Iraqi Military Acts Swiftly to Avert Minibus Bombing at Rusafa HQ

Five suicide bombers set off a minibus bomb outside the military facility at the old Defense Ministry building in Baghdad around 10 am on Sunday, killing 12 persons and wounding at least 36. According to WaPo, two of the assailants then got inside the building, where they were targeted by US soldiers, in the course of which the guerrillas’ bomb vests exploded. Outside, the other two were shot in the head by US snipers and their vest bombs disarmed.

Al-Ra’i writes in Arabic that the attack was launched at the back gate of the Rusafa military HQ.

The Iraqi version is that the assailants approached the back gate, and that the Iraqi soldiers guarding it were suspicious of the vehicle and opened fire on it. The Iraqi army killed one of the bombers. Then two other bombers fled into a building, where they were later killed when the American snipers targeting them inadvertently set off their belt bombs. It reports that the official Iraqi announcement said all 5 (or in some versions, 6) attackers were killed. Most of the dead, this article says, were civilians upon whom surrounding older buildings collapsed under the force of the initial blast.

One narrative in the Arabic-language article is that the two bombers who got inside a building took hostages, and the Iraqi officer corps suggested that the US military could better deal with this situation. If that story is true, it is ironic, because apparently the US shooters could not avoid setting off the hostage-takers’ belt bombs, which seems to have resulted in some Iraqi soldiers’ deaths.

So the details in the al-Ra’i article, for which I cannot vouch, actually seem to me to undermine the emphases of the Washington Post story.

1. The assailants tried to get the bomb-laden minibus close enough to the Rusafa HQ back gate to blow it up. They were stopped from doing so by alert Iraqi troops, who opened fire and killed one of the attackers. The exploding vehicle then damaged some century-old surrounding edifices, killing some 6 civilians and wounding at least 2 dozen more. So the Iraqi troops did a fair job of confronting this threat, and defended their HQ.

2. Two bombers managed to get into a military building and take some soldiers hostage. The Iraqi officers decided to have the hostage-takers taken out by snipers, and called on American soldiers for the purpose, in hopes they could kill the invaders without harming the hostages. Unfortunately the US soldiers could not avoid setting off the vest bombs of the assailants, with a consequent undetermined loss of life (one report says 6 killed) among the Iraqi soldiers taken hostage.

3. US snipers did successfully hit the two remaining bombers, still outside by the gate, in the head.

Far from a story of the Iraqi military being able to accomplish nothing without US soldiers, this is rather one of fair Iraqi military competence in stopping the truck bombing beyond the Rusafa HQ gate, and then calling on special US expertise in sniping for specialized mop-up operations. It is not clear that anything at all would have ended differently if Iraqi snipers had been used. Indeed, they probably would have been used if some American ones were not already present at the HQ, as will likely be the case in 18 months.

The other significance of the incident for American news outlets seems to be that it falsifies the Obama administration’s stand that the US has withdrawn combat troops from Iraq. But that some US soldiers were at the Rusafa HQ who had some sniping skills and were invited to use them by Iraqi officers doesn’t actually contradict Obama’s announcement that military units designated as combat units are now out of Iraq.

Of course, US troops in Iraq will go on fighting when attacked or when their skills are called on by Iraqi officers as long as they are in that country, i.e. for 18 more months. But I think it is clear that President Obama really is committed to withdrawing militarily from Iraq.

ITN has video:

13 Responses

  1. Or, if the official Iraqi Ministry of Defense spokesman speaking to the BBC is to be believed, the US did not actually take part at all. There are no Americans in the video.

    Six of one and half a dozen of the other.

    • APB blogger discovered on Labor Day weekend typing while half-asleep in Ann Arbor suburb.

  2. Thank you professor ! Contrasting what the arab media report with what the US news papers writes is indeed very interesting and shows very well how it is always important to confront different sources. In that, we see clearly how an historian is usefull not only in his University but also more widely to the entire civil society.
    However when you writes that :
    The other significance of the incident for American news outlets seems to be that it falsifies the Obama administration’s stand that the US has withdrawn combat troops from Iraq. But that some US soldiers were at the Rusafa HQ who had some sniping skills and were invited to use them by Iraqi officers doesn’t actually contradict Obama’s announcement that military units designated as combat units are now out of Iraq.

    Of course, US troops in Iraq will go on fighting when attacked or when their skills are called on by Iraqi officers as long as they are in that country, i.e. for 18 more months. But I think it is clear that President Obama really is committed to withdrawing militarily from Iraq.

    I think that you are deluding yourself. I can understand why : the US is very near of the second term elections, which won’t be easy for the Democrates and we all know that even if Obama is not doing what we would like, especially in terms of foreign policy, he is still way better than any other Republican president would be.

    Nevertheless, stating that Obama is committed to withdrawing militarily from Iraq while he has clearly said that he will keep 50’000 troops there doesn’t correspond to the facts on the ground. What he has in mind is a partial withdrawal, not a complete one and I don’t think that Obama or any other US president will achieve that without being forced out. As long as so many troops stay in Iraq, they will fight “to defend themselves and when called by the Iraqi” and this is the very proof that the withdrawal is only very partial and it has more to do with the redeployement of the US military forces than with the complete withdrawal of Iraq.

    • Obama hasn’t pledged to keep 50,000 troops in Iraq! He has pledged to take out the remaining troops over the next 18 months. There are already less than 50,000! You guys kept telling me when I pointed out he had brought the level down to 120,000, then 100,000, etc., that I was deluding myself, that the US had all those hardened bases and would never turn them over to the Iraqis, that the designated combat units would not be out by September 1, etc., etc. Look, I have my eyes open. I know that some of the troops there now (10%) are actually combat-ready, though they don’t do independent missions. I know that there will be a handful of US airmen and advisers in Iraq for some years to come. But not tens of thousands. Mark my words.

      As for the US embassy, it is not my experience that the State Department budget is popular with Congress and I’d be very surprised if all those big plans eventuate. But in any case a big State Department presence is different from a division of US troops, and I am talking about the latter not being plausible in the medium run. Stop changing the subject. If what you’re upset about is that the US is a superpower, just wait a century. But then others will be superpowers, probably China and India.

      • Have I missed something or is this a private argument?? I can’t see anything in Christiane’s post about the US State Department or the US as a ‘Superpower” ??? But for what its worth I don’t think we’ll have to wait a century for that jaunt to end – in fact does anyone else use USA and Superpower in the same sentence anymore?

      • Well, I got that 50’000 figure concerning the number of troops remaining in Iraq and labelled “non combat troops” by reading your blog. But I shouldn’t have worded that part of my comment more carefully when I wrote that Obama “had stated clearly” that he would “keep” them in Iraq, you are right, because a) The US will probably try to blurr the lines concerning how many troops are left in Iraq and b) Sure Obama doesn’t want to keep there more troops than is estimated necessary to control Iraq.

        Now, concerning the superpower issue : I have nothing against superpowers in se. I live in a very small country, a lilliput power on the world stage, we have four, way more powerfull, neighbours so I know by experience that it is possible to survive in the shadow of other more powerfull nations.

        The real issue is how a superpower behaves. The other day you described how angry you were against Karzay’s corruption. This spokes to me, because I’m angry too. I’m angry since the wakes of the US invasion of Iraq.

        My first university education was as a historian too (particularly the history of the XXth Century, the workers’ movements, socialism, communism, fascism etc. ). Back in 2003 I had the habit to use radio news to wake up instead of the aggressive sound of a wake-up clock. I remember hearing about the US accusations concerning Saddam’s WMD in that semi-conscious state before wake-up, particularly the story of the steel cylinders delivered to Iraq and then the story of the errant biological lab van, etc. I was shocked, because it was branded as prooves while it could be anything in the world as well; it sounded so much like unfounded accusations, like pure propaganda, like the kind of things a military power would say in order to prepare opinion to war.

