Sunday, May 13, 2007

Bad News Out of Iraq

Lots of bad news being reported from Iraq - ambushed and kidnapped soldiers, faulty math or corruption in the oil sector, and an unconfirmed report of an increase in sectarian violence.

An undersized squad of seven soldiers and an interpreter riding in two vehicles were ambushed near Mahmudiyah, a small town south of Baghdad. Five of the eight were found dead at the site of the ambush; three were absent from the scene and suspected kidnapped. This from the Washington Post:

At 4:59 a.m., an unmanned surveillance aircraft relayed images of two burning vehicles. By 5:40 a.m., a U.S. quick-reaction force had arrived at the scene, secured the site and launched the hunt for the missing soldiers, Caldwell said.

The mayor of Mahmudiyah, Muaiad Fadhil Hussein, said the attack happened near the village of Beshesha, west of the city. He described it as "one of the most dangerous areas of the city, in which Arab and Iraqi terrorists exist, and not even innocent civilians can enter it."

A curfew has been imposed on Mahmudiyah and surrounding areas, he said, adding that "we, as a mayoralty, are working to provide intelligence information and moral support" to the U.S. and Iraqi forces conducting the search.

Abdullah al-Ghareri, a well-known preacher in Mahmudiyah, said the forces, backed by helicopters and "tens of tanks," were conducting search operations into the night and had made some arrests. Residents said many insurgents had fled the city as U.S. forces entered it.

A senior Iraqi army official said he believed that the attack had been carried out by Sunni insurgents. "This area is really full of al-Qaeda members," the official said on condition of anonymity.

Mohamad al-Janabi, a reputed al-Qaeda member in the nearby city of Salman Pak, said in a telephone interview that he was unable to contact his comrades in Mahmudiyah to determine whether they were responsible for the attack.

But he added: "I can assure you that we will start pressuring Bush in a new way at the same time he is facing pressures from the Democrats and the American people. And there will be no problem to sacrifice 10 soldiers in order to abduct a single American soldier and get him on television screens begging for us to release him."
Read the entire story here. It does seem that al Qaeda is keeping well abreast of Democratic news releases and press briefings. I wonder just how many lives will be sacrificed because of Harry Reid's "the war is lost" statement, citing four suicide bombers as his proof?

I personally think this al Qaeda member's stated goal of putting captured American soldiers on broadcast might well result in a textbook demonstration of the law of unintended consequences. It would not be a wise move.

We will have to wait for more information to percolate up on this. The rule of thumb is, the larger the element, the greater the security, and platoon size elements of 30 people have proven capabale of holding their own in response to any ambush. Where we have gotten in trouble is when we have smaller elements operating without cover. Thus, I question why such a small element was travelling detached in an area known to be infiltrated by insurgents. That seems like a gross tactical error but, without all of the facts, it is impossible to say definitively. I do not feel confident that we will see the kidnapped soldiers alive. We can only hope and pray.

The NYT published an article on a government report concluding that Iraq's oil production figures do not add up. Either the official figures are incorrect, overstating production, or their is ongoing corruption and theft on a grand scale:
Between 100,000 and 300,000 barrels a day of Iraq’s declared oil production over the past four years is unaccounted for and could have been siphoned off through corruption or smuggling, according to a draft American government report.

Using an average of $50 a barrel, the report said the discrepancy was valued at $5 million to $15 million daily.

The report does not give a final conclusion on what happened to the missing fraction of the roughly two million barrels pumped by Iraq each day, but the findings are sure to reinforce longstanding suspicions that smugglers, insurgents and corrupt officials control significant parts of the country’s oil industry.

The report also covered alternative explanations for the billions of dollars worth of discrepancies, including the possibility that Iraq has been consistently overstating its oil production.

Iraq and the State Department, which reports the numbers, have been under relentless pressure to show tangible progress in Iraq by raising production levels, which have languished well below the United States goal of three million barrels a day. Virtually the entire economy of Iraq is dependent on oil revenues.

. . . But a State Department official who works on energy issues said that there were several possible explanations for the discrepancy, including the loss of oil through sabotage of pipelines and inaccurate reporting of production in southern Iraq, where engineers may not properly account for water that is pumped along with oil in the fields there.

“It could also be theft,” the official said, with suspicion falling primarily on Shiite militias in the south. “Crude oil is not as lucrative in the region as refined products, but we’re not ruling that out either.” . . .

Read the story here. Lastly, the Guardian is reporting an increase in sectarian violence.
In the first 11 days of this month, there have already been 234 bodies - men murdered by death squads - dumped around the capital, a dramatic rise from the 137 found in the same period of April. Improving security in Baghdad and reducing death-squad activity was described as one of the key aims of the US surge of 25,000 additional troops, the final units of whom are due to arrive next month.
Read the story here. I post this from the Guardian, but we need to await confirmation from other sources. The Guardian occasioanlly has significant factual problems with its reporting from Iraq. If the figures are accurate, it means the Shia death squads are picking up the pace. I will be very interested in hearing if this is coming from those Shia now acting as proxies under the pay and control of Iran.

Not a good day.

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