October 20, 2006

What's Amarah Wit You?

A developing story in Iraq is the seizure of the southern Iraqi city of Amarah today by roughly 800 militiamen of Muqtada al-Sadr's al-Mahdi Army in response to the kidnapping of the teenage brother of the local head of the a-Madhi Army. the kidnapping came on the heels of the assassination of the head of police intelligence in the area, who belonged to another Shiite militia, the Badr Brigade. The Associated Press is among many of the news organizations covering the story.

The takeover of Amarah is just the latest example of intra-sectarian fighting in Iraq that shows that the current U.S. strategy in Iraq is not working. As a recently-back-from-Iraq Phillip Carter noted yesterday:

During the last two years, the U.S. presence in Iraq has consolidated in massive superfortresses like Anaconda and shut down dozens of smaller bases and outposts across the country. This operational withdrawal was meant to make the U.S. presence more efficient and to reduce the risk of having small units deployed on small bases where they might be vulnerable to insurgent attack; it also forced the Iraqis to become more self-sufficient in securing their own cities. Unfortunately, this has come at a price. When a massive flare-up happens in places like Balad, Tikrit, or Kirkuk, all cities without a permanent U.S. presence, our military must respond from afar, its effectiveness and responsiveness limited by distance.

* * *

This violent weekend proves that America needs to radically change its course in Iraq, while some form of victory still lies within our grasp. First, the U.S. military must reverse its trend of consolidation and redeploy its forces into Iraq's cities. Efficiency and force protection cannot define our military footprint in Iraq; if those are our goals, we may as well bring our troops home today. Instead, we must assume risk by pushing U.S. forces out into small patrol bases in the middle of Iraq's cities where they are able to work closely with Iraqi leaders and own the streets. Counterinsurgency requires engagement. The most effective U.S. efforts thus far in Iraq have been those that followed this maxim, like the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Tal Afar, which established numerous bases within the city and attacked the insurgency from within with a mix of political, economic, and military action.

I hope that the current situation spurs military leaders in Iraq towards to solution that Carter rightly advocates, starting with a direct confrontation of the 800 al-Mahdi militiamen that have taken over Amarah.

Logistically, it isn't possible for just 800 unsupported militia fighters to establish and maintain the "total control"(as the media so breathlessly puts it) of a city as large as Amarah, which has an estimated population of 340,000 spread across the geographical boundaries formed by the fork of three rivers.


A more detailed satellite map from can be seen here.

Based upon map data alone, this would be an extremely difficult city for a much larger, better equipped and better trained conventional military force to hold, much less a militia. It seems that geography could be used to section off parts of the city, which could then be cleared of militiamen in the following manner.

Conventional military units could be used to set-up checkpoints in blockading positions around the roads leading into Amrah, while small special operations units from the Iraqi military and supported by U.S. intelligence and strike aircraft should be able to locate and observe concentrations of militiamen (untrained forces have a tendency to cluster) and inflict significant casualties with precision weapons. Militiamen patrolling the city in vehicles would seem to be prime targets for hit-and-run ambushes, which could be assembled on the fly with intelligence from overhead U.S. drone aircraft.

There is no need to engage these militia forces in a frontal assault with conventional forces that would lead to significant damage to the civilian infrastructure when precise intelligence, coordinated small arms and the use of smaller precision airborne munitions could achieve the same objectives.

If such a plan is able to be implemented, the militiamen would be forced to surrender, attempt to escape, or die as they move around the city. Once sufficiently weakened, conventional Iraqi Army and Police forces should be able to mop-up any remaining forces and reestablish control.

American and Iraqi military and police forces must rein in militias, reestablish localized bases across Iraq to better provide stability and quick response capabilities, and work to bring economic and political force to bear to make lasting changes on a local level.

I'm not sure if we need "more boots on the ground" to stabilize Iraq, but I am quite certain that we cannot improve the situation by isolating our forces in large bases and letting militias and sectarian gangs run free.

"All politics is local," said someone very wise. So are insurgencies, which cannot be defeated from the PX of a large megabase.

Update: Bill Roggio has related thoughts on dealing with Mahdi Army leader Muqtada al-Sadr.

Update: The Iraqi Army came in with two companies of soldiers from Basra, and have retaken the city. The threat of going up against a large conventional Army force was apparently enough for the militiamen.

As a side note, Wikipedia (where I got my population number from) claims Amarah's population as being 340,000 in 2002. places the city's population at 420,000 as of 2005. The AP article from today states that the population is 750,000.

I think we just found the missing people from the Lancet study.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at October 20, 2006 09:58 AM | TrackBack

Don't you think the best approach to the Iraq problem would be a withdrawl to the port and selected oil fields that are easily defended. Then try to restrict entrance and exit from the country. Finally, allow these idiots to kill each other without trying to restict their efforts.

Posted by: David Caskey at October 20, 2006 11:31 AM

Dear David Caskey, thank you for openly mentioning the real reasons for war on Iraq:
"Don't you think the best approach to the Iraq problem would be a withdrawl to the port and selected oil fields that are easily defended."
WMD, democracy, freedom, ... ha, ha!

"Then ... exit from the country. Finally, allow these idiots to kill each other without trying to restict their efforts." - You are talking of men, women and children whose country YOUR military has invaded (though being warned) and which is in ruins now (even more than it was under the dictator Saddam) due to the ignorance of those who only believe in firepower.

Posted by: Hartmut Heinemann at October 23, 2006 11:51 AM