attacking a holy mosque -- tactics

With the current situation in Iraq (anti-American forces holed in up a mosque who have no trouble shooting at us from inside, but will cry their heads off if we shoot back), I’ve got a question on military tactics. Being general questions, I’d like to avoid the “why’s” of the war, but focusing solely on the current situation, why are the US/Iraqui forces not simply laying seige to the encampment? That is, surround it from a fortified position and prevent food/water/supplies/ammo from entering the building?

Unless there are tunnels underneath, wouldn’t that effectively either force the insurgents to surrender or starve to death? Seems a lot easier than sending troops in, but I’m assuming there’s a reason the military hasn’t done that…

I would assume the insurgents are utilizing guerilla tactics, and have at least some percentage of the population sympathetic to their cause. Thus, it puts the US in a difficult situation of how to figure out how to keep Joe Iraqi from giving insurgents routine pizza deliveries of fuel, ammo, and supplies…

Well, the whole point of a seige is that the beseiged are cut off from the outside world by the beseiging forces, so if it’s done properly people outside wouldn’t be able to deliver food, ammo or anything else. Ring of steel, and all that.

There are strategic reasons why seiges aren’t always a good idea.

They can tie down a large amount of men and material for a long time, waiting for the defenders’ supplies (or the defenders’ resolve) to expire. With the overwhelming disparity of forces in favour of the Americans, this mightn’t in itself be a great concern.

But there can be a political cost. It prolongs the armed confrontation, which is bad if you’re trying to persuade either the international community or the Iraqi people or the American electorate that Iraq is being successfully stabilised or pacified, because it draws attention to the fact that this is patently untrue.

It also prolongs it in an embarrassing way (“Evil US forces beseige place of worship!”) I grant you that attacking a mosque is also embarassing and inflammatory; my point is that you don’t completely solve the embarrassment problem by beseiging instead of attacking.

And it can be counterproductive. A long-drawn out, agonising conflict which the underdog is certain to lose can be effective in heightening tension and/or building support for the underdog - think of the moral effect that a public hunger strike to the death can have, for instance. Ultimately the beseiged mosque must fall, but the cause represented by those inside it may be strengthened. The phenomenon is well-recognised in Irish history (and no doubt in the history of other small nations). There’s a biography of the rebel leader Pearse (tried and shot by the British in 1916) called The Triumph of Failure, which makes precisely this point.

As Incubus said, many fighters are in Najaf proper and if the US were to seal off the mosque, they would take very heavy casualties.

Also, the mosque is important to the entire Shia world. If they were to seal it off and starve the people inside, the Shia world would mobilize against the US (even more so than it has now).

Finally, the Iraqi interim government could never support such a move. It is already suffering under the criticism that it is an American puppet. If it allowed the US to starve Sadr’s men in the mosque, it would lose its last shred of legitimacy.

Ironically, chemical or biological weapons would probably be a good way to kill the people holed up inside without damaging the Mosque too badly. :smack:

Or maybe you could find a way of poisoning (or at least, tainting with e. coli) the food and water supplies of the guys inside. Bazooka vomiting/dysentery would probably take a lot of the fight out of 'em.

Eh, who am I kidding. We’d look like jerks if we sent in an army of teddy bears to giggle and hug everyone into submission. (Double :smack: )

The Israeli siege of the church of the nativity seems to have been quite disastrous from a PR point of view.

Very good point, I wonder how so called 'less then lethal weapons would work and if they violate the GC.

I think that you can’t fight a PC, ‘sensitive’ war, if you are shot at from a sanctuary, the people inside have violated the shrine and IMHO you have the right to take out the building. I know this may not be popular in some circles, but neither is a prolonged war. Also this will send a message to other Anti US-Iraqi forces not to try this tactic.

And once destroyed and the area secured, I’m sure Halliburton can rebuild it. :stuck_out_tongue:

Attacking the mosque is an excellent strategy…

…If we want to create a whole new generation of terrorists who will blow up the Sears Tower a few years from now.

I’m concerned that a Sunni faction of the Iraqi forces might blow up the mosque, knowing that we’d be blamed for it.

Absolutely right, Diceman, I don’t think most Americans understand how close we are treading to some very, very dangerous territory. Destroying the mosque would solve a short-term problem and create a much worse decades long problem in the process.

