Ever hear about the Battle of the Humvee? That's what I'm calling a May skirmish fought by soldiers of the 37th Armored Regiment's 2nd Battalion in the southern Iraqi city of Najaf. In what became a six-hour firefight, Americans battled followers of Moktada al-Sadir to secure the hulk of a burning Humvee. It's not that our soldiers fought because the flaming wreck amounted to a tin can's worth of military value. They fought, as Capt. Ty Wilson of Fairfax, Va., explained to The Washington Post, because "We weren't going to let them dance on it for the news. Even (with) all the guys they lost that day, that still would have given them victory."
Chalk one up for our side, a small win on the way to an underreported triumph over the followers of Moktada al-Sadir in the spring. Iraq is sovereign, life goes on ... but I can't get over the chilling description of American soldiers risking their necks to keep the media from awarding a phony victory to the enemy. This puts the media -- in this case, anyone with a video camera and a satellite hook-up -- not in No Man's Land, but on the Other Side. The concept is horrifying in that the ramifications are so bleak. It shows our soldiers engaged in a war on two fronts -- a military front and a media front. And it shows our soldiers fighting two enemies: the adversary who fights fire with terror, and the adversary who also fights fire with perception.
The Washington Post review of the 60-day offensive against the Moktada al-Sadir fighters in Iraq's holy cities of Karbala, Kut, Kufa and Najaf offers an in-depth look at this two-front war in action. It becomes obvious the militias that rose against us didn't garrison themselves inside mosques and cemeteries for nothing, and certainly not because these sites were militarily defensible. They holed up in their holy spots with grenades, guns and mortar rounds not only to exploit Western qualms about using a church or temple in battle; they did so mindful of the cameras of the world. They knew the United States would find it politically untenable to attack historic shrines turned into armed strongholds. Such attacks, as the conventional wisdom won't stop telling us, would make the world -- namely, the media, the Arab street (wherever that is) and Jacques Chirac -- mad at us.
Of course, I thought they were already mad at us. Maybe eradicating a nest of killers in a mosque would make them really, really mad at us. As The Washington Post put it, "U.S. officers knew that damaging the shrines would inflame" -- really, really, really inflame -- "opinion in Iraq and worldwide against the Americans." So much better to send our boys out to win one for the Humvee.