Saturday, November 13, 2004

The lessons of Falluja. File under ignore.

As the news from Iraq becomes more and more grim the president is wearing his even deeper tinted rose colored glasses. Today, in his Saturday radio speech he said "our forces have made significant progress in the last several days. They are taking back the city, clearing [Destroying] mosques of weapons and explosives stockpiled by insurgents and restoring order for law-abiding citizens."

A few of those law abiding citizens were encountered by Dexter Filkins of the New York Times embedded with a unit of marines. He writes a man appeared in front of them begging for help.

A group of Iraqi National Guards told the marines to "just shoot him" but instead they offered assistance. Filkins writes "the man produced his wife, mother and two children, all struck by gunfire. His daughter had been shot in the back and his mother in the head.

Trying their best to avoid stepping on another set of Muslim taboos, Marines attempted to remove the bullet from the man's daughter while she was standing up, with her clothes on. Her fate is unknown, but the man's mother died later."

The Red Crescent is appealing to the world to allow the aid organization to deliver medicine, food and water to the estimated 150 families still in Falluja who have been hiding in terror for the past five days. The military has yet to agree.

The commander of U.S. forces says "we feel we've broken their back and spirit," referring to the insurgents., I'm assuming, not the civilians.

Eventhough the military has been predicting the offensive in Falluja would all be over by this morning, apparently "in at least one area of central Falluja, insurgents were already infiltrating neighborhoods that they had just been rousted from, forcing commanders to send troops to areas behind the main battle lines."

Insurgents have been encountered in the southern end of the city, where they've been presumably whipped, dug into trenches, creating what one soldier referred to as a "hornets nest" with "a burst of bullets and rockets Friday in what commanders described as one of the fiercest days of fighting since the battle to retake the city began five days ago."

The Iraqis must defend themselves.

Bush also declared in his radio address "ultimately, Iraq must be able to defend itself, and Iraqi security forces are taking increasing responsibility for their country's security."

I doubt he's referring to the police in Mosul who faded away at the first sign of the insurgents who then ransacked and burned all the police stations in that city. In his very interesting article today in the Times Filkins writes of the Iraqi troops "fighting along side" the Marines, "the farther south the marines push through this rebellious city, the more often they notice that the men shooting at them are wearing tan uniforms with a smart-looking camouflage pattern that is the color of chocolate chips."

There have been incidents of insurgents fighting against our troops in these National Guard uniforms, so now the "good guys" are being made to wear a piece of red tape on their right arm and a white piece on their left leg.

He continues, "when members of the First Platoon, B Company, First Battalion, Eighth Regiment of the First Marine Expeditionary Force, turned onto a street on Thursday, they saw the chocolate-chip camouflage pattern and hesitated.

There was no red tape on the right arm or white tape on the left leg. It did not matter. Before that registered with the marines, the insurgents opened fire, killing one and wounding two. The rebels fled.

"'They should just take these guys out of here,' Staff Sgt. Eric Brown of the First Platoon said, 'because they're causing my men to hesitate.' He added, 'That hesitation cost my marine his life.'"

The AP reports "some doubts have been raised about the reliability of Iraqi security forces. For instance, the General Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress, said recently that many Iraqis have been insufficiently trained and equipped. In some cases, the only "training" required of new policemen was that they wear a uniform, the report found. And only a fraction of the total number are actual troops.

You get the feeling those former South Vietnamese vets who now sell cigarettes and beer in L.A. are having a private little chuckle.

The cost to our troops.

The actual cost to us in troops for this whole pointless exercise is a little hard to come by. The military keeps chanting the mantra that 22 are killed and 170 wounded. That doesn't jibe with other reporting though.

On the 11th the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center spokeswoman Marie Shaw said "we are very busy. We have seen an increase of patient arrival since the outbreak of the Fallujah conflict." 38 injured soldiers arrived on Monday, 23 more on Tuesday, and 64 on Wednesday." Landstuhl in Germany is where all the most serious cases go first.

The Guardian reported this week "two aircraft carrying 102 injured soldiers arrived yesterday. Another 125 injured arrived earlier in the week and more were expected today."

I'm not too hot at math but that sounds like a lot more than 170. The pentagon isn't real good at transparency when it comes to wounded troops. ( ) estimates, when you take into account all the various ways the pentagon tries to fudge the numbers by breaking them down into a million sub-categories the actual number of wounded since the war began is at roughly 22,005.)

What happens now?

So after the big victory in Falluja, which is just around the corner, besides alienating the Sunnis of Iraq even more so than before, if that's possible, what does this all mean for "crushing" the rebellion?

Right now, the only thing not making the growing insurgency raging around the entire Sunni section of the country look like a complete disaster for the neocon strategy of flattening the resistence with 2000 lbs bombs, is the fact that the Shiites are sitting back. They see it's to thier advantage to have elections. They are the long repressed majority.

This puts them, unfoirtunatly, on the side of the occupiers in the eyes of the Sunnis, which could lead to a wider conflict between the two factions.

And don't forget the Kurds. Many of the Iraqi troops being rushed the largely Sunni city of Mosul are Kurds, former Peshmerga, who will be looking to avenge the attack on the headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party. Juan Cole writes the attack was probably "in revenge for the Kurdish national guardsmen cooperating with US troops."

Get the Kurds into the mix, let the situation deteriate a little more, have them start marching into Kirkuk, to "restore order" and here come the Turks, then all hell breaks loose. This is the nightmare scenario, but it's possible.

The Asia Times spoke with Pakistan's retired former director general of Inter-Services Intelligence, Lieutenant General Hamid Gul, the man who built the International Muslim Brigade, a "force raised in Afghanistan to fuel the independence movements of Muslim-occupied territories. This later evolved into Osama bin Laden's International Islamic Front.."

When asked how many insurgents there could be , he replied "about 40,000 to 50,000, including former Ba'ath Party members, Fidayeens, other military and para-military forces, and foreign fighters. In addition, the number of foreign fighters will grow immensely and Iraq will be the hub of an anti-US movement...I think, the resistance movement will increase multifold in the coming weeks."

So, what was Falluja all about? If we were trying to make an example of the city, it hasn't worked. Gul cautions "you have to keep in mind the nature of Arab fighters. They do not surrender or retreat easily. Afghanistan is a case in this regard. At Qila Changi and other places the Taliban decided to retreat, but Arab fighters refused to do so and they fought till their last."

[See July 5th posting in the archives for more on Falluja.]


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