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The War Nerd February 8, 2007
The Fog Of Najaf
By Gary Brecher Browse author Email

FRESNO, CA--Well boys, the War Nerd's hit bottom I'm about to use that lousy catchphrase, "the fog of war." Take me out behind the shed and shoot me, it's all over now.

As far as I recall, the expression "fog of war" comes from John Keegan's books, or at least he was the guy that made it a cliche. To be fair here, Keegan had a point when he first used it. He was trying to clue people into the fact that battles aren't like games of chess or those nice neat diagrams we grew up on, with red and blue arrows and captions like "Gettysburg: Day 1."

Keegan was trying to say that most battles are more like Shiloh, pure chaos, smoke and screaming and idiots on horseback. Add in the inept intel most commanders get (think McLellan and that fool Pinkerton) and you get fog cubed. It was a good point -- Keegan's basically a good military writer (even though he always cheers for the home team, the redcoats).

But ever since the Morons' Crusade to Iraq went bad, Neocons who never heard of Keegan are tossing around that "fog of war" bit like experts -- because they want to say, "Ooo, it's so foggy over there nobody can say we screwed the pooch." Which is total crap. There's no fog on this earth to hide the fact this thing's a mess, even if every high-school metal band in history pooled their dry ice supplies over central Baghdad.

That said, this weird thing that just happened in Najaf has even me fogged. You probably heard the official version: on Jan. 28, a mixed cult of Shia and Sunni fanatics called the "Soldiers of Heaven," loyal to some psycho claiming to be the Mahdi (Messiah), started marching toward Najaf to kill Ayatollah Sistani and his fellow mullahs. They ran into an Iraqi Army checkpoint and, in the words of Jim Croce, the trouble soon began. The cultists took cover in a nearby orchard, the Iraqi troops called in USAF backup, and when the fog cleared we'd killed 200 (or 250 or 300) of them'uns for two of us'n's (our two dead were this chopper crew killed when their Apache flying poodle was shot down. Don't get me started on the Apache, except to say it fights more like a Hopi.)

Now you can see right off two things about this story: it was like Nestea in the Mojave for the DoD PR boys, and it's just plain weird. Let's start with why it was such a godsend for the Neocons. First of all, it's a blockbuster debut for the alleged Iraq Army, the centerpiece of our whole Vietnamization plan. The Iraqi Army hasn't been generating too many feel-good stories so far, what with whole units disintegrating as soon as we hand over a province to them. So this story, where they hold their ground, call for backup and win, couldn't have gone better if it had been scripted in the Pentagon.

Which I think it was, maybe, bringing us to the weird naggy things about this story. Start with this notion of a mixed Sunni-Shia gang advancing on Najaf. I don't buy it. These people just don't mix unless it's to kill each other. A religiously mixed Iraqi gang reminds me of those ethnically mixed muggers you used to get on cop shows, where some blond producer's nephew with a Wham! haircut would be holding a nice clean crowbar, trying to look violent, next to a black aspiring actor and a Hispanic-looking dude. I'd be the last person to deny there are plenty of "European American" thug assholes, but I've seen enough of them to know they're big, fat, dirty, smelly, greasy bastards, not skinny Malibu kids. And the truth was, is and always will be that gangbangers are the most racist people on this planet, whether they're in South Central LA or Sadr City.

Then there's the actual progress of the battle, which just plain doesn't make sense, fog of war or no fog of war. We're supposed to believe that hundreds of heavily-armed guerrillas who wanted to overrun Najaf got stopped at an Iraqi checkpoint, turned away and holed up in a date grove? Well, that'd be wonderful, but I've been watching the news from Iraq pretty careful for the past few years and I haven't heard of anybody, not even Shi'ites who brag about loving death the way Borat loved Pamela, who actually stands around and waits under the trees for the A-10s to finish them off.

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Gary Brecher
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