Monday, May 12, 2008

Mortar fire on residential areas: "Poor aim" or warcrimes ?

Storytellers under the command of General Petraeus have come up with an explanation for recent mortar that lands in seemingly random residential neighborhoods injuring and killing civilians, and this is relayed to us courtesy of a group of self-described "counterinsurgency experts", somewhat of the Monte Python variety, as follows: "...Sources say [the campaign of air-strikes on launch teams in Sadr City] has been largely effective...Rockets continue to be fired, but the aim is going down as the top-notch teams have been eliminated." In other words: (1) Recent US airstrikes in Sadr City in fact killed launch-teams that were firing on the Green Zone; (2) those launch-teams they killed were, by divine help, those with the most experience and the best aim; (3) which left only the launch-teams with less-good aim. Hence, by clear implication, (4) the recent stray mortar attacks emanated from the Mahdi Army in Sadr City. There isn't any evidence cited for any of that, but as any stand-up people will tell you, it isn't about the story itself, it's about the delivery, and this one is being told to us with that deadpan delivery that we have come to know and to rely on.

But there is also a different explanation, one the counterinsurgency experts didn't mention.

The Sadrist news-site, citing a secular resistance-oriented news-site, says the following explanation is circulating among Baghdad residents. Local residents, this report says, have witnessed many cases of the firing of mortar from areas that are under the control of the American forces aimed at populated areas of Baghdad.
Residents who have seen this firing of mortar at random on residential areas explain it as a deliberate attempt to blacken the reputation of the Sadrists and the Mahdi Army, and to incite the people hit by these against the Sadrist trend, to create an atmosphere of hatred against the Mahdi Army.
The report reminds readers of similar allegations that circulated two years ago:
The circulation of these reports calls to mind similar news that was circulating in Baghdad two years ago, when residents asserted that they had seen hooded fighters undertaking mortar-launching from areas under the control of the coalition forces , on residential areas. They emphasized the impossibility of imagining any armed person having the ability to set up a launch base in such an area, and to fire mortar from there, in broad daylight, and within sight of the coalition forces, against civilian areas and targets in various parts of the capital.
Alkufanews cites as its source "the secular news agency Al-Badeel al-Iraqiya" (, a non-Islamist resistance-oriented news-site).

On reflection, it seems only natural that the counterinsurgency experts would have left out the alternate explanation. Their theme, after all, was that their sources say the US forces continue to follow respectable counterinsurgency policies, so that even mentioning the other explanation would no doubt have seemed, to their sources, to be disrespectful.