Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Possibility Of Russian Assassins In Iraq

A recent post on StategyPage theorizes about the presence of Russian assassins in Iraq. Read the whole piece for the details but the theory starts with:
Last June, after five Russian diplomats were killed by Sunni Arab terrorists, many experienced counter-terrorism professionals expected the Russians to act.
I also would have expected this. The genesis for this expectation is mentioned in the article--an event that was burned into my memory during my childhood.
Back in the 1980s, for example, Islamic terrorists in Lebanon kidnapped a Russian diplomat. The Russians (then the Soviets, a distinction without much difference in these matters) quickly found out which faction had their guy, kidnapped a relative of one of the kidnappers, and had a body part delivered to the Islamic kidnappers. The message was, release the Russian diplomat unharmed, or the KGB (Soviet secret police) would keep sending body parts, and grabbing kinfolk of the kidnappers. The Russian diplomat was released.
I remember reading about this clearly. It was such a contrast to the failed U.S. attempt to free the hostages by Carter in 1979. Given the success of such brutal tactics, I would have expected the Russians to use it again.

No news of a repeat has been forthcoming, apparently. Thus the theory that Russian agents are still on the case. The damage to the Russian image due to giving up would be devastating.
The Russians tend to be patient, and persistent, in these matters. They also realize that they have a reputation to uphold. Many times, local thugs and radicals have avoided harming Russian diplomats because of the Russian tradition of retribution. Break that tradition, and you put a lot of Russian diplomats at risk in the future.


The only thing that could stop the Russians is someone else having gotten to the killers first. The attrition among Sunni Arab terrorists is very high. If American or Iraqi counter-terror action has already killed the guys the Russians are hunting, it would still probably be announced, just to show that the Russians were on the case. So, four months of silence probably means that the Russians are still after the people who killed their diplomats.
Sounds reasonable to me but I'm no expert in such matters. It will interesting to see what, if anything, is announced by the Russians in the future.