Bad Moon Rising: Iraq on the Eve of Tet Offensive 2.0

Victor Charlie debuted in 1954 as the Saigon-Cholon Peace Committee.

Mid-1950s Vietnamese revolutionaries, inside US-occupied zones, morphed into: "the Front" – joining patriotic, Buddhist and peace societies en masse. By 1962, 250,000 activists enlivened myriad societies whilst gathering info for a secret leadership. A campaign targeting Vietnamese who collaborated with Americans, launched in 1957, ratcheted-up in 1966. By 1972 the Front had executed, gunshot-to-the-head, 37,000 US-collaborators.

"Viet Cong" – a contraction of "Vietnamese Communist" – appeared in Saigon’s US-controlled newspapers in 1956. U.S. officers referred to the southern-based insurgency as "V-C"; or, when festive, as: "Victor Charlie."

Between 1949 and 1955 the U.S. invented: Taiwan, South Korea and South Vietnam. Inaugural solemnities for the latter occurred October 26, 1955; eighteen months after America assumed France’s Vietnam file. South Vietnam’s President Diem wrought holy terror upon national-liberationists. Assassinated with US blessing in 1963, Diem was succeeded by a martinet parade.

Circa January 1968, South Vietnam’s 19.5 million inhabitants included: 331,098 U.S. Army soldiers, 78,013 Marines and 100,000 other U.S. government personnel. South Vietnam’s military (350,000) was buttressed by Regional and Popularisation Forces (300,000).

Seventy-thousand of the Front’s 300,000 members were combat available.

In April 1967 Front leaders toured Hanoi pitching: General Offensive, General Uprising. This, largest-operation-to-date, received approval in July.

Hanoi then harassed U.S. garrisons along Cambodian and Laotian frontiers. A 22-day battle at Dak To killed 262 US troops. In mid-January USMC Khe Sanh began receiving sustained artillery fire. Khe Sanh impinged the Ho Chi Minh Trail down which trickled 15,000 battle-tested regulars; missioned to alloy the Front’s dilettantes. AK-47s and RPG-2s poured down the Trail.

At a U.S. Embassy-sponsored pool party in Saigon, days before Tet, none of the assembled 200 intelligence wonks vented a thought about impending offensives. Perhaps "pool party" says it all. Tet planning docs had been intercepted, translated, published …and disregarded. Westmoreland’s intuition acted-up, but he couldn’t muster alarm. An alert was ignored.

In 36 hours, starting midnight January 30, an 85,000-troop army ambushed targets in 120 South Vietnamese locales. Attacks typically involved mortar/rocket barrages followed-on by hundreds of charging AK-47-brandishing foot-soldiers.

Insurgents held territory in 36 of 44 provincial capitals. Positions were usually occupied for a few hours then abandoned. Exceptions:

In Hue, 5,000 insurgents seized 190 government buildings. Marines suffered 216 killed and 1,609 wounded in Hue; at times holding only a few blocks. U.S. bombardment demolished 10,000 of Hue’s 17,000 buildings; leaving 116,000 of 140,000 residents homeless.

Saigon’s Cholon district became a "free-fire zone." Bombardment left 80,000 residents homeless.

Tet reverberated for months. Village skirmishes near Saigon claimed 500 American lives. A 119-town rural Mini-Tet hit on May 4. Saigon saw another attack wave, May 25. A six-week ‘Third Offensive’ kicked-off in August.

U.S. and South Vietnamese forces suffered 12,700 casualties (2,600 fatalities). Counting civilian fatalities as enemy combatants skewed official death tallies. Officially, 7,700 civilian deaths resulted from blasting 75,000 residential buildings.

Vietnam spans 331,210 square kilometres. This area had 42 million inhabitants in 1968.

Iraq spans 437,072 square kilometres. Iraq’s population: 40 million.

Iraq witnesses several assassinations a day. Assassins are militia. Targets are US-collaborators. Saigon ‘68.

Like their Vietnamese forebearers Iraqi national-liberationists demand the U.S. leave their homeland. Like their forebearers, Iraqi militias draw support from militaries within their country, and from foreign governments; yet, remain civilian/paramilitary affairs comprised of politicized week-end warriors with deep local roots.

Iraqi militia numbers match Victor Charlie’s pre-Tet numbers i.e. 70,000 combat-available. While not as centralized, Iraqi militias exhibit collective endeavour. In 2015 a 10,000-troop militia consortium overran ISIL’s Tikrit redoubt; breaking through ISIL’s perimeter at eight locations.

On January 3, 2020, upon leaving Soleimani’s funeral services (at Soleimani’s house) Iraqi militia chief Muqtada al-Sadr summoned a war-council for January 13 in the Iranian city of Qom. Kataib Hezbollah, Al Nujaba and others heeded.

At Qom, al-Sadr called for expelling Americans in a "humiliating manner" and for all contact with Americans to be criminalized.

Post-Qom, al-Sadr’s million-man anti-US march met expectations. Many marched in martyr’s shrouds. The 5,000-strong Kataib Hezbollah is closing outposts, repositioning arsenals and donning civilian profile. Al Nujaba posted a photo of a US helicopter in rocket-launcher sites, captioned: "the countdown has begun".

Militia surface-to-air capabilities remain unknown. Much of their kit saw service in Tet (AK-47s, RPGs, Katyushas). Distinguishingly, militias possess armoured vehicles, even M1 tanks.

Thirty-five times more U.S. personnel were in Vietnam 1968 than are in Iraq 2020.

Media-speak: US military personnel in Iraq number 5,200.

Translation: US (and Coalition) military (and civilian) personnel (and home-citizen contractors) in Iraq equal 20,000 public charges shuttling about bases like peas in a shell-game.

From 19,000-troop Camps to platoon-sized Convoy Support Depots, the U.S. constructed hundreds of bases during Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003-11). Most sit abandoned.

Nowhere in the unclassified domain are there proper lists America’s Iraqi bases. CNN and BBC recently trumpeted Americans are closing three of their eight Iraq bases. Bloomberg, Yahoo, Sky Arabia, TASS and Al Arabiya reported the U.S. was closing 15 of 17 Iraq bases. Turkish journalists counted 9 U.S. bases but missed the one the BBC showcased. Military lists 12 Iraqi grooves most of which are closed; but who knows. There’s a global archipelago of off-the-books bases.

Umpteen bases close while bases at Ain Al-Asad (Al Anbar) and Erbil International Airport expand. (Erbil is Kurdish Iraq’s capital.) Three additional bases are under construction in Kurdish Iraq.

As Americans step outside militia range, the fate of Baghdad-area installations (US Embassy, Green Zone etc) remains shrouded.

Presently, there are a dozen US/Coalition bases in Iraq. They house 200 to 3,000 personnel per base.

Multi-battalion attacks, such as Iraqi militias are wont to do, would rout these bases.

William Walter Kay is a researcher and writer from Canada. His most recent book is From Malthus to Mifepristone: A Primer on the Population Control Movement.