We have little to no control over that region, and have had issues with maintaining any since the initial phase of the war ended. Now, there is open revolt, and the potential for this to spill over as a domino effect throughout the entire network of Euphrates towns is staggering.
Abu Musab Zarqawi's foreign-led Al Qaeda in Iraq took open control of a key western town at the Syrian border, deploying its guerrilla fighters in the streets and flying Zarqawi's black banner from rooftops...
A sign newly posted at the entrance of Qaim declared, "Welcome to the Islamic Kingdom of Qaim."
Think about that statement -- Zarqawi has openly delcared control of a major western town on the Syrian border, a region where we supposedly have a concentration of troops to prevent insurgents from coming across the border. Working well, isn't it?. (FOrgive the snark. I'm seriously pissed on our military personnel's behalf for them being left holding the bag without enough resources to do their jobs.)
The entire border region has been a long series of "whack-a-mole" for the military personnel trying to root out insurgent activity there. The Army and Marines in the region are woefully understaffed, and have been putting forth heroic efforts with far too little manpower and equipment to thoroughly accomplish their objectives long term.
Many of the towns along the river have appeared to be heavily under the insurgents' domination, despite repeated Marine offenses along the river since May. Residents and Marines have described insurgents escaping ahead of the offensives, and returning when the offensives are over.
Truly, we are leaving our military personnel to fight a ghost opponent, with far too few personnel to really accomplish the mission. Without enough personnel to hold a town after insurgents have been cleared, they just move right back in when our soldiers move on to another venue. How we can leave these barave young men and women to play an endless series of "whack-a-mole" is beyond me.
While the stepped-up U.S. offensives have been unable to drive out insurgents permanently, the U.S. attacks are credited by some with helping disrupt insurgent networks and reduce the number of car-bombings and suicide attacks in the rest of Iraq.
The insurgents in control of the town are imposing severe penalties for violations of Islamic law, and as retaliation against any person whom they claim might have been cooperating with the US or the Iraqi government officials.
Zarqawi's fighters were killing officials and civilians seen as government-allied or anti-Islamic...the bullet-riddled body of a woman lay in a street of Qaim. A sign left on her corpse declared, "A prostitute who was punished."...Residents said Zarqawi's fighters were killing most government workers, but had spared doctors and teachers.
The region has traditionally been one that has had strong tribal controls. However, Zarqawi and his followers have launched a substantial initiative against the local tribal authorities in their bid to control the town and the region. In one instance of this, the Al Qaeda fighters have launched an offensive against a strong tribal unit which has traditionally controlled the area surrounding Qaim.
The Albu Mahal tribe as of Sunday remained in control of its village outside the city. However, a car bomb placed by Zarqawi's fighters in front of the home of a tribal leader, Sheikh Dhyad Ahmed, killed the sheikh and his son on Sunday...
According to all reports, this series of offensives has been ongoing for some time, but this is the first time that I can recall any extensive reporting of this level of Al Qaeda control in the MSM.
Control of Qaim was fairly extensive for the Zarqawi fighters, including:
Zarqawi fighters manned checkpoints on the four entrances to the city.
The US forces have just completed a fairly heavy series of air strikes on known insurgent safe houses in the area -- in fact, these have been some of the heaviest strikes in quite some time -- but they have not displaced the Al Qaeda power base in the region. The most troubling part of this report, for me, was that the Marine spokesperson for the region either had no idea that this level of control had been achieved by Zarqawi in the region or was simply outright lying -- either way, very troubling -- when speaking to the reporter on the record.
U.S. Marine spokesman Capt. Jeffrey Pool said Marines had no word of any unusual activity in Qaim, but added it was possible that insurgents were acting in areas out of Americans' sight.
Meanwhile, the question of whether the disaster wrought by hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, coupled with the increased strain on already broken US forces is being raised over and over again. Approximately 300 Air Force personnel currently stationed in Iraq are being moved stateside to help in relief efforts in New Orleans and the Gulf. There are not a lot of spare pilots, marines and soldiers to go around these days, and one has to wonder whether this latest Al Qaeda offensive and takeover will go unanswered because we simply do not have enough troops to challenge their control.
If the military-aged folks who've been pushing the President's war agenda haven't gotten into uniform as yet, now would be an awfully good time. I know that others here, along with me, fear that this would be a time that Al Qaeda might consider striking here in the US again while we are already stretched thin trying to deal with the hurricane aftermath. Now is the time for some substantial planning and for the hard questions to be asked of every citizen in this country. We should have been asking the hard questions all along -- but if Al Qaeda can re-take control of an essential border town in a strategically important location without our military even knowing they have done so, how many other hot spots like this are cropping up all over Iraq? How much longer can we sustain a military operation done on the cheap?
UPDATE: I found some additional reporting on this issue this evening, most of which re-hashed what had already been said here. One paragraph leapt out at me, though, and I wanted to share that here.
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.
Think about that: Zarqawi has HIS OWN BANNER for Al Qaeda in Iraq. Guess that's to distinguish it from Al Qaeda in Afghanistan or Pakistan or the US or whatever. But he has organized things to the point where he has had time to design a banner for his Al Qaeda cell and have it reproduced and then hung it around town in Qaim. Un-freaking-believeable. I swear, this news story had better hit the MSM on television tomorrow. The incompetence just keeps on giving in this Administration.
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