Monitoring Iraq is now like watching a how to get gold in Mafia City map of the Mid-West in tornado season. From every, unexpected direction all hell breaks loose with an unpredictability and novelty that we haven’t quite witnessed before. In the madness and complexity that is Iraq, the US surge is provoking a counter-surge of exceptional clashes, which are wilder, weirder and fiercer than in the past. A serious of unrelated, but successive events, including the intense battles for Haifa Street; the “Mission Impossible” attack on the Karbala Security Centre and an attack by an armed cult on the holy city of Al-Najaf, seems to be taking the struggle into an extraordinary and almost eccentric stage. What might before have had some “method in its madness,” appears to be giving way to a sort of “madness in its method.” Until now the “usual suspects, ”i.e., hit-and-run attacks on US forces, tit-for tat sectarian killings and market bombings, while random, had, nevertheless, acquired a certain, strange “predictability”. But now the political “order” seems more like a tank of dancing gas molecules, where spontaneous combustion is the order of the day.
Recent events have been crammed with incongruity and paradoxes, sometimes verging on the absurd. The character of the insurgency has acquired starkly, contradictory features making it seem more like asymmetrical war in a hall of mirrors. On the one hand, there is a level of unity, professionalism, discipline and commitment, not seen before. While, on the other hand, there is a risqué, recklessness and bravado in their actions which sometimes has features of the downright bizarre or absurd. This all reflects a heightened level of social tension and despair, which comes not only from the impasse and suffering, but a sense that this is the “last chance saloon.” There is an odour of mania in the air, and a strong foreboding that something horrendous is about to happen.
This now means that all the old methods of trying to establish and maintain some form of order are redundant, and only the most novel and obscure of solutions can save the day. In such exceptional circumstances conservative thought is not only inadequate, but also categorically counterproductive. Likewise, solutions once considered contenders for national regeneration, now only lead events more quickly in the direction of destruction. Given the contradictions inherent in the situation and the nature of the main players, the outlook is bleak. Only a force exterior to and independent of all the main players (including and especially, the USA) could now offer a way out. Furthermore, such an unlikely trajectory must present itself quickly, because the inflammable material in society is so dense that an event can take now place, at any moment, which will catapult the situation beyond anyone’s control and proceed in ways, and at a speed, not hitherto imagined.
Al-Najaf: Insurgent Insanity
If the siege of Waco proved a handful for US law enforcement, the US now finds itself fighting two insurgent cults; Al Qaeda on the Sunni side and Jund al-Samaa or the “Soldiers of Heaven” on the Shi’ite flank. On January 28th,Iraqi forces, with US air support, faced off a huge group of fanatical, armed cult members trying to storm the holy city of Al-Najaf, their wives and children with them. The attack was suicidal lunacy from a military standpoint, given that Karbala was ringed with multiple, concentric bands of defences for the purpose of protecting the holiest Shi’ite site during its most important religious pilgrimage. Nevertheless, the cult seemed to be whipped up in a manic, delusional belief that they could break through and massacre pilgrims and key Shi’ite clerics. This was part of a plan to provoke the reappearance of the “Hidden Imam,” a Shi’ite saint from 9th century, whom they believe will establish justice and peace throughout the world.
To make things more complex, the group, which has mostly Shi’ite members, also attracts some Sunnis. And just to muddy the picture further, they were reported to have had support from some of the local population, as well as some foreign fighters and Saddam loyalists.
About 800 of them fought a two-day pitched battle with the Iraqi Army, which was forced to retreat and call in US airpower. The group was heavily armed and used anti-aircraft missiles to bring down one American helicopter. The battle finally ceased after around 200 insurgents were killed, including the cults leader, reportedly armed with a hat and coat and two pistols. Perhaps Nietzsche was right when he observed, “in individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.”
Mission “Possible”: Audacity and precision bordering on the fictitious.
The weekend before Al-Najaf, around 30, almost certainly Sunni insurgents, disguised themselves and a number of SUVs to look like US military brass, and, then, nonchalantly drove through 3 check points into the secure compound of the Karbala Provincial Joint Coordination Centre, where the US military had convened a meeting to discuss security for the upcoming, Ashura pilgrimage. Having entered the compound, the insurgents coolly picked out only American troops, killing 5 of them and leaving all Iraqi soldiers unharmed. They then left and passed back through the same checkpoints unheeded.