Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Body Counts Afterall?

The New York Times reports on a raid against an insurgent training camp in Iraq:

Iraqi and American forces killed at least 80 insurgents during a Tuesday morning raid on what appeared to be the biggest guerrilla training camp yet discovered, Iraqi officials said today. Seven Iraqi police officers were also killed and six were wounded in what American and Iraqi officials characterized as an especially fierce battle...

The number of anti-government fighters killed was the most reported in a single conflict since the American offensive against the insurgent stronghold of Falluja last November. The size and location of the camp, with scores of guerrillas reportedly living in tents and small buildings in a marshy lakeside encampment 50 miles northwest of the capital, revealed a strategic shift among some insurgents, American military officials said. It was first time, they said, that the military had come across insurgents organizing in such numbers in a remote rural location, reminiscent of Al Qaeda training camps in the arid mountains of Afghanistan before the American invasion there...

Along with munitions, training manuals, prepared car bombs, suicide-bomb vests and computers, the Iraqi and American forces discovered identification papers that showed some of the fighters had come from outside Iraq, Major Goldenberg said, though he declined to identify the nationalities of the foreign insurgents. Iraqi officials said the foreigners mostly came from Arab countries, and a written statement early today from the Interior Ministry said an Algerian had been arrested.

But Gen. Rashid Flaiyeh, the head of the police commandos in Salahuddin Province, where the battle took place, said the bodies of Filipino and Arab men were also among the dead guerrillas. "I was surprised there were men from the Philippines," he said on the state-run television network Iraqiya. "The Arab countries are sending fighters into Iraq because they want to destroy our democratic movement." The effort by the insurgents to set up such a large outpost by a lake so relatively near Baghdad was an audacious, if ultimately ill-fated, move. American and Iraqi officials said they had no immediate information on how or when the camp was established. Before the American invasion, the site, Lake Tharthar, in an otherwise barren, parched region, was a popular tourist spot for Iraqis and was home to a fish farming project started by the government of Saddam Hussein...

The battle was the second in recent days in which American forces were engaged with a large, highly organized paramilitary group. On Sunday, an American convoy fended off an ambush by a band of 40 to 50 insurgents in Salman Pak, a town 12 miles southeast Baghdad. The American military said 26 attackers were killed in that fight, which was the most ambitious assault against the American military since the Jan. 30 elections and showed that the guerrilla war was still burning two years after the American-led invasion and despite a high turnout in the elections.


Eighty killed is barely a drop in the bucket. Besides, as Juan Cole notes, the hard core resistance fighers and leaders hardly need an Al Qaeda type training camp--the wars of the 80's and 90's gave them plenty of lessons. Besides, foreign fighters are a very small percentage of the insurgency.

I expect that for a while though, we're likely to hear about casualty counts--it's the "best" news the war planners can point to right now. Although it still seems more than a little odd--claiming to kill 80 insurgents almost two years after declaring "Mission Accomplished" tends to undercut the message...

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