Of Tal Afar, Beacon Of
By Patrick Cockburn
12 April, 2007
the city that becomes a symbol of US success in Iraq. Last year,Tal
Afar in the north-east of the country was being lauded in Washington
as the one place where the US had brought peace. Perhaps the same prescription
might work elsewhere in Iraq.
Embedded American journalists
scurried to this poor and depressing Turkoman city between Mosul and
the Syrian border to report on the good news. President Bush even singled
it out for optimistic comment in March 2006. "Tal Afar shows that,
when Iraqis can count on a basic level of safety and security, they
can live together peacefully," he said. "The people of Tal
Afar have shown why spreading liberty and democracy is at the heart
of our strategy to defeat the terrorists."
It was always a myth. On
27 March, a gigantic truck bomb exploded in a Shia market area in Tal
Afar. It was the deadliest single bomb out of the many that have been
detonated by Sunni insurgents. The Interior Ministry said that 152 people
were killed and 347 wounded in the explosion.
Hours after the blast, an
event occurred that the Iraqi government had been dreading. The police,
all Shia, possibly including some who had lost relatives in the explosion,
went on a pogrom. They picked up Sunni men and boys in the streets and
in their houses, and then killed them with single shots to the head.
As many as 70 may have been executed.
Troops from the Iraqi Army
3rd Division were rushed to the town. They were followed by members
of Mosul police force who were overwhelmingly Sunni Arab. Some 18 members
of the Tal Afar police were arrested and then released.
It was always absurd to treat
Tal Afar as a possible textbook case of how the US might successfully
expedite a counter-insurgency policy. It is a very peculiar city, the
only city in Iraq that is almost entirely Turkoman. They in turn are
divided between a Sunni Turkoman majority and a large Shia Turkoman
Under Saddam Hussein the
Sunni had the upper hand. In a poor place with few jobs they monopolised
posts in the army and security forces. After the fall of Saddam they
swiftly joined the insurgency. The insurgents gained control in 2005
only to be routed by American and local Iraqi government forces.
But Tal Afar has another
peculiarity. A grim-looking place, it has some strategic importance
because it is situated on the dividing line between Arab and Kurdish
Iraq. The Kurds are eager to control the road passing through Tal Afar
because it leads to Sinjar and is a link to the Kurds across the border
The American hero of the
supposedly successful campaign of 2005 was Colonel H R McMaster, the
commander of the 3rd Armoured Cavalry Regiment. Accounts of his triumph
tell once more about the preoccupations of US journalists than it does
about Tal Afar and its environs.
Col McMaster was quoted as
saying: "You gotta come in with your ears open. You can't come
in and start talking. You have to really listen to people."
Sadly, these deep insights
were not enough to prevent fresh explosions of sectarian violence.
In Tal Afar and northern
Iraq as a whole, the Iraqi army divisions are mostly, though not entirely,
Kurdish. The Kurds are the one community in Iraq that support the occupation.
The Shia Turkomans in Tal Afar are also supportive of the government
in Baghdad. In the rest of Iraq, the fatal weakness of the US forces
is that they have no reliable local allies.
© 2007 Independent News
and Media Limited
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