SEYMOUR HERSH IS FLYING BACK FROM SPAIN, and I have not been able to connect with him today. I have been trying to ask him if the story he has shared about friendly granary guards in Iraq being gunned down by U.S. military is the same as the New York Times cite today about 15 Iraqi National Guard being killed outside of Qaim, near the Syrian Border.
I still am not sure — but I have a hunch these may be separate and distinct events. For one, the chronologies do not work together. Hersh has spoken about this call from a distraught soldier since at least October 1st — and the report in the New York Times is about war dead this past week.
In this report about Hersh’s UC Berkeley address where he mentions these killings, he says that the town was considered a stable, mostly pacified area somewhere between Baghdad and the Syrian border. The report today in the Times puts the killing of the 15 near the border.
I learned today from a former senior Pentagon official that (1) it is not unusual for the dates of killings to be modified or adjusted, particularly if a mistake was involved in the operation, so that chronologies can be ordered in a way to minimize impact on the U.S. side; (2) that Republican National Guard members are relatively easy to identify because of the treasure trove of precise records that the Iraqi government kept on its military personnel so as to keep them in line and threaten them in case of desertion or other forms of betrayal; and (3) that in the “fog of war,” there are far more cases of ‘friendlies’ being killed than we want to admit because of one U.S. squad moving with incomplete information into a zone managed by another squad.
I was told that the kind of case suggested by Hersh and his distraught soldier would not be unusual and happen in the field far more often than anyone wants to admit.
One question I have, however, is that while the New York Times mentioned Iraqi National Guard deaths, isn’t the Iraqi National Guard on our side? Someone needs to determine whether this passage in the Onishi article means that Americans killed 15 Iraqi guardsmen or whether insurgents killed these people.
The article implies that it was U.S. forces who killed these guardsmen, but then it does not make sense to me — unless this was an outpost of former Republican National Guard, or a group of renegade Iraqi National Guard.
I’ll pursue this further, but clearly there are questions both about what happened outside Qaim, as well as what happened in the as yet undisclosed town with the killed granary guards?
Comments on these incidents welcome.
— Steve Clemons