A few weeks ago, if you can cast your mind back that far, the big story was apparently something to do with a country called Iraq that was trying to agree among itself on its future constitution. After multiple deadlines were breached, two of the factions in the country decided to impose the constitution on the other by their majority. But then, they hesitated. The text was amended, but not by the drafting committee..
And then there was a hurricane. Not that it was one anywhere near Iraq, where they don’t have hurricanes, but it still knocked the whole thing off the agenda. And the Iraqis had a particularly horrible disaster of their own. So – what did happen to that constitution?
Well, it seems nothing happened to it. They have done absolutely nothing about it since then – it still hasn’t gone before Parliament, and even its opponents haven’t held the meeting to draft a counter-constitution they promised. What has been going on is that the killing has kept up at a rate of about thirty a day. August saw the deaths of 85 US servicemen. And, worryingly, there are signs that after a period of quiet, what I call the New-Old Iraqi Army has entered the lists again.
It was in this post back in June that I pointed up what seemed to be increasing convergence between the suicide terrorists and the classic guerrilla elements of the insurgency after a major and complex company-sized assault on Abu Ghraibh. A few days later there was another big assault on a divisional police headquarters in western Baghdad. Over the summer, though, there were few such attacks, or at least none that got reported.
In the last few days, though, there have been signs of NOIA returning to the streets of Baghdad. First, on the day the constitution missed its last deadline, there was a protracted battle between Iraqi police and a force of “30-40” insurgents in central Baghdad. Then, earlier this week, a similar number of rebels – in effect, a platoon – raided the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior. This location is as one could imagine heavily guarded. The rebels arrived in 10 cars and opened fire with RPGs and automatic weapons. After around twenty minutes they withdrew, leaving (officially) two police dead and five wounded. An insurgent website later carried a claim of responsibility which boasted of killing most of the garrison, although this is probably propaganda. Nobody even bothered to claim that the rebels lost anyone in the action, and they would appear to have made a retreat in good order.
This is important because it shows that you can drive around downtown Baghdad with a complete platoon of armed men, attack the Interior Ministry (thus putting every police, army and NG unit in the city on the qui vive), and get away with it. It also shows, as the Abu Ghraibh raid does, that at least some of the insurgency has developed effective command and control procedures to go with the explosions. Suicide bombing, horribly effective though it is, will never put you in power – only an army can do that.
What the Ministry raid means, though, is a question I don’t know the answer to. Did they hope to storm it? Or just to shoot it out with the guards and then vanish, scaring the hell out of all within? To demonstrate who owns the streets? Or was this not an attack but a reconnaissance in force?