at August 24, 2005 8:28 AM ET:

Yesterday (8/23/05), I listened to parts of the NPR show Talk of the Nation. The host had a lengthy phone interview with Omar Madhi of 'Guardian Films' from Baghdad, where he described conditions in Haditha. It's a safe bet that he is the unnamed reporter of the Guardian article cited in the body of the post. Madhi's narrative should be archived as an audio file at this TOTN archive.

From the parts I heard, Madhi characterized Haditha as being in the grip of al-Qaeda in Iraq, but it was not a description that was particulary favorable to the insurgency. Perhaps that flavor came from the special Guardian sauce that is best applied on Fleet Street?

Posted by AMac at August 24, 2005 8:39 AM ET:

Ah, I see that Omer Madhi is named in the current version of the Guardian Special Report the post links. The report's text tracks quite well with what Madhi said on the air. In my opinion, the important parts of his characterization of Haditha are likely to be true. While children might not prefer beheading DVDs to Donkey Kong, and merchants might not be altogether delighted by Taliban-style law'n'order, these are minor points compared to the complete usurpation of the government's authority by Zarqawi's organization.

Posted by Good Captain at August 24, 2005 9:34 AM ET:

Could a component of the coalition strategy include the possibility of Al Qaeda occupation of some Sunni strongholds to increase their eventual distaste of the more radical elements thereby softening up their potential opposition to Coalition and Iraqi government forces?

Posted by GK at August 24, 2005 10:07 AM ET:

Bill,

This is a naive question, but what stops us from conducting a powerful assault on Haditha? Why not have a fierce, quick fight to purge it? Particularly when 30-40 battalions of Iraqi troops are well-trained at this point?

Posted by Marcus Aurelius at August 24, 2005 10:21 AM ET:

Well I think we need to be good and ready. I think our military is all set and ready to go in and do it but remember in Fallujah I the political and diplomatic groundwork was not in place.

As a consequence we had to pay twice for the same real estate.

Posted by Bill Roggio at August 24, 2005 10:36 AM ET:

Marcus, I think you have already answered the question. Much of the operations in Iraq have been structured around the political process. A full scale assault on Haditha might disrupt the delicate negotiations on the constitution.

Good Captain, that is a possibility, but if declared can produce a backlash from the local populations.

I am hoping the CENTCOM PAO (Public Affairs Officer) I emailed will respond to my inquiry on this. I seriously doubt it as that organization appears to be broken.

Posted by GK at August 24, 2005 11:20 AM ET:

But that still means we can attack Haditha after the constitution is ratified and the permanent elections occur, correct?

Here is another more general question :

I understand that the best snipers can achieve kills at distances of 0.5 to 1 mile. How much is this tactic used in Iraq? I am surprised that we have not managed to kill more terrorist middle managers this way.

Maybe careful, systematic sniper activity is the best thing for Haditha at the moment, particularly if Iraqi Sunnis are moving away from Zarqawi & Co.

Posted by Marcus Aurelius at August 24, 2005 11:37 AM ET:

Most of the serious fighting appears to be in cities. There was never any major battle for Baghdad but the descriptions of the fighting in Fallujah have our forces going house to house clearing out each house/building in turn.

Snipers are not going to get many clear shots in this environment. One also has to remember a bullet as fast as it is, still has finite speed. At those extreme ranges the target has to be relatively still as well.

The father of a friend of mine was in a sniper team in Vietnam. A story my buddy (I never talked to my buddy's father about his service) tells me they were stalking this particular NV officer and eventually they caught him shaving one morning. They squeeze the shot and after a bit the spotter says you missed, the reply is BS and then the spotter went back to his scope and finally the bullet arrived and killed the NV officer.

Posted by GK at August 24, 2005 11:50 AM ET:

Still, though, a place like Haditha, at a time like this, might just call for quiet removal of selected people, inconspicuously.

There may not be that many opportunities for 1-mile clear shots, but probably quite a few for 100-ft shots, from select vantage points, etc.

Posted by Soldier's Dad at August 24, 2005 11:50 AM ET:

Fundamentally, the problem in Haditha is related to population density. To quote the guardian, it is a "Farming Community". Obviously, Zarqawi and crew will have scouts. Hiding places will be numerous and pre-prepared. A dangerous insurgent turns into a sheep-herder. Munitions are hidden under growing crops. Eventually, someone will begin to talk, an eye in the sky will notice a pattern of meetings, then the insurgents will be finished.

