Iraqi insurgents kill American contractors, then defile and display their bodies
Iraqi insurgents escalated the war of violence and images today by attacking a U.S. government contractor convoy in Fallujah, extracting the bodies of the killed Americans, and defiling them in full view of the mob and media present. In images reminiscent of Somalia, the mob towed one body throughthe street, burned others, beat one with a metal pole, and strung up two full corpses and other body parts from a bridge across the Euphrates. Also today, five Army combat engineers who were attached to the Marines also killed by an IED, according to the LA Times. (Correction: I double-counted the IED casualties earlier today due to conflicting reports.)
Every major news outlet -- NYT, WSJ, CNN, WP, LAT -- is running this as their top story right now, and they all have the graphic images displayed on their respective websites so you too can see the horror. Here's how Edmund Sanders of the LA Times described events in Fallujah:
The two burgundy SUVs were attacked at a stoplight with small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades around 9:30 a.m. in Fallouja, a Sunni Triangle city about 35 miles west of Baghdad and the scene of some of the worst violence since the beginning of the American occupation a year ago.CNN added these gory details about the treatment of the Americans' bodies after the attack:
Iraqis threw rocks and bricks at the cars, and mutilated some of the bodies with shovels and poles. At least two bodies were dragged behind cars through the streets and taken to the Euphrates River, where they were hung from a bridge.
Chants of "We will kill the Americans" sounded in the street.
For hours there was no military at the scene; the few Iraqi police seen did not stop the events.
Cheering residents in Fallujah pulled charred bodies from burning vehicles and hung them from a Euphrates River bridge.Finally, Jeff Gettleman of the New York Times puts the attack in the context of recent U.S. operations in Fallujah:
Crowds gathered around the vehicles and dragged at least one of the bodies through the streets, witnesses said.
Residents pulled another body from one of the cars and beat it with sticks.
... [American] generals have been saying that their main focus in the conflict has shifted to Islamic terrorists who they believe to have been responsible for many suicide bombings and other attacks on the Iraqi police, civilians and foreigners. These attacks, they say, have effectively carried the Iraqi conflict into a new landscape that makes the fighting here part of the worldwide war on terrorism.Analysis: Capt. Logan is certainly right about one thing: this attack is designed to test American resolve. Insurgents and terrorists around the world have incorporated the lessons of Mogadishu into their doctrine. Indeed, they have an almost religious belief that they can win if they inflict grievous and gory casualties on American soldiers. Such a strategy is designed to undermine our national will; it assumes that we don't really have the stomach for this fight or its cost, and that we will pull out at the first sign of adversity. Unfortunately, the U.S. did that once. And like it or not, our enemies learned from Beirut and Mogadishu that they could prevail using similar tactics in the future. (See this interesting article on America's history of casualty aversion from the Naval War College Review.) But I don't think we will turn tail and run here. We have invested far too much in Iraq in terms of spirit, blood and treasure -- we will not cede victory to these bandits and reward them for their atrocities.
But today's events at Falluja indicate that the war may not have changed as much as the generals have suggested.
The fact that the attack on the civilian vehicles occurred in Falluja, an overwhelming Sunni city that is the most volatile stronghold of support for Mr. Hussein, and that it followed a 10-day offensive by United States marines aimed at gaining effective control of the city, suggested that the current war may, in practice, be an extension of the conflict that began last year.
Capt. Chris Logan of the Marine Corps said today that the city was becoming "an area of greater concern."
He added: "This is one of those areas in Iraq that is definitely squirrely. The guerrillas in Falluja are testing us. They're testing our resolve."
In a modulation of their assessments in recent days, the generals had begun to say that there may be a merging of diehard loyalists to Mr. Hussein and Islamic militants, with the two groups at least loosely coordinating their attacks.
