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Published: Saturday, 6/23/2007

Media ignore big news in Iraq

IMAGINE it's June 7, 1944, the day after the D-Day invasion. You pick up your newspaper. There's no mention of Normandy on the front page, and only a brief reference to it in a roundup story on an inside page.

The biggest battle since the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein's regime is under way in Iraq. It's outcome could determine whether the war is won or lost. But our news media have paid less attention to it than to Paris Hilton's legal troubles.

The heart of the offensive is Operation Arrowhead Ripper, in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad, involving some 8,000 American and 2,000 Iraqi troops.

Many members of al-Qaeda fled from Baghdad to Diyala, which borders on Iran, when the U.S. troop surge began in January. There are thought to be between 1,000 and 2,000 hard core al-Qaeda fighters in Diyala, mostly in the provincial capital of Baquba.

"They are ready for us," said former special forces soldier Michael Yon, now a freelance journalist embedded with the U.S. troops. "Giant bombs are buried in the roads. Snipers have chiseled holes in walls so they can shoot not from roofs or windows, but from deep inside buildings, where we cannot see the flash or hear the shots - car bombs are already assembled. Suicide vests are prepared."

It's no coincidence that Arrowhead Ripper began within days of the arrival in Baghdad of the fifth and final brigade of the troop surge.

"The U.S. ability to shift 10,000 coalition soldiers into a major operation outside Baghdad in the midst of a major security crackdown is the mark of significant operational flexibility," said STRATFOR, a private intelligence service. "This flexibility will allow the United States to keep pressure on the jihadists and thus impede their ability to plan complex operations."

Chiefly because of a shortage of troops, American offensives in the past have tended just to push insurgents from one part of Iraq to another. Arrowhead Ripper is different.

"The idea this time is not to chase al-Qaeda out, but to trap and kill them head on, or in ambushes, or while they sleep," Mr. Yon said.

"The city is cordoned, neighborhoods are identified as friendly or enemy territory, the neighborhoods are then segmented and forces move in," wrote Bill Roggio in his invaluable blog, Fourth Rail. "The combat operations are then immediately followed by humanitarian and reconstruction projects."

Simultaneous offensives are being conducted in another insurgents' rat's nest, Babil province southwest of Baghdad, and in Baghdad neighborhoods where coalition soldiers in the past have been reluctant to go.

Simultaneous offensives are the best way to gain decisive victory over a numerically inferior force, because they prevent the enemy from shifting forces from one front to another. The Union did not prevail in our Civil War until Grant attacked in the East at the same time Sherman attacked in the West.

Our soldiers are being assisted by former insurgents who have turned against al-Qaeda. Unlike the Anbar Salvation Council on which it is modeled, the Diyala Salvation Front isn't strong enough to take on al-Qaeda by itself. But the intelligence its members provide could prove invaluable to our troops.

You haven't heard of the Anbar Salvation Council? Maybe that's because our news media have tended to treat good news from Iraq as no news.

When Thomas Ricks of the Washington Post reported last September that a senior Marine intelligence officer thought Anbar province had been "lost politically," his story attracted enormous attention from his fellow journalists. Google lists 789,000 references to that one story.

The Anbar Salvation Council, a coalition of 41 Sunni tribes under the leadership of Sheik Abdul Sattar al-Rishawi, has in very short order reversed that situation (if it were ever as dire as Col. Pete Devlin imagined). Al-Qaeda has been all but driven out of Iraq's "Wild West." But Google lists only 114,000 mentions of the Anbar Salvation Council. (Paris Hilton has nearly 76 million mentions.)

The Anbar Salvation Council model is spreading. The Diyala Salvation Front was formed in May. More than 10 tribes in Baghdad and its suburbs have banded together to fight al-Qaeda, USA Today reported Tuesday.

If Arrowhead Ripper succeeds, al-Qaeda in Iraq will suffer a blow from which it may not recover. "In Diyala, both the foreign jihadists and their domestic allies are beginning to feel cornered, with few places left to hide," STRATFOR said.

But if Arrowhead Ripper succeeds, you may not hear much about it. A U.S. victory would be too embarrassing for those in the media who have staked their reputations on defeat.



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