Myth of Tal Afar, beacon of American 'success'

Pity the city that becomes a symbol of US success in Iraq. Last year,Tal Afar in the north-east of the country was being lauded in Washington as the one place where the US had brought peace. Perhaps the same prescription might work elsewhere in Iraq.

Embedded American journalists scurried to this poor and depressing Turkoman city between Mosul and the Syrian border to report on the good news. President Bush even singled it out for optimistic comment in March 2006. "Tal Afar shows that, when Iraqis can count on a basic level of safety and security, they can live together peacefully," he said. "The people of Tal Afar have shown why spreading liberty and democracy is at the heart of our strategy to defeat the terrorists."

It was always a myth. On 27 March, a gigantic truck bomb exploded in a Shia market area in Tal Afar. It was the deadliest single bomb out of the many that have been detonated by Sunni insurgents. The Interior Ministry said that 152 people were killed and 347 wounded in the explosion.

Hours after the blast, an event occurred that the Iraqi government had been dreading. The police, all Shia, possibly including some who had lost relatives in the explosion, went on a pogrom. They picked up Sunni men and boys in the streets and in their houses, and then killed them with single shots to the head. As many as 70 may have been executed.

Troops from the Iraqi Army 3rd Division were rushed to the town. They were followed by members of Mosul police force who were overwhelmingly Sunni Arab. Some 18 members of the Tal Afar police were arrested and then released.

It was always absurd to treat Tal Afar as a possible textbook case of how the US might successfully expedite a counter-insurgency policy. It is a very peculiar city, the only city in Iraq that is almost entirely Turkoman. They in turn are divided between a Sunni Turkoman majority and a large Shia Turkoman minority.

Under Saddam Hussein the Sunni had the upper hand. In a poor place with few jobs they monopolised posts in the army and security forces. After the fall of Saddam they swiftly joined the insurgency. The insurgents gained control in 2005 only to be routed by American and local Iraqi government forces.

But Tal Afar has another peculiarity. A grim-looking place, it has some strategic importance because it is situated on the dividing line between Arab and Kurdish Iraq. The Kurds are eager to control the road passing through Tal Afar because it leads to Sinjar and is a link to the Kurds across the border in Syria.

The American hero of the supposedly successful campaign of 2005 was Colonel H R McMaster, the commander of the 3rd Armoured Cavalry Regiment. Accounts of his triumph tell once more about the preoccupations of US journalists than it does about Tal Afar and its environs.

Col McMaster was quoted as saying: "You gotta come in with your ears open. You can't come in and start talking. You have to really listen to people."

Sadly, these deep insights were not enough to prevent fresh explosions of sectarian violence.

In Tal Afar and northern Iraq as a whole, the Iraqi army divisions are mostly, though not entirely, Kurdish. The Kurds are the one community in Iraq that support the occupation. The Shia Turkomans in Tal Afar are also supportive of the government in Baghdad. In the rest of Iraq, the fatal weakness of the US forces is that they have no reliable local allies.

News
people
Sport
Newcastle players celebrate, Mario Balotelli scores, Alan Pardew and Brendan Rodgers
footballNewcastle vs Liverpool , Arsenal vs Burnley, Chelsea vs QPR and Everton vs Swansea
News
i100Amazing Amazon review bomb
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
food + drinkFrom Mediterranean Tomato Tart to Raw Caramel Peanut Pie
News
Moss and Grimshaw arrive at the party
peopleKate Moss, Claudia Schiffer and Nick Grimshaw at Jonathan Ross's Halloween party
Arts and Entertainment
Armstrong, left, and Bain's writing credits include Peep Show, Fresh Meat, and The Old Guys
TVThe pair have presented their view of 21st-century foibles in shows such as Peep Show and Fresh Meat
News
i100
Extras
Boys to men: there’s nothing wrong with traditional ‘manly’ things, until masculinity is used to exclude people
indybest13 best grooming essentials
Travel
travelPurrrfect jet comes to Europe
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch attends the London premiere of his new film The Imitation Game
people He's not as smart as his characters
Life and Style
healthMovember isn't about a moustache trend, it saves lives
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Mobile Developer (.NET / C# / Jason / Jquery / SOA)

£40000 - £65000 per annum + bonus + benefits + OT: Ampersand Consulting LLP: M...

Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

Design Technology Teacher

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

Foundation Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

Day In a Page

Bryan Adams' heartstopping images of wounded British soldiers to go on show at Somerset House

Bryan Adams' images of wounded soldiers

Taken over the course of four years, Adams' portraits are an astonishing document of the aftermath of war
The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities