Let’s see, we’re going to bug out on a pre-declared schedule, and leave a country divided roughly en partes tres between Sunnis that hate us and support Al-Qaida, Shias that hate us and support Iran, and Kurds that like us but can’t get our attention.
The Sunnis hate and want to exterminate the Shias, the Shias likewise vis-a-vis the Sunnis, and, to lift a line from Tom Lehrer and hammer to fit, “everybody hates the Kurds” (who just want to be left alone to do their own thing).
What could possibly go wrong? Well, how about this for starters?
Suicide bombers drove cars packed with explosives to the gates of the prison on the outskirts of Baghdad on Sunday night and blasted their way into the compound, while gunmen attacked guards with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades.
Other militants took up positions near the main road, fighting off security reinforcements sent from Baghdad as several militants wearing suicide vests entered the prison on foot to help free the inmates.
Ten policemen and four militants were killed in the ensuing clashes, which continued until Monday morning, when military helicopters arrived, helping to regain control.
By that time, hundreds of inmates had succeeded in fleeing Abu Ghraib, the prison made notorious a decade ago by photographs showing abuse of prisoners by U.S. soldiers.
“The number of escaped inmates has reached 500, most of them were convicted senior members of al Qaeda and had received death sentences,” Hakim Al-Zamili, a senior member of the security and defense committee in parliament, told Reuters.
“The security forces arrested some of them, but the rest are still free.”
One security official told Reuters on condition of anonymity: “It’s obviously a terrorist attack carried out by al Qaeda to free convicted terrorists with al Qaeda.”
A simultaneous attack on another prison, in Taji, around 20 km (12 miles) north of Baghdad, followed a similar pattern, but guards managed to prevent any inmates escaping. Sixteen soldiers and six militants were killed.
It appears to be a complex and well-coordinated attack. Any Sunnis on the guard force were tipped off and sicked-out or fired high, security forces place stop groups in the four corners of the perimeter to delay any QRF, the splodeydopes make a hole, the less expendable terrorist forces engage the guards. Note that more defenders were killed at Taji, suggesting that the much larger Abu Ghraib force wasn’t fighting all that hard.
We would quibble with Reuters about the source of Abu Ghraib’s notoriety. For 50 years it was the Ba’ath Party’s roach motel: dissidents checked in, but they didn’t check out.
This attack follows a series of tit-for-tat mass bombing campaigns: Shias blowing up a couple dozen Sunni mosques, and Sunnis repaying the debt at Shia places of worship (and, if you know anything about Islam, bomb-making instruction and weapons storage). Their basic point of disagreement is: who inherited the so-called prophet’s mantle after Mohammed kicked the bucket. There are other quibbles, too: Sunnis believe that the Shia veneration of holy men and “saints” crosses the line into polytheism, but they’re all enthusiastic murderers, and it’s no deeper or more important to an outsider than why Crips don’t like Bloods. The sensible place for both is where Iraq previously had the Sunni ones, at least: prison.
We have discovered previously, in Afghanistan, that the leaky, feeble, juvenile and legitimacy-challenged national government has little traction in the hearts and minds of Afghans, who have very close ethnic, tribal and racial ties that tend to trump any loyalty to distant abstractions. Likewise, Iraq, where the government has an even weaker claim on legitimacy than Afghanistan’s clown parliament.
In Afghanistan, we learned that prisons couldn’t hold creeps who had more juice than the entire government could bring to bear, any more than Colombia could really imprison Pablo Escobar, or, for that matter, than the US can arrest a fraudster connected to Goldman Sachs.
“Too big to jail” came to Abu Ghraib, with some 500 Al-Qaeda members being freed from Iraq’s large but very slow-moving Death Row.
If there’s a moral in this story, it’s the many social benefits to be found by applying a rocket docket in capital cases.