Posted by Annoy Mouse at August 24, 2005 12:31 PM ET:

Seems what you're missing GK is that these are Military Operations In Urban Terrain (MOUT). In a sizable population finding our mark is not a trivial matter. Mr. AQ is mixing in with the locals and the locals are probly pretty non-chalant around them in order not to incur their wrath. If Don Corlione sat next to me in a pizza shop I don't think I would care to blow his cover. Creating a CI network is the next most important thing to do. At the point you know who your mark is, whether you drop a hammer on them, or go for the 'ol' surprise' visit is a matter of detail.

Posted by GK at August 24, 2005 3:26 PM ET:

But I am guessing Haditha is not that big of a city. It is a smaller town. I doubt there are many buildings taller than 3 stories.

Posted by Marcus Aurelius at August 24, 2005 6:16 PM ET:

You are right, I do not suspect there are any 3+ story buildings in Haditha. That still does not change the fact AQ to our forces (especially) from a distance are indisitinguishable from Ali Ahmed Al-Hadithi.

It will happen in due time. The two other legs of war must be prepared and there must be time to develop proper intelligence. I would not be surprised if from time to time key AQ leaders mysteriously die.

Posted by Soldier's Dad at August 25, 2005 3:38 PM ET:

Bill,

From today's "This week in Iraq", it would appear AlQuardian is spending a bit two much time with the crack pipe. Haditha is being patrolled daily.(Maybe that was the 'security situation' the AlGuardian was referencing when they had to stop reporting from Haditha)

On another note - there is a nice map of the 23 FOB's closed to date.

http://www.mnf-iraq.com/Publications/TWII/24Aug.pdf

Posted by Justin Capone at August 25, 2005 7:32 PM ET:

U.S., insurgents locked in stalemate in Anbar

FALLUJAH, Iraq - (KRT) - Insurgents in Anbar province, the center of guerrilla resistance in Iraq, have fought the U.S. military to a stalemate.

After repeated major combat offensives in Fallujah and Ramadi, and after losing hundreds of soldiers and Marines in Anbar during the past two years - including 75 since June 1 - many American officers and enlisted men assigned to Anbar have stopped talking about winning a military victory in Iraq's Sunni Muslim heartland. Instead, they're trying to hold on to a handful of population centers and hit smaller towns in a series of quick-strike operations designed to disrupt insurgent activities temporarily.

"I don't think of this in terms of winning," said Col. Stephen Davis, who commands a task force of about 5,000 Marines in an area of some 24,000 square miles in the western portion of Anbar. Instead, he said, his Marines are fighting a war of attrition. "The frustrating part for the (American) audience, if you will, is they want finality. They want a fight for the town and in the end the guy with the white hat wins."

That's unlikely in Anbar, Davis said. He expects the insurgency to last for years, hitting American and Iraqi forces with quick ambushes, bombs and mines. Roadside bombs have hit vehicles Davis was riding in three times this year already.

"We understand counter-insurgency ... we paid for these lessons in blood in Vietnam," Davis said. "You'll get killed on a nice day when everything is quiet."

Most of Iraq is far quieter than Anbar. But Anbar is Iraq's largest province and home to the Arab Sunni minority, which dominated the government under Saddam Hussein's dictatorship. It's the strategic center of the country, and failure to secure it could thwart the Bush administration's hopes of helping to create a functioning Iraqi democracy.

Military officials now frequently compare the fight in Anbar to the Vietnam War, saying that guerrilla fighters, who blend back into the population, are trying to break the will of the American military - rather than defeat it outright - and to erode public support for the war back home.

"If it were just killing people that would win this, it'd be easy," said Marine Maj. Nicholas Visconti, 35, of Brookfield, Conn., who served in southern Iraq in 2003. "But look at Vietnam. We killed millions, and they kept coming. It's a war of attrition. They're not trying to win. It's just like in Vietnam. They won a long, protracted fight that the American public did not have the stomach for.

http://www.macon.com/mld/macon/news/world/12476521.htm
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It sounds like given the current policy, unless we want to give the government of Iraq old B-52s full of large bombs to destroy much of Anbar that we are in deep trouble right now. The support for the war is evaporating so fast that I could see Congress deciding to cut off our financial aid to Iraq.

We have special forces trainers around the world like in Africa right now that we should all recall and send to Iraq. And, we must find a way to get out of the humvees, the best way I see that happening is if we can create several bases in Anbar cities and stay in a certain distance of the bases in question.

Posted by geo-strategist at August 26, 2005 12:03 AM ET:

I have just arrived at the 4th rail, and I am impressed with the dialog and intensely concise opinions. I am a military scholar, whose ID cannot be mentioned due to legal matters.