        But, on the other side, it sounded so out of order to prepare a pure war of aggression : WWII and Vietnam were over since a long time. Most of the remaining wars of the last decennies of the XXth century had been guerrilla wars lead by liberation movements, where the superpowers only fighted behind the scene – when they were involved at all. Or they were started by others, like in Yougoslavia, where the US came to protect the weaker side (or at least that could be seen that way quite reasonnably). So I couldn’t really believe that the US was preparing a blunt invasion of Iraq, although all the signs were there, I couldn’t believe it. Yet, alas it became more and more probable as the days passed and eventually succeeded, inspite of what the UN inspectors always stated and inspite the couragous opposition of France and Germany.

        Since then, I’m angry against what the US did to Iraq and against the fact that there is no court that will be able to put Bush/Rumsfeld and co to trial for what they did. Against the fact that in the end, the US will benefit of their misdeeds. This leaves me with a deep feeling of injustice, but what can I do about it ? apart of venting it here or there on the net. What the US authorities do have so much impact on the rest of the world, that they should be elected by all the world’s citizen ;-)

        Many things which you wish for your country, I want too for every country in the world : a more ecological behaviour, less oil dependency, more social justice, less military spending, more education and social spending etc. If I was a US citizen and given the choice offered to the electors, I’d have supported Obama, like you, because he will always be better than any Republican and it is important to stop the conservative right, to put rules and limits on the wild capitalism the right is defending.

        Concerning other superpowers, well for the moment they behave better than the US toward the rest of the world, although I wish that the Chinese would treat their workers better and allow intellectuals more freedom. Are all superpowers condemned to abuse of their power ? Is “softpower” (money power, persuasion or ideological power) any better ? I prefer to leave that open and keep some hope.

        • Sorry I mistyped this sentence
          What the US authorities do have so much impact on the rest of the world, that they should be elected by all the world’s citizen ;-)
          I should have written :
          What the US authorities do has so much impact on the rest of the world, that they should be elected by all the world’s citizen.

  3. I guess that those sniping skills are hard for Iraqis to acquire. It might take a few more years and a few billion dollars. On the other hand, I wouldn’t be surprised if some contract personnel could do it, like soon. All because those darn Iraqis just can’t snipe. I wonder what else they can’t do? After all, US national security is at stake here, which is nothing to snipe at.

    • There was a really excellent Iraqi sniper a couple of years ago. Fighting for the resistance of course. I’ve still got a lot of videos of him shooting down US soldiers. But I guess they don’t get like that in the Iraqi army.

  4. Certainly Obama doesn’t want 50,000 troops in Iraq all the time. That’s expensive. The American plans are for a nominally independent protectorate on the British model with airbases and with carriers offshore, for as David Lloyd George explained back in the day, “We must reserve the right to bomb the niggers.”

    And the right to devastate the earth as never before in history, not just by the rape of natural resources and setting the earth on fire under our feet through global warming, but also by poisoning the earth wherever they go with depleted uranium (DU) dust – making the Agent Orange still killing people in Vietnam look like small change.

    They’ve figured out that genocide by starvation and disease doesn’t get the bad press that you get with mass executions by machine gun or concentration camp, as the British found 110 years ago, but they’re getting the job done – a million or more in Iraq so far, not counting the DU gift that keeps on giving; about that or more in Afghanistan; and how many in the Gaza strip where hundreds of thousands of little kids suffer from malnutrition as American policy. It’s real American know-how, to kill all these little kids without headlines.

    And what’s happening to the American people, signing onto all this abomination while they throw their republic away? And my dog in this fight, the American Christians who condone all this monstrosity and identify it with the kingdom of God.

  5. “Of course, US troops in Iraq will go on fighting when attacked or when their skills are called on by Iraqi officers as long as they are in that country, i.e. for 18 more months. But I think it is clear that President Obama really is committed to withdrawing militarily from Iraq.”

    – Juan Cole

    Think what we will, but President Obama has 50,000 troops in Traq and lots lots lots more military contractors. I want these troops and contractors all gone, now! I want us out of Afghanistan, now!

  6. “Of course, US troops in Iraq will go on fighting when attacked or when their skills are called on by Iraqi officers as long as they are in that country, i.e. for 18 more months. But I think it is clear that President Obama really is committed to withdrawing militarily from Iraq. ”

    Think of the good we could do now for Americans if we left Iraq immediately and completely. Another 18 months is far too long, far too long.

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