Samarra: victory or spin?

Recently, the national press dutifully reported a major victory in Iraq. Big headlines screamed things like: “U.S. repels ambushes, kills 46 Iraq insurgents.”

Most media outlets just simply printed the Pentagon press release, verbatim or close to it. It told of a firefight in Samarra, a city about 60 miles north of Baghdad.

The stories said a military convoy was attacked by two groups of Iraqi fighters. Early reports said it was a supply convoy, but it actually was carrying a large amount of Iraqi currency destined for a northern bank.

Units in the thick of this skirmish were from the 4th Infantry Division. A top commander, Lt. Col. William MacDonald, said many of the attackers wore uniforms of Saddam Hussein’s Fedayeen militia. He said two convoys were attacked on opposite sides of Samarra.

We have been told the troops killed 46 guerrillas, wounded 18 and captured eight fighters. Five Americans and a civilian were wounded.

But, as writer Justin Raimondo ( stated, there is something very odd about this big win. He quoted a British newspaper article: “The U.S. military said it believed 54 insurgents were killed in intense exchanges in the northern Iraqi town of Samarra the previous day, but commanders admitted they had NO bodies. The only corpses at the city’s hospital were those of ordinary civilians, including two Iranian pilgrims and a child.”

Not only could no guerrilla bodies be found, but the rest of central command’s story began to fall apart almost at once, even though you didn’t see or hear it on national television.

ABC News Online in Australia said Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, deputy director of operations in Iraq, backed off an earlier claim that 11 Iraqi fighters had been captured. The number ultimately was reduced to one fighter. The news service said the general also tried to play down claims that the attackers wore the uniforms of Saddam’s Fedayeen.

Retired Col. David Hackworth operates a couple of Web sites where he allows rank and file soldiers to give their opinions on the Iraq adventure and, in many cases, vent their anger.

Col. Hackworth, a Vietnam vet, is no armchair strategist. He holds eight Purple Hearts, nine Silver Stars and eight Bronze Stars. On one of his sites, the colonel passed on an e-mail message from an Army commander in Iraq who was in the fight at Samarra. Col. Hackworth does not release soldiers’ names to protect them and their families from government retaliation.

This is what a commander on the ground at Samarra had to say: “The reports of 54 enemy killed will sound great on the home front, but the greater story is much more disturbing and needs to be told to the American public. When we received the first incoming rounds, all I could think of was how the hell did the Iraqis (most of these attackers being criminals, not insurgents) find out about this shipment? This was not broadcast on the local news, but Iraqi police knew about it. Bing, bing, bing. You do the math.”

The soldier said what was significant in this fight was the scale of the attack and the ability of the guerrillas to carry out synchronized attacks despite the massive firepower of “Operation Iron Hammer.”

The soldier wrote: “Hack, most of the casualties were civilians, not insurgents or criminals. During the ambushes the tanks, ‘Brads’ (Bradley fighting vehicles) and armored Humvees hosed down (fired on) houses, buildings and cars while using reflexive fire against the attackers.

“One of the precepts of ‘Iron Hammer’ is to use an ‘Iron Fist’ when dealing with the insurgents. [This is the strategy used by Israeli defense forces against the Palestinians.]

“The commander said standard practice with this type of attack is shoot at everything and everybody and move on. Buildings, homes and cars are to be considered hostile if any fire comes from them, regardless of who is inside.

“It seems to many of us this is more an act of desperation. We really don’t know if we kill anyone, because we don’t stick around to find out…the logic is to respond to attacks using our superior firepower to kill the rebel insurgents. The belief in superior firepower as a counter-insurgency tactic is then extended down to the average Iraqi, with the hope that the Iraqis will not support the guerrillas and turn them in to coalition forces, knowing we will blow the hell out of their homes or towns if they don’t.

“It does not take a George Patton to see we are using the wrong tactics. Much of Samarra is fairly well shot up. The tanks and Brads rolled over parked cars and fired up buildings where we believed the enemy was.

“Since we did not stick around to find out, I am very concerned in the coming days we will find we killed many civilians as well as Iraqi irregular fighters. I would feel great if all the people we killed were enemy guerrillas, but I can’t say that. We are probably turning many Iraqi against us, and I am afraid instead of climbing out of the hole, we are digging ourselves in deeper,” concluded the soldier.

Speaking of the government’s claims, Col. Hackworth said: “It’s the nature of the beast. You try and paint the greatest face on it. It happens in every war…in Vietnam it became an art form.”

An Iraqi, Safa Hamad Hassan, 22, echoed the field commander’s fears. “Everyone is with the resistance,” he said. “Saddam Hussein is finished. We are protecting our honor and our land.”

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