At the tactical level, this attack may have destroyed one American convoy. But news of this attack, and the Iraqi mob's behavior, has likely reached every American and coalition soldier now serving in Iraq. Just as the news of the Malmedy massacre during WWII enraged U.S. troops and gave them a reason to fight harder, so too will this event. I don't want to suggest for one minute that American troops will commit an atrocity to respond in kind. This isn't Vietnam, and our junior officers and NCOs are too professional to let that happen. But you can bet that every American fighting man and woman in Iraq feels the rage from this incident, and their leaders will now seek to focus and apply that rage constructively to dismantle and destroy every remaining part of the Iraqi insurgency. Payback will be swift, severe and certain.
The hardest part of any counter-insurgency operation, as Army LTC Gian Gentile and MAJ John Nagl have observed, is properly calibrating force to destroy the insurgency without losing the hearts and minds of the civilian population. The challenge for American commanders in Iraq will be to devise an appropriate response for this incident that effectively targets and kills the Iraqi insurgents without causing too much collateral damage. For what it's worth, there is enough anti-American sentiment in Fallujah that we don't have that much to lose there, and thus a heavy-handed approach will not risk much. However, I am confident that American planners are working on this problem right now.
More to follow...
Update I: I corrected an earlier lead paragraph where I indicated two separate IED attacks which killed five Marines and five soldiers. Those two attacks were actually just one attack, which killed five Army engineers attached to the Marines in the Sunni Triangle.
Update II: Neil King and Greg Jaffe add some more context to the incident in Fallujah today in a story that will appear in tomorrow's Wall Street Journal. Specifically, the WSJ article reports on the implications of this attack for the government contractors now working with U.S. government agencies to rebuild Iraq.
For now, the administration is sending a mixed message, issuing billions of dollars in contracts and encouraging companies to join in reconstruction while warning Americans against traveling in Iraq on their own and requiring contractors to provide their own security, which the government pays for. Army and Marine officers, for their part, are debating what tactics hold the most hope for gaining control of the seething Sunni Triangle area to the north and west of Baghdad.In government contract terms, those requests are called "changes". (Finally, a government term that makes intuitive sense.) It is very likely that major contractors and smaller subcontractors will request a change to the terms of their contract to cover the increased costs of security for the more threatening environment in Iraq. The government basically has no choice here -- either it supports the contractors here, or faces the likelihood that the contractors will walk away from their work. Ultimately, these changes will add to the cost of the Iraqi rebuilding effort, both in terms of money and time. Additional security measures will impede rebuilding efforts by limiting the exposure of contractors to situations where they can be secured. For example, instead of 5 food convoys, you might now see 1 or 2 being run.
Contractors have been increasingly on edge as violence escalates against foreign workers. Yesterday's attack, on a main street in the tense town of Fallujah west of Baghdad, is the latest in a series of assaults that has left more than a dozen foreign civilians dead over the last month. Five U.S. soldiers also died yesterday when a bomb exploded beside their convoy west of Baghdad.
"We're all very concerned about this incident, and we're taking every precaution we can," said Erin Kuhlman, a spokeswoman for California-based Parsons Corp., which is now working on electrical and construction projects in Iraq. Like other contractors, she declined to provide specifics on precautions.
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The murdered contractors were security guards from a closely held North Carolina company, Blackwater Security, that relies heavily on retired U.S. soldiers and intelligence operatives, especially from Delta Force and special forces. The men were working under a U.S. government contract to protect food shipments to the Fallujah area, the company said in a statement. The names of the victims weren't released pending notification of relatives.
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One Bush official, who declined to be identified, said that "because of the gruesome nature of this" the administration now expects "renewed requests from contractors for more funding and more help on security. That seems unavoidable at this point." Such desires are even more likely because the latest round of rebuilding contracts means that hundreds more U.S. civilian workers are supposed to begin streaming into Iraq in coming weeks.
Though American taxpayers will pay the bill, it is the Iraqis who will suffer. The deteriorating security situation will disproportionately hurt contractors, relief agencies and non-governmental organizations much more than it hurts the military. The US Marines and US Army can adjust to a more threatening environment much more easily than these civilian agencies can. And it is these civilian agencies that do the majority of good for the Iraqis. The tough task now is to convince the Iraqi population of this fact, so that they take the lead in stopping their own insurgent brethren.