I will now comm via military case>>>>

THE WAR IN IRAQ, AND IT'S CONTINUING BLOODSHED ARE DUE TO ONLY ONE IMPORTANT FACT, WHICH IS IGNORED BY MOST IN THE SENIOR COMMAND STRUCTURE DUE IN PART TO THE MISCALCULATIONS THAT THESE MEN MADE BETWEEN 06/01 AND 02/03 IN THE PLANNING OF THE OPLAN THAT LEAD TO THE INVASION, AND ITS POLICIES.

THE "INSURGENCY" IN IRAQ WAS PLANNED IN GREAT DETAIL AND WITH GREAT ELAN BY THE SENIOR IRAQI MILITARY INFRASTRUCTURE AS EARLY AS 1993. AS AN INFORMED (MORE DETAILS LATER) PARTICIPANT IN THE IRAQ QUESTION, I WATCHED AS THE IRAQI MILITARY (ESPECIALLY REPUBLICAN GUARD BATTALIONS AND FEDAYEEN SADDAM UNITS)ADOPTED A STRATEGY OF REAR GUARD AND HARASSMENT DOCTRINE, AND IMPLEMENTED THESE TACTICS VIA AN ENORMOUS AND ELABORATE TRAINING PROGRAM. DISPERSAL POINTS, WEAPONS STORES, AND COMM INITIATIVES WERE WAR-GAMED AND REHEARSED, ALL THE WHILE BEING EVOLVED AND UPGRADED WITH THE GROWING RESOURCES AND EXPERTISE OF JIHADIST ELEMNTS.

THE POINT IS; THAT SADDAM REALIZED THAT HIS DAYS WERE NUMBERED, AND IN ACCORDANCE WITH HIS IDEOLOGICAL BELIEFS, AND WITH A CLEAR UNDERSTANDING OF HOW HISTORY JUDGES MEN, HE METICULOUSLY PLANNED AND EXECUTED THE PLAN THAT WAS DEVELOPED IN CONCERT WITH THE THEORIES AND DOCTRINE PROVIDED BY THE LESSONS OF SUN-TZU, GIAP, CHE GUEVERA, AND VON CLAUSEWITZ.

THE ONLY OPTION OPEN TO THE EXTREMIST MUSLIM ALLIANCE WAS TO DRAW AMERICA INTO A COSTLY CAMPAIGN OF "AGGRESSION", IN ORDER TO BLEED HER TO DEATH SLOWLY (AS PER THE PHILOSOPHIES MENTIONED)

THE ONLY COURSE OF ACTION OPEN TO THE US MILITARY IS THAT OF COMPLETE AND TOTAL CONTROL OF INITIATIVE. THE SECOND THAT A MARINE REGIMENT HERE, OR ARMY DIVISION THERE BECOMES WEAKENED BY RULES OF ENGAGEMENT OR POLITICAL CONSIDERATION, THE STILL ORGANIZED (AND YES VERY COMPETENT) IRAQI ARMY WILL FILL THE EUPRATES WITH BLOOD, AND DESTROY ITS FAR WEAKER SHIA ENEMY.

REMEBER THIS: MOST HIGH ECHELON IRAQI COMMANDERS (ALL SUNNIS) WERE TRAINED IN THE OPERATIONAL ARTS AT SANDHURST AND OTHER BRITISH, AMERICAN, AND SOVIET PROGRAMS THROUGHOUT THE 1970s AND 80s. I WAS THERE.

Posted by Mike Rentner at August 26, 2005 11:06 PM ET:

There are a lot of armchair generals here.

As I am typing this, I am inside our battalion headquarters at Hadithah Dam. The dam is not the same as the city. The city has a population of somewhere between 40,000 and 70,000, there is no census and no one knows for sure.

The Guardian report is mildly exaggerated, but basically correct. It's more accurate than most here give them credit for.

The enemy controls Hadithah. Period, end of discussion. We raid Hadithah, Haqlaniyah, Barwanah and other towns from time to time, but we have no pretense that we own those places. As the enemy has been driven out of Fallujah, Ramadi, Hit and other places, they have to go somewhere.

We control Fallujah, Ramadi, and now Hit. That's 75% of the population of Al Anbar Province. The elections will proceed come October. What happens between then and now, and afterwards is for us to know and the enemy to find out, hopefully by dying.

Some people seem overly anxious to brand everything in the media all the time as being wrong if it doesn't show roses and bunny rabbits. This is a real war, the enemy has a vote, and we haven't ended the war yet. We are still doing close air support, tank assaults, and the enemy has not yet been eradicated.

