Juan Cole brings us a tale of cooperation between U.S. and Spanish forces in Iraq (before Spain came to its senses, pulled out of Iraq, and all Good ‘Muricans started referring to rice with Ro-Tel mixed in it as “Freedom Rice”).
The U.S. high command ordered the closing of the Sharia courts set up by the Shiite clergy in Najaf to run the city in accordance with Islamic law. The U.S. Provisional Authority in Baghdad headed by Paul Bremer was working on establishing a secular legal system in Iraq, and the Americans saw the Sharia court as a challenge to their plans — particularly as the power behind it was the radical cleric Moqtada al Sadr.
The Spanish commander refused to comply, explaining that closing down the court would upset the delicate stability in the town that his troops had worked hard to achieve and would result in violence. The American response was to dispatch a U.S. special forces unit to Najaf to arrest al-Sadr’s right hand man Mustapha al Yaqubi without warning the Spanish forces.
As the Spaniards had warned, the arrest, said El Pais, sparked “the bloodiest battle the Spanish troops were involved in during their turbulent mission,” and produced “the worst falling out between the U.S. and Spanish commands since the beginning of the (Iraqi) invasion.” With the arrest of al Yaqubi — considered a moderate in al Sadr’s organization — the Spaniards lost a useful go-between to the radical cleric.
When the Spanish commanders demanded an explanation for arresting al Yaqubi without warning, the U.S. response was that the proper procedures had been followed. The force of the attack by Moqtadar’s Mahdi army caught the Spaniards by surprise, but it was a U.S. soldier who lost his life in the fighting along with an Iraqi and another soldier from El Salvador. Two Spaniards were wounded.
Then there was that little disagreement over bombing the largest civilian hospital in Najaf, what once would have been quaintly referred to as a “war crime”.
El Pais also describes another clash of wills over the Najaf hospital where guerrilla snipers had take up positions. U.S. military personnel in the area wanted to call in American air cover to bomb the hospital. Col Asarta rejected the idea because it would put civilian patients and staff at risk — and it was the biggest hospital in Najaf. In the end the colonel decided to send in a team of El Salvador commandos who, says El Pais, “secured the hospital floor by floor.