Monday, October 10, 2005

I know that my Iraqi friends will be eagerly awaiting Saddam Hussein's trial due to start soon. Most of the guys I knew were local Shia whose families had suffered under Saddam. The city of Balad apparently had some troubles around the beginning of the Iran/Iraq war. Some men refused to go off to fight and Saddam's goons came around and rounded up several hundred men, who were never seen again. They sometimes asked me if I knew where Saddam was, If he was still in Iraq. I told them I was sure he was still in Iraq and it seemed to please them that there was a glimmer of hope that he would receive punishment for his crimes. I didn't tell them that our unit was in charge of his medical care. For my friends the death penalty seemed an appropriate punishment for Saddam, several said that they would do it themselves. I remember reading an Iraqi's reaction to seeing Saddam on TV in the courtroom last year. He wept uncontrollably, it was proof to him that his personal tormentor, who had loomed so large in his life had been stripped of all his power. His tears were the tears of unimaginable relief.

The trial will be watched closely by both sides. The prosecution will portray Saddam as an amoral criminal. The defense will portray Saddam as the greatly misunderstood leader, a scapegoat for an out of control superpower who aided Saddam and set him up for a fall. Expect the picture of Donald Rumsfeld shaking Saddam's hand to figure prominently.

There is a danger to giving Saddam a stage. He is not stupid and can be pursuasive, insidiously so. There were several American personnel that had daily contact with Saddam, who incredibly started believing some of his BS. I know one said "he's a misunderstood guy, he's an intellectual, he writes poetry". To most people this would seem impossible, and I found it appalling. The problem is over time, in a vacuum, a person becomes immune to what you know this guy did and its only the present that matters and when he's speaking what you want to hear the fog descends. This is the danger, not to the Iraqis - they know him too intimately, but to those who want to pounce on the immorality of the US invasion. The subtle twisting that Saddam is capable of will be on full display. I guarantee that we will hear more about how Saddam was a threat to no one, he was a bastard but really the US is the problem. The Galways of the world will decry the injustice and proclaim the proceedings a show trial. They should rightly be ignored. This is too important for the average Iraqi. If this trial is somehow botched and Saddam gets anything less than life in prison, the corrosive effect on peoples trust of the justice system will be difficult to remedy.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

I've been following developments in Iraq closely. I'm confident that progess is happening. The current offensive along the Euphrates is a good sign. That so many Iraqi troops are involved in the fight is better. It means the center of insurgent operations is getting further and further from population centers and butting up against the Syrian border.

Much was made about only one Iraqi Army battalion being able to operate independently (category 1). What has been missed is that many other battalions are involved in counter terrorism operations all over the country. They may need logistic support or perhaps aircover from the coalition troops, but they are doing the job.

One incredible statistic I heard was the dramatic decrease in the number of mortar attacks in Ninewah province (Mosul area). Last year they were getting 300 a month. I remember have a somewhat sick contest between Mosul Airfield and us at LSA Anaconda to see who would have the most indirect fire attack in a month. Some months MAF would win, sometimes we would. This last month, in the entire province there were less than 10 mortar attacks. This is significant, but is only a part of the picture.

We noticed a dramatic drop in the quality of our enemy during our year. In the early spring of 2004 we were receiving aimed fire from mostly mortars and some large rockets. One Katusha Rocket was fired from 28km out and hit the base, just missing a housing area. We also had mortars consistently hitting around important command and control areas of the base. By the fall, the insurgents had apparently lost the professionals and guys who didn't know what they were doing were firing potshots at us and for a period couldn't even get a shot over the wire. Gradually the institutional knowledge faded leaving unskilled guys who were much more likely to get themselves killed that kill anyone. There were the odd lucky shots and we had a number of fatalities and injuries but nowhere near what it would have been if they knew what they were doing.

The IEDs were a different matter and they have increased in lethality. They are really the only thing that the insurgents have left. This is in direct response to being unable to launch any effective operation other than suicide attacks against civilians.

The insurgency will continue for a while as they continue their downward spiral of lack of effectiveness (except at getting media exposure), lack of public support and their own lack of vision.

The Fourth Rail has been giving excellent coverage on the current operations and interesting analysis.