We will eradicate them, but it will take more time. No need to be faint hearted, no need to get supersensitive about news reports. We're winning. We haven't won yet.

Posted by Douglas at August 27, 2005 10:29 AM ET:

You "control" Ramadi?? You call a couple heavily fortified posts on the city's outskirts from which American troops are venturing forth to patrol with decreasing frequency "control" of the city?? Please. I think all that depleted uranium dust you're breathing in every day is affecting your reasoning.

Posted by Mike Rentner at August 27, 2005 10:42 AM ET:

Well, Douglas, it's nice that you're so cordial and polite.

Yes, we control Ramadi. We control Hit. What's your problem with that term? I never said there are no attacks in either place, but we have positive control over much of what happens there from a security standpoint.

When the elections come, the people will not be intimidated by the muj and will be free to vote. They may for for something or against it, it makes no difference, they can vote. And they will vote because we kicked the muj out of controlling those cities.

Posted by Douglas at August 27, 2005 10:44 AM ET:

In answer to the above question about "why don't we just assult Haditha and purge it of Rebels?". The answer is simple: The U.S. lacks the combat power to do so. Ever notice how every time we hear of some pinprick "operation" like "Operation: Dagger" or Operation: Spear" it's always about 1,000 troops involved? There just is not a large enough occupation force in Iraq to even maintain a modicum of control. It's about half the size it needs to be. Consider: a good rule of thumb is that for a country that restive at bare minimum 10,000 troops per every million occupied population is necessary to even have a chance at controlling it, meaning for Iraq with a 27 million-person population it would need about a 270,000-man occupying force. It is about 138,000 now and there's no hope of it being significantly increased as it will be all they can do to keep 138,000 troops in Iraq for another year. Part of this translates at the operational level into not having enough combat power to go around particularly for offensive operations to wrest built-up areas from Rebels. That's why in the Second Battle of Fallujah it was all the U.S. could do to scrounge up a 10,000-man force to assult the city and they were a mixed bag of soldiers, marines, airmen, sailors and coast guardsmen. That's why a lot of the guys just driving trucks for the Army are not Army but Air Force or even Navy personnel "on loan" to the Army. They can't even recruit enough fellows to drive their trucks! A friend of mine has an uncle who has been seven years in the Navy as a submariner, a job not many want to do because it is claustrophobic and requiring the patience of Job combined with the dedication of a zealot. He was thinking about reenlisting but his CO told him in no uncertain terms that "the Navy has enough submariners" and tried to talk him into driving a truck for the Army in Iraq!!

Posted by Douglas at August 27, 2005 10:56 AM ET:

You can't control a city with two compounds in the city's outskirts from which you guys send forth patrols with less and less frequency because they are driving through a shooting gallery. From your outposts NEAR Ramadi you may be able to have SOME influence on Rebel activity in that city but if you think by sending forth a few patrols here and there to make a foray into the shooting gallery Ramadi which inevitably end up returning to the relative safety of their outposts is "control" of the city, you need to reassess the situation.

Posted by Mike Rentner at August 27, 2005 12:34 PM ET:

Douglas, you speak as though you might know what you're talking about, but since I don't see you here in the Hit-Hadithah corridor, I'll remind others that you are speculating, not speaking from first-hand knowledge.

Since I was present during our invasion in and occupation of Hit in July and have been there many times since and I support it daily with my Marines, I think I probably have a bit better of an idea than you.

It depends on what you define as "control" but I would say that we control the city in that the muj no longer operate freely there, the people are assisting us in keeping them out, and we move through it regularly with hourly foot patrols, vehicle patrols, and CAG, IO and other activities.

We are not "on the outskirts" of Hit, we are in it and throughout it. The muj still lob mortars from time to time and attack with IED's, just like in Ramadi, but they are no longer a dominant force here. We are. We control Hit.

Posted by geo-strategist at August 27, 2005 1:41 PM ET:

Mike. It is obvious that you have a first-hand understanding of the situation on the ground. The Hit-Had corridor has always been of the utmost importance to the enemy's OPLAN, which relies on rearguard actions and evolving contingency plans to regroup and re-organize after each of their "safe havens" are purged by Coalition forces.

Hit-Had AO is just their most recent dispersal point, and one of their last, as long as you brave young men keep them running. Don't let them sleep, don't let them eat, don't let them regroup. These are (in most cases) well trained Iraqi army units, with clear operational plans to fall back on every city in Iraq, until they are exhausted, and there pre-positioned arms caches are expended.

You took Fallujah, Mosul, Tal Afar.... I trust you can defeat this enemy, for his sancuaries are beginning to run out.