There is a lengthy article about the Latvians in Iraq published in the Latvian daily newspaper Diena and the web portal DELFI, including an interview with Captain Vents Lapsenbergs, veteran commander of the Latvian company in Iraq (2nd Infantry Company / 2nd Infantry battalion). The following two fragments summarize the interesting parts of the article :
Lapsenbergs assesses the situation in Diwaniyah to have deteriorated lately, partly attributable to inaction by the Polish leadership. An area of Diwaniyah has become an unofficial no-go area for the coalition, and a support base for local insurgents who have repeatedly attacked Camp Echo. The Iraqi army and police appear uninterested to control the situation, and on occasion have refused to go on joint patrols in Diwaniyah. Lapsenbergs :
The local inhabitants are happy that we don't go in there. Now we are hated in Diwaniyah, seen as occupants, and this attitude has been fostered by local leaders.Firefight in the night of 16th June 2006.- Captain V.Lapsenbergs
After dark on the evening of June 16th, the 2nd platoon was on patrol mounted in HMWVVs was ordered into the "red zone", from which rockets had just been fired at Camp Echo. The platoon stopped at several Iraqi police posts who indicated the direction of the launcher. It is possible that the local police deliberately directed the Latvians into an trap which may have included more than 100 insurgents, who attacked with grenade launcher and small arm fire from the rooftops. The platoon returned fire (expending over 70% of their ammunition load) and drove out at high speed. One soldier was hit but protected by his body armor.
So, well done our brave lads, and again Latvian soldiers lead a charmed life. The June 16th attack appears to have been some manner of ambush, from which the Latvians had to shoot their way out..
Part of this is confirmed by the MND(CS), who recently held a press conference, where they stated that :
...recently the security environment in the area became unstable fueled by the anti-coalition rhetoric used by some provincial authorities.Now Diwaniyah is a Shiite city, and that all (insurgents+police+leadership) points to a Shiite problem. I can find no reliable source, but there is this intriguing hint on pro-Muslim academic Juan Cole's website :
Monday, June 26, 2006 Fresh fighting broke out in Diwaniyah. Clashes took place in al-`Asri district, gunmen clashed with police commandos. (Just speculation, but this is probably actually a fight between Mahdi Army irregulars and Badr Corps who were recruited into the police commandos by the SCIRI-dominated Interior Ministry).There are a number of disturbing conclusions. The Iraqi police here appear to have - at minimum - turned a blind eye to insurgent schemes, if not actually collaborating with them, or playing the coalition off against them. The local leadership is playing against coalition interests. And - unbelievably - it seems the Polish lead MND(CS) has let insurgents set up a safe area in a major city. A safe area in firing proximity to Camp Echo. An area from which Camp Echo gets hit damn near every week, and then the response is to send in Latvian troops .... unsupported.
Which all leads to two reasonable hypotheses :
- The insurgents are involved are local Shiite militia - and the indirect fire attacks on Camp Echo are merely the weekly hate mail and presumably far from the most the insurgents could do if they really wanted.
- The local police (possibly Badrists) may have deliberately sent coalition troops into a clash with their Shiite factional rivals (Sadrists = Mahdi army), who in turn were (fortunately) not really prepared for a clash with coalition soldiers.