Friday, December 05, 2003

What really happened in Samarra?

Someone asked me to comment on the Samarra incident a couple of days ago. To tell the truth I can't possibly give an opinion when there are so many different and conflicting accounts of what actually took place there. One thing is certain though, 6 Iraqi civilians, two Iranian tourists were killed and 55-60 others were severely injured.

The American side of the story reports that two convoys delivering money to the Malwiyah bank in Samarra was attacked by insurgents from different locations in the city with machine guns, and the troops returned fire killing in the process 45 militants.

Samarra residents tell a completely different tale. Some say that the attackers dressed as Fedayeen were riding motorcycles and attacked the convoys with RPG's from both ends of the street damaging several American vehicles in the process, others say they popped up from rooftops. Tanks opened fire on the militants causing severe damage in the area and injuring about 60 people, I saw footage and pictures of burnt cars (20 of these) at the location. The Samarra hospital medical staff confirmed the number of civilian casualties and most of them are still being treated there. There are more eye witness accounts that give other versions of the story. One account I heard today from someone was that the Fedayeen had killed 129 (to be exact) US soldiers, and yes there are such stories circulated in Iraq.

So the Americans said 45 attackers were killed, how certain are they that all of those were actually militants? Did they count the 8 civilans killed or not? I have no idea. If they were dressed as Fedayeen, it would be obvious. The fact that Fedayeen would attack in such large numbers is very troubling. Yes, it may be easier for coalition forces to engage the combatants in such situations as that is what they were properly trained to do. But, I doubt the militants would be that foolish, unless of course they were a score of fanatics or foreign Jihadis seeking some easy Shahada.

Either way, it was not a pretty situation from what I have heard, Samarra residents are furious. Their town although very vocal against the American occupation has rarely witnessed any insurgent attacks against troop, the Samarrai tribes are known for their historical animosity with Tikriti ones. The CPA made an agreement with local sheikhs to keep a very low number of troops inside the city. Its regarded as a holy one by Iraqi Shi'ites due to the presence of the shrines of the Imams Hassan Al-Askari and Mohammed Al-Jawad, and several Shia families have settled in the area which is otherwise largely a Sunni one. A large number of Iranian tourists visit the city yearly.

If insurgents are attacking in such large groups, it would mean they are getting bolder. I doubt that they were after the money, its very unlikely that they had any previous knowledge of it, but I could be wrong. So I guess the jury is still out on the real story.


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