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June 28, 2005

In WOT, Media Snatch Defeat From Jaws Of Victory

In the hushed silence just before dawn, Baghdad's largest police station, like the rest of the city, was quiet. Inside the fortress, about 80 officers slept, leaving a few sentries to guard the walls, razor wire and concrete barriers.

Suddenly, mortar fire shattered the silence, whooshing sounds from the north and south followed seconds later by explosions inside the perimeter. Shadowy figures crept in from the gloom and knelt in the middle of Hi al-Elam and Qatar Nada streets, pointing rocket launchers.

More figures materialised on rooftops overlooking the station to spray gunfire and lob grenades. Dozens of gunmen, guerrilla infantry, swarmed from houses and alleys. By 5.30, the station was surrounded.

The defenders heard engines rev and guessed what was next: suicide car bombers. Baghdad's biggest battle in months - and possibly the boldest yet by insurgents - had begun.

But this battle marked a turning point in a city torn by ongoing strife. For by the end of a 2-hour battle that included heavy shelling, diversionary feints, infantry thrusts and suicide vehicles - the "precision-guided" equivalent of tanks, the terrorists ranks had been cut in half and they limped back to their hiding places without accomplishing their objective. At least 10 of the up to 100 insurgents were killed by police, 40 captured. The police lost 4 officers to a car bomb that failed to breach the station defenses and one off-duty officer

What made the difference this time?

By 6.30am a police machine-gunner on the roof at Baya'a helped turn the tide, firing volleys which forced attackers to take cover and enabled his comrades to take better positions. Residents of the mixed Shia and Sunni neighbourhood made at least 55 phone calls informing the police of insurgent movements. Some fired on the attackers. An off-duty policeman was caught by insurgents, bundled into the boot of a car and later found beheaded.

By 7:30, the attack was over.

"It was our victory," said the Iraqi commander, Col Khaldoon.

That's the way the story could have been written. This is the way it was written:

Iraq insurgents snatch victory from defeat

Massive police station assault alarms locals despite retreat

They struck on Monday but details of the assault on Baya'a, a vast police complex in the southern suburbs, emerged only yesterday when American and Iraqi officers opened the station to reporters. Bullet holes and debris testified to a synchronised and audacious strike by up to 100 rebels in what is supposed to be a locked-down capital.

Agenda alert: obviously there is a coverup here. Why weren't reporters admitted IMMEDIATELY??? And why was this attack allowed to happen at all?

The combination of heavy shelling, diversionary feints, infantry thrusts and suicide vehicles - the "precision-guided" equivalent of tanks - left parts of the district of Hi al-Elam a smoking ruin. If the objective was to overrun the station and free its prisoners the offensive failed. The attackers retreated after two hours, leaving dozens dead and captured. But if the objective was to send a message of power and determination it succeeded.

Obi-Wan has taught you well, my son. Do not blame the damage on the 'rebels' - the police are clearly at fault. And if at first you don't succeed, try re-defining the objective. After all, it is not results that count, but effort. Yes, the attack failed, but those 'rebel forces' showed real determination, didn't they?

Residents said their confidence in the government and security forces was severely dented. A rash of graffiti has spread across the area: "We will be back." One taxi driver, a Shia who loathes the mostly Sunni Arab resistance, shrugged. "Yes, they will."

Mein Gott im Himmel! Those fiends - how can the Iraqis hope to withstand...grafitti??? Once more we see the imprimatur of the professional journalist. The Guardian produces the eponymous Man On The Street to add richness and context to what would otherwise be a set of misleading facts.

We are to take note of the fact that the Average Iraqi's confidence is severely shaken by the fact that an outnumbered police force beat the attackers and killed/captured half their forces.

Republicans and Democrats, increasingly worried about Iraq, were due yesterday to quiz Pentagon top brass about a US exit strategy which hinges on building up Iraqi security forces.

"Meanwhile back home, an unbiased bi-partisan coalition of loyal readers is agitating to bring an end to the illegal, immoral occupation of Irakkk"

Not since April's attack on Abu Ghraib had there been such a concentration of force in the capital and yet the insurgents were repulsed thanks to the heroism of the beleaguered police officers, he said. But in Baghdad, the fact the insurgents had launched the attack at all was more indicative.

Redefining success, the sequel. Oh, and don't take note of the fact that the Iraqis beat the attack off by themselves, without assistance from coalition forces. Far better to imply that coalition forces failed them by not stepping in to do what they proved quite capable of doing, all on their own.

Lt Col Funk worried about similarities to the Tet offensive, a 1968 push by North Vietnamese forces which failed militarily but whose scale and surprise gave the impression that the US and its allies were failing. "The media got Tet wrong and they're getting Iraq wrong. We are winning but people won't know that if all they are hearing about is death and violence."

See how clever we are?

Strange how accounts from our men in uniform differ from those served up by the media. Army Captain Steve Alvarez is having trouble reconciling media coverage with his experiences in Iraq:

The images I see back here are not the same indelible images I saw in Iraq - those of a resilient country making its way back from decades of oppression - helped by the many friendly nations that liberated them.

But now I'm on the sidelines, and instead of feeling and hearing the car bomb explode and seeing its eerie black plume of smoke rise nearby, I read about it. And rather than witness history as I did for a year, I find myself writing my comrades to get accurate accounts of what is happening in Iraq.

What I saw in Iraq was the boundless bravery of a seemingly endless line of Iraqi recruits gathered to join the Iraqi army, the smiles and waves of Iraqis as we convoyed through the city of Sulaymaniyah, the first flight of the Iraqi air force, and the sound of Iraqi tank guns as they thundered for the first time in years in support of liberty, not tyranny.

I remember the jubilation of my Iraqi friends as they showed off their ink-stained fingers, a badge of honor on their fingertips, indicating they had voted in their country's first democratic election in decades. I remember the Iraqi female military police soldiers who became pioneers for women in that region by joining the Iraqi military, clearing not just personal hurdles, but cultural ones.

Mostly, I remember the thousands of Iraqi and coalition troops that each day hunted the enemy and kept me safe. I remember the drivers and gunners on convoy, the pilots and crew chiefs in the sky, the sentries and tankers at the gates, and all of the warriors who were out there trying to make Iraq a better and safer place.

Someday, probably decades from now, the actions of this generation and its brave men and women will grace history books. The lesson, I'm confident, will be that they left a peaceful and productive imprint on the region and its people, and forever changed the landscape of the Middle East.

Quagmire? Miserable failure? I suppose that depends on who you believe.

CWCID for the Guardian piece: John Hawkins, Mark Noonan

Posted by Cassandra at June 28, 2005 07:19 AM

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Oh that is just so nasty! That every time an insurgent action rears it's little head, it is a defeat for WHOM???? Us? Not effing likely.
The insurgents? Dare I answer my own question and say "HELL YES!"

way to go, Iraq! how racist we are, to train them to take over their own security and defend themselves against these idiots.

Irony here: They are fighting for their freedom now, in a way they would not have had under Saddam. There was no freedom and I hope and pray the Iraqis take what was so hard won and RUN WITH IT.

Oh, am I being bigoted?

Posted by: Cricket at June 28, 2005 01:25 PM

It's funny - I was just over on Iraq the Model and they were pissed about this story too! If I were them, I'd be really mad about it.

What nerve. No you're not being bigoted. Any people will fight harder when they have hope - it's only natural. You work harder when there is incentive.

Posted by: Bush Ate My Soul... at June 28, 2005 01:29 PM

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