Wednesday, February 27, 2008

There Goes The Neighbourhood

I'm using this map to try and illustrate something about the situation of U.S. troops in Iraq that makes me very uncomfortable (deity alone knows how it makes them feel). This could probably have been done better by Steve Gilliard, but he's no longer here to do it. Perhaps someone else has said this before, in which case, please point me to it.

Observe the map above. Now consider what happens if Al-Sayyid Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army joins with the Sunni, who have been taking our money to build their own forces and hate our guts. What if they decide to attack in force? How will our troops escape them?

Can they withdraw to the west? al-Anbar province, to the west of Baghdad, has been the site of many difficult battles. al-Anbar borders on Jordan, which would not welcome our troops, assuming the troops could successfully traverse this hostile territory in an attempt to withdraw from the charnel house that Baghdad will become in the event of an all-out assault.

To the east? Diyala province, to the east of Baghdad, capital Baquba, is "a source of problems" according to General Petraeus. It borders Iran, which also would not accept a retreat of the U.S. military, should our troops withdraw in that direction. Assuming they survive attacks as they try to withdraw through that province, they would face a much larger army in Iran.

North? Salahuddin province, immediately north of Baghdad, is the site of deadly insurgent activity. Assuming U.S. troops tried to withdraw north, they would have to traverse this province, which is largely Turkomen, and several other hostile provinces to reach Turkey — which might not offer sanctuary, despite our generosity in providing them military intelligence about PKK targets they can safely bomb. The Arab Times tells us that Salahuddin province is in turmoil right now. How much of that can be attributed to al-Qaeda and how much to the Turkish incursion into Kurdish Iraqi territory is anyone's guess.

Can they withdraw southwards? Babil province, immediately south of Baghdad, is supposedly currently under the control of an Iraqi brigade. However, note that the gunmen who staged a daring raid and kidnapped several American military personnel, apparently fled into Babil province when pursued, according to the International Herald Tribune.

Mr. Khazaali said the identities of the gunmen were unknown. Other Iraqi officials said the clues pointed to Sunni groups based in Elbu Alwan, a Sunni stronghold about 25 miles north of Karbala in Babil Province. Four of the vehicles were found there early Sunday morning, the police said.
Further southwest, Karbala province appears to be relatively peaceful, barring attacks on the Shi'a pilgrims, though unable to defend itself from violence spilling over from the nearby al-Anbar province. Further south, Qadisiya province is reeling from attacks by Shia factions. In Dhi Qar province, the Italian military has formally handed off responsibility for security to the Iraqi army as of September of 2006. Sometime around then, responsibility for security in Muthanna province, south of Dhi Qar, was handed off to the Iraqi army. This past August, the governor of the province was killed.

To the west, Najaf province is relatively peaceful and controlled by Iraqi security forces, although Asia Times informs us that it contains a large number of the "internally displaced," i.e., refugees from other, more militarily disrupted zones. If the troops can cross safely, they can get to Saudi Arabia and withdraw from there. However, Najaf was also the site, in January of 2007, of some mysterious warlike activity that indicates the potential for powerful resistance. I don't entirely trust this particular story, for example, but there isn't much information available on this mysterious army of "Soldiers of Heaven."

At any rate, it is possible for the U.S. military to safely retreat south, apparently, and down through Basra province and into Kuwait and home free, right? Not quite, apparently, now that the British troops in Iraq have withdrawn to the safety of the Basra airport, leaving the rest of Basra in Iraqi hands. Given that the immediate result has been armed conflict among various factions, as is, apparently, the case in most of the rest of Iraq, what this bodes for U.S. troops attempting to withdraw through the area is anyone's guess. As of today, a British hostage held by some faction of the warring Iraqi troops in Basrah is pleading for the release of various members of that faction who are apparently being held by the Iraqi government.

As for Baghdad itself, it is a city at the confluence of two large rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates. Such a city would be hard to evacuate in a war, because withdrawal would have to take place via bridges over water. All the insurgents have to do is cut enough of the bridges to trap our military like rats.

According to Al-Jazeera, these bridges have already been destroyed: Does anybody know how we're going to get out if we need to?