The look for a dark cloud behind Iraqi victory near Najaf

NY Times:

Iraqi forces were surprised and nearly overwhelmed by the ferocity of an obscure renegade militia in a weekend battle near the holy city of Najaf and needed far more help from American forces than previously disclosed, American and Iraqi officials said Monday.

They said American ground troops — and not just air support as reported Sunday — were mobilized to help the Iraqi soldiers, who appeared to have dangerously underestimated the strength of the militia, which calls itself the Soldiers of Heaven and had amassed hundreds of heavily armed fighters.

Iraqi government officials said the group apparently was preparing to storm Najaf, a holy city dear to Shiite Islam, occupy the sacred Imam Ali mosque and assassinate the religious hierarchy there, including the revered leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, during a Shiite holiday when many pilgrims visit.

“This group had more capabilities than the government,” said Abdul Hussein Abtan, the deputy governor of Najaf Province, at a news conference.

Only a month ago, in an elaborate handover ceremony, the American command transferred security authority over Najaf to the Iraqis. The Americans said at the time that they would remain available to assist the Iraqis in the event of a crisis.

The Iraqis and Americans eventually prevailed in the battle. But the Iraqi security forces’ miscalculations about the group’s strength and intentions raised troubling questions about their ability to recognize and deal with a threat.

The NY Times needs to get a grip on reality. It is not surprising that the size of the opposing unit was larger than the Iraqis initially estimated, since it is the largest massing of enemy troops since the end of major combat operations. It should also be noted that one of the reasons that the enemy does not mass troops like this is that every time they have tried it they have been destroyed as they were in this battle. Despite being "surprised" by the size of the unit they were facing, the Iraqis responded appropriately surging forces and fringing in US units until the enemy was overwhelmed and destroyed.

The suggestion in the story that the ground units had not previously disclosed is wrong. The NY Times own story on the fight indicates that US tanks were brought into the battle. The Washington Post story in the same post also discusses the US participation.


Reinforcements from the Iraqi army's 8th Division arrived along with U.S. helicopters and ground troops. Iraqi security forces maintain primary control of Najaf province, and U.S. forces do not have an established, full-time presence there. U.S. military units based in Baghdad responded to Najaf when the fighting escalated.

"They saw that they needed some help and called in air support," a U.S. military official said on condition of anonymity. "That's exactly what they're supposed to do."

It appears that the NY Times is hard at work in poo-pooing a lopsided Iraqi victory in their search for a dark cloud over any success in Iraq. Even if the initial strength of the units were too small and needed help, they maintained their unit integrity and held off the enemy until help arrived. What the Times really seems to be faulting is the intelligence on the enemy forces. At this point the Iraqi forces are doing recon by patrol and getting tips from locals and that is what led them to this unit. This is a sound military approach to their situation.

Update: Gateway Pundit's post on the victory includes a picture of the 502 prisoners that were taken after the battle. Bill Roggio has an interesting explanation of the ties of the Shia Mahdi cult to al Qaeda and the Baathist. Apparently the connections existed before Iraq was liberated and was passed on when Saddam was deposed.


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