Monday, September 05, 2005

The law of Qaim: Zarqawi loyalists take Iraqi border town

A brutal reminder that there's still a war/occupation going on in Iraq, one that really isn't going all that well, and certainly not according to plan:

Fighters loyal to militant leader Abu Musab Zarqawi asserted control over the key Iraqi border town of Qaim on Monday, killing U.S. collaborators and enforcing strict Islamic law, according to tribal members, officials, residents and others in the town and nearby villages.

Residents said the foreign-led fighters controlled by Zarqawi, a Jordanian, apparently had been exerting authority in the town, within two miles of the Syrian border, since at least the start of the weekend. A sign posted at an entrance to the town declared, "Welcome to the Islamic Republic of Qaim"...

The report from Qaim, about 200 miles west of Baghdad, marked one of insurgents' boldest moves in their cat-and-mouse duels with U.S. Marines along the Euphrates River. U.S. forces have described border towns in the area as a funnel for foreign fighters, arms and money into Iraq from Syria...

Fighters loyal to Zarqawi openly patrolled the streets of Qaim with AK-47 assault rifles and grenade launchers. The fighters included both Iraqis and foreigners, including Afghans. They draped rooftops with Zarqawi's al Qaeda in Iraq banner of a yellow sun against a black background.

I don't think that Qaim is any kind of domino, nor that the insurgents are necessarily gaining the kind of strength to take over other towns, let alone large parts of the country, nor that we're about to witness some sort of Iraqi Tet Offensive. After all, the insurgents are still up against the most powerful country in the world. But it's also clear that Iraq's borders aren't secure, that the insurgents are capable of rising up in symbolic and occasionally quite significant shows of force, and that the Iraqi forces are nowhere near ready to take on the responsibility of securing the country by themselves.

In the end, Qaim may not mean much, but what's clear is that the insurgency isn't going away and that it continues to pose a very real threat to law and order. The Zarqawi loyalists in Qaim may melt away if and when they're challenged by U.S. forces, just as they did in Fallujah, but they'll just turn up somewhere else, ever fluid, presenting an aggressive reminder that they can more or less do what they want when they want and that not even the most powerful country in the world can stop them.

The taking of Qaim is a slap in America's face, but the problem isn't Qaim. The problem is that there are many Qaims and that they all need to be secured if Iraq is ever to make the successful transition to democracy.

What say you, President Bush?

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  • It's clear that the insurgency is, in part, a psychological operation, much as the Tet Offensive was. Regardless of the actual effect on the ground, the ability of the insurgents to continually take actions such as this has a demoralizing effect on, at least, the American public. Does it really mean much in terms of the actual strength of the insurgents? Probably not but it sure has a psychological impact.

    A few weeks ago, I read an article in the New York Review of Books by Peter Galbraith, a former US ambassador, that suggests that the insurgents can't possibly "win" because they are such a minority. On the other hand, it will be impossible to defeat them militarily. So this sounds like a stalemate to me and a recipe for civil war.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:39 AM  

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