Transcendental Bloviation

Politics, Space, Japan

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Mahdi Mines

You have to wonder about the strength of a government that apparently has no control over 2 million residents of its own capital city. A Newsweek story offers some details of urban insurgency defense tactics, including how gunmen in Sadr City lay mines in a street without hardly trying:
Traps had been laid. A NEWSWEEK correspondent watched as other fighters brazenly planted more than a dozen hidden bombs, or improvised explosive devices (IEDs). First they set fires inside tires lying in the street, which melted the macadam underneath. Then they sank the IEDs into the molten asphalt and let them cool. Within hours, there was no sign of the devices, which could be detonated with the remote control of a car alarm whenever Coalition vehicles passed by.
It probably helps that the asphalt starts out pretty gooey in the first place, under direct sunlight and 125 degree F heat.

Can they keep this up? Sure they can. First of all, consider expertise - at you will learn that Iraq is one of the most heavily mined nations in the world. There are plenty of Iraqis who know their way around explosives.

How about materials? Car alarm electronics won't be hard to find in a country with a high rate of car ownership and (recently) a very high crime rate. And it doesn't stop with car alarms. As points out:
Some of the IEDs have been remotely detonated using relatively simple, readily available low-technology devices, such as garage door openers, car alarms, key fobs, door bells, toy car remotes, FRS and GMRS two-way radios, cellular telephones and pagers – which enable radio frequency command detonation. Therefore, this implies that observation of the target area probably requires line-of-sight observation points in many cases. However, the adaptation of using radios, cell phones and other remote control devices has given the enemy the standoff ability to watch forces from a distance and not be compromised.
How about timing? Triggering of IEDs pretty much has to be done manually, by someone in the line of sight of the target. However, in the close quarters of a slum district like Sadr City, having "standoff ability" might amount to peering out a window a few floors up, peering around a corner a half a block away, or crouching in weeds in a vacant lot. says that 40-60% of attacks in Iraq start with IED detonations (and increasingly constitute the entire attack). It's "the poor man's mortar fire," in tactical terms.

Burying mines invisibly in street asphalt hardly exhausts the range of mine-siting possibilities.
Many IEDs have been placed in these median strips, some placed under girders. Meals, ready-to-eat (MRE) boxes, soda cans, manholes, tunnels burrowed under roads, cement-encased bomb projectiles, and even dead animal carcasses have been used by the insurgents to conceal IEDs.
A pile of rocks or garbage will do, and a war-torn slum will offer plenty of such camouflage. It's probably only a matter of time before the insurgents can collect (or fake) enough U.S./Iraqi GI combat apparel to clothe dummies to be dragged over IED emplacements in the heat of battle - assuming they haven't put together such collections already.

Beyond a certain level of popular support for an insurgency that has urban warfare tactics like this at its disposal - a level which may have already been reached in certain places in Iraq - there is only one way to uproot it without massive casualties. You prepare a very large refugee camp, and then you start leveling the area with bombs, block by block, herding people out of the city and into that camp. Pentagon war planners know this. The militias they are trying to defeat also know this. Military victory is always near at hand if you have planes and bombs. It can be grasped. Easily, in fact. But it is grasping the nettle of political defeat. War is the continuation of politics by violent means, after all.


At 2:42 PM, Blogger Jane Carpenter said...

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