Thursday, June 17, 2004

Iraqi Insurgents Armed to the Teeth, thanks to US Another mistake made in the name of sweeping into Baghdad with the fewest number of troops possible. There were too few troops to find and eliminate the vast number of weapons caches the Iraqi government had ordered preceding the invasion. The NY Times has the details, and it may be reliable as Judy Miller isn't involved:
But it's no joke: some military officials told me that the Iraqis have so many weapons that they are suspected of exporting them over the Syrian border. And for this bounty, they can thank the Pentagon. Of all the blunders American military leaders have made in Iraq, one of the least talked about is how they succeeded in arming the insurgents. By the time of the coalition invasion, Iraq had one of the largest conventional arms stockpiles in the world. According to one American military estimate, this included three million tons of bombs and bullets; millions of AK-47's and other rifles, rocket launchers and mortar tubes; and thousands of more sophisticated arms like ground-to-air missiles. Much of the arsenal was stored in vast warehouse complexes, some of which occupied several square miles. As war approached, Iraqi commanders ordered these mountains of munitions to be dispersed across the country in thousands of small caches... But under orders to reach Baghdad as quickly as possible, the marines rarely had a chance to remove, destroy or even mark the stockpiles. In one village, combat engineers (led by local children whom they had bribed with bags of Skittles candies) discovered an underground bunker crammed with dozens of sophisticated air-to-ground missiles. Yet higher-ups in the division insisted that there was no time to destroy them. The marines moved on, leaving the missiles unguarded. The job of removing ordnance was complicated by the fact that many of the combat engineers in the invasion were not adequately trained for the task. Munitions are not easy to destroy. Bullets, bombs and rockets are designed to be shock-resistant. As the combat engineers often discovered, blowing up a stack of ammunition just scattered it, unexploded, in all directions. Ordnance disposal is best carried out by specialized technicians; the entire First Marine Expeditionary Force (which was responsible for roughly half the invasion) had the services of only about 200. As one of those overworked technicians told me the day we reached Baghdad, it would have taken the experts attached to the First Division a year just to clear the munitions they discovered in the city's eastern suburbs... The marines were told not to worry; their commanders informed them that the violence was a result of "red on red" engagements, meaning that Iraqis were shooting at other Iraqis. When American patrols entered Shiite neighborhoods starting the next day, locals begged them to get rid of the arms. They told us that semi-automatic rifles, nearly unobtainable during Saddam Hussein's rule, could now be obtained for about the cost of a pack of cigarettes. Heavier weapons were not much more expensive. Unexploded artillery shells (which are now being used to make the improvised roadside bombs) were free for the taking, scattered about backyards and alleys. Yet several Marine commanders I spoke with at the time felt the nightly firefights were a positive development. "Mostly it's Shiites doing a lot of dirty work, taking out fedayeen and Sunni Baathists," one officer explained. A colonel told me that the armed Shiites were acting through "a sort of agreement with us to take out the bad guys." Some enlisted men even told me that their battalion commander ordered them to distribute thousands of AK-47's to Shiite militia members who pledged to take on America's enemies.
This is just sad, yet another item that with some forethought could have been prevented and thousands of lives saved. Not just the 600 plus Americans since the fall of Baghdad, but the Iraqi civilians caught in the wake of insurgency and many insurgents who would never have fought had they not fallen under the lure of shootin' guns and blowin' stuff up. And now there is such a cache of destruction available throughout the country the constant war can go on and on. Just tragic.
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