Saturday, January 13, 2007

PR gains expected from "lightening attacks"; Americans in the dark

Al-Hayat this morning says Iraqi politicians and officers have said there are secret clauses in the Bush "new strategy" that talk about cooperation [between the Bush and Maliki administrations] in attacks on "extremist leadership", both Shiite and Sunni, and [these sources have also said that] this starts with lightening (khatifa) operations [that will have] media reveberations that will assist in giving impetus to the American administration in its "second battle" of the occupation of Baghdad.

By way of elaboration, this is followed by a quote from an AFP item, and then remarks on the Iranian-diplomats affair.

Here is the AFP quote:
[AFP quoted] a high American military official who said on Thursday evening that the American forces can target extremist leadership in Baghdad as part of the new plan which the Iraqi government has agreed to by lifting restrictions that have up to now prevented the Americans from attacking certain of the extremist leadership.
And the journalist continues: "Observers don't rule out the idea that the American forces might use the attack on the Iranian consulate in Irbil as a a model for lightening (khatifa) operations against military leaders in the Mahdi Army or [against] certain of the former officers who are believed to be running armed operations from their homes in Sunni strongholds in Baghdad."

What the Al-Hayat reporter is telling us is that there appears to be an undisclosed agreement between Bush and Maliki that will permit the US forces to attack (and presumably kill) both Sadrist and former-regime military leaders, and that this is seen as something is supposed to have media reverberations so as to provide PR impetus for the US second battle of Baghdad.

I guess it is also my unpleasant duty to show (since no one else is doing it) how Juan Cole has managed to turn the above text into something that sounds soothing for his American readers. He says:
Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that its sources in the Iraqi government are saying that there are some secret paragraphs to the agreement between the Bush administration and the al-Maliki government in Iraq to act against militia leaders. The article suggests that the model of the US raid on an Iranian liason office in Irbil might be deployed against Mahdi Army leaders and against Sunni Arab guerrilla commanders. That is, such raids would be small, targeted, quick and involve kidnapping suspected wrongdoers.
Cole softens the arabic word for "attacks" by rendering it as "act against"; he seems to have taken (in one or both of the above instances) the expression "khatifa" ("lightening" "rapacious" or "sudden") to mean "kidnapping", because the two words share the same root; and finally he leaves out the part about these "attacks" having "media reverberations to give impetus to the American administration..." So a report about a plan to attack and presumably kill Iraqi leaders as a way of giving a PR boost to the American administration comes out, in Cole's rendition, as a seemingly innocuous kidnapping scheme.

Continuing with the Al-Hayat piece, the journalist quotes military sources who say the new Baghdad plan will get under way in early February, and "will include the isolation of the nine sectors of Baghdad for a period of a week, during which time there will be wide-ranging military operations aimed at cleansing the city of armed [persons] and militias, and their leaders and their stores of arms."

The reporter adds: Iraqi politicians remarked on the importance of something ambassador Khalilzad said yesterday, namely that "Some Iraqi politicians have misunderstood when they think that American support is unconditional, but he now understands that the patience of the American people is running out... Prime Minister Maliki has promised the American president that he will take on the Mahdi Army."

Notice that the "lightening attacks" are supposed to provide a PR boost for the American strategy; and that it is the "American people" whose patience is described as running out.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Both of you are technically correct: kidnap or lightening. However, the context suggests to me "snatch missions," like what the military does when it targets high value targets.

9:25 AM  
Blogger helena said...

I'm with Juan on "khatifa" = "kidnaping" or snatch operations. The COIN manual and other professional sources talk a lot about the importance of ops to "kill or capture" extremists. Also, in all my time working bilingually in wartime Lebanon I don't recall any Arabic sources using the term "khatifa", khatf, etc, or anything associated with it in a wartime context without it carrying the meaning of kidnaping or capture.

10:42 AM  
Blogger helena said...

(The above is not to say that I don't think the US forces also have ROEs that permit killing persons accused of being "extremists". The history of counterinsurgent warfare is full of instances where insurgents are reported to have been "killed while trying to escape" or "shot in a firefight" or whatever. In the latter case, weapons are frequently ex-post-facto planted next the bodies of opponents killed in cold blood... (S. Africa, the Brits in Gibraltar, etc.)

Maybe Juan was trying to sugarcoat the report a bit, I don't know. But clear orders to "capture or kill" opponents very frequently result in extra-judicial executions of the targeted persons, and everyone who's ever studied counterinsurgencies knows that. So rendering the term "amaliyat khatifa" as "kidnap/snatch operations" is really not sugarcoating much of anything.

10:49 AM  
Anonymous Vladimir said...

Is it possible that al Sadr will tacitly consent to attacks on cells within his militia which are perhaps out of his personal control, while instructing those still obedient to adopt a lower profile, as a way of both consoldidating his positon and giving his ally Maliki a politcal out?

11:11 AM  
Blogger badger said...

That makes sense. But don't forget since the Saddam execution, the Baathist resistance is also going to be out for Sadr's blood. If it was just a question of outwitting sheriff Bush's PR squad I'd say his odds are pretty good, but...

11:31 AM  

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