Tear gas?

As madmonk28 pointed out, this isn’t just a mosque, it’s the mosque, at least to all the world’s Shi’ite Muslims. It is a big-deal shrine to them.

To put it into perspective, imagine that a couple hundred heavily armed religious fanatics had stormed the Vatican, and they were holed up in the Sistine Chapel. Would it be a good idea to blow the place to rubble? So, you see, it is not an easy decision.

There are reports today that a deal has been reached and that Sadr will vacate the mosque and turn it over to a representative of Sistani, if true it is a big relief.

This is where I’m stuck, too. Is tear gas against the Geneva Convention? How about pepper spray? Is it possible that there are tapestries or paintings inside that would be damaged by a cloud of pungent acid? Or is the mosque too voluminous for tear gas to do any good? Hell, why not get a tank of nitrogen and just force all the air out of the mosque?

Or, why not set up floodlights and strobes, add in speakers playing (for example) “Harvey the Wonder Hamster” or “Minimum Wage (HYEAH!)” over and over at top volume until they surrender?

Well, the problem seems to have solved itself. The Mahdis have slithered away and the Iraqi police are in control.

Absolutely. Tear gas is considered a chemical weapon, and it is illegal under the conventions. (No cite - the webpage of the excellent “Avalon Project” does not open for me. This is from my own military training.) Even so, incapacitating an enemy who’s as determined as these militants is not easy to do. Tear gas is extraordinarily unpleasant (I’ve been teargassed quite often, thankyouverymuch), but a determined fighting man can keep his wits about him even though he’s crying and coughing. He’s less effective, but he’s not harmless.

Even so, delivering teargas to a target area like the one we’re talking about is practically speaking impossible. I very much doubt that the US Army has a suitable delivery system for chemical agents in the arsenal, much less in Iraq.

The problem with incapacitating agents is that the difference between an incapacitated enemy and a dead one is the dosage. Remember the hostage crisis in the Moscow theatre ?

The problem with incapacitating agents is that the difference between an incapacitated enemy and a dead one is the dosage. Remember the hostage crisis in the Moscow theatre ?

I’m sure someone can get the correct answer but I don’t think dosage was the problem in Moscow. It was positional asphyxia. If there were enough personnel there to make sure their airway was clear then most if not all could have been saved. There may have been a certain ammount of bad reactions too. In fact the dosage wasn’t high enough to incapacitate everyone including the terrorists. There was no excuse for why there weren’t a ton of medics present to take care of everyone.

Of course this has nothing to do with the OP. Carry on.

When I got to that link, the headline was “Iraqi Police Deny Taking Control of Mosque.” So we’re still stuck with the OP’s question. I still think there’s got to be a way to evacuate the air from that building. Or maybe point some of those gas-powered space heaters at the windows and dump tons of hot air and propane fumes in there.

Flash-bangs? Freeze rays? Bowel Disruptors?

Come on, there’s got to be something we can use here.

US forces aren’t even within blocks of the mosque. It is in the middle of the largest cemetery in the world which is a nest of snipers, and insurgents. If we set one foot on that mosque property, there will be a worlwide Shia uprising that will dwarf the one we had here last April.

US forces have cordoned off the neighborhood where the mosque is, but aren’t in a position to start placing fans in the windows, lobbing tear gas grenades or anything else.

If you click on the map in this link:

You can see a sat. image of the area around the mosque. It is in the middle of a warren of narrow streets.

Yeah. Laying seige to the Alamo worked really well for Santa Ana. And he didn’t have twenty-four hour cable news to deal with.

When does this stop being a military action and become a police action? What if Iraqi internal security forces were to use tear gas?

I like the OP-- I was thinking of starting this exact thread myself.

Perhaps in this new world situation we need some research on “mosque clearing non-lethal” weaponry. I’ve seen examples of some slime-type gooey substance that can be used to deny people access to a building, but surely we must be able to design a weapon/technique of clearing out a builiding without affecting the building itself.

And a question for Islamic scholars… why aren’t the insurgents who are holed up in the mosque violating its sacred nature? Surely you don’t get a pass on defiling a Shiite mosque simply because you’re a Shiite yourself.