Wednesday, June 23, 2004

U.S. Bombs Parking Lot In Retaliation for Beheadings

Reuters reported earlier that the U.S. Air Force bombed a parking lot in Iraq in retaliation for the beheadings.

I don't know if they missed their target, or if the parking lot was the target. Presumably, the target was someone supposed to be connected the militants responsible for the beheadings --- did the militants leave their cars parked in the parking lot?

Some commenters on this and other blogs (such as in response to this post) suggested dropping bigger bombs in Iraq (21K moabs, which are conventional weapons equivalent to a small kiloton nuke) would be the solution. I vigorously contested this in response to the commenter, as well as in my last post on the beheading of the South Korean.

Perhaps we were also under pressure from the South Korean government and populace to "do something." So we bombed a parking lot. The Pentagon has been criticized in the past for excessive reliance on air power, and it sounds like our forces lived up to the stereotype today. I don't know how bombing parking lots (even with bigger bombs, as some readers here have suggested) is going to work.

The Al Queda-linked Iraqi militant responsible for the latest beheading is basically just a criminal gang which is receiving some sympathy from the local population that is shielding them. It's police work, and using a carrot and stick approach to form alliances with local leaders in the outlaw regions and enlist their assistance in nailing these guys.

Now the leader of this Al Queda gang has vowed to assassinate the new prime minister of Iraq; you can bet the new Iraqi government is going to be a very good ally on this. Their suggestion was to reform the previously disbanded Iraqi Army, and use them to search for the militants --- probably a very good idea, because the Iraqis, unlike most American soldiers, actually speak Arabic and know the local customs. So they can tell the difference between what is normal Iraqi behavior (e.g., gunfire from a wedding or standard Iraqi Islamic practices) as opposed to militant behavior (gunfire not from weddings, or fanatical Islamic practices) when most American soldiers can't. In short, they know their country in a way that the American soldiers don't. And they'll probably get much better cooperation from the locals as well.

How would (did) we go after the Jessie James gang? We probably won't call in the Air Force to bomb a parking lot. We'd form a possie. You had a similar situation in the old West where there were outlaw regions that would shield these gangs. Getting the locals on your side was something the possie would have to do deal with. One reason possies, rather than federal troops or the air force, were the preferred ways of dealing with these gangs --- they knew the people and the knew the area much better. The federal troops couldn't tell friend from foe among a population of Americans (or Iraqis) -- the possie could.

(For my non-American readers, a possie in the old West is a group of local citizens enlisted ("deputized") by the sheriff to ride out after an outlaw as an emergency measure. When asked about multilaterialism, Bush quipped that he understood multilaterialism, because, as a Texan, he knew about possies.)

That's what we need to do in Iraq. We need to entice some relatively prominent citizens in the areas shielding these outlaws to band together, and get them to form a possie. They'd be effectively "deputizied" and have sufficient authority to either use the local Iraq police or, failing that, go after the militants themselves.

Whatever the drawbacks, it sounds more much practical than having the US Air Force use smart bombs costing tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars a piece to destroy -- a parking lot? -- in a country we already own anyway.