Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Inside Out

Reader B points links to a Scott Peterson report  in the Christian Science Monitor describing events in Fallujah's northern boundary -- the railway embankment.

At the Fallujah railway station Tuesday - a flash point of insurgent fighting until a few days ago - the company commander received 30 Iraqi troops, members of the Iraq Civil Defense Corps (ICDC), to man the position jointly. The preplanned deal was finalized as Captain Stevenson and his Iraqi counterpart sat on a dust-covered marble bench in the station's waiting room.

"Outstanding," Stevenson told his counterpart as he heard the plan for controlling the main railway building. Marines would keep gun emplacements on either flank, a step toward handing Iraqis security control of Fallujah. By nightfall, those ICDC soldiers were patroling by foot along the main road in front of the station. ...

On trial now are plans to put Iraqi forces - in one case, elements of former Iraqi units, led by a Hussein-era general - in control, as the US Marines shift back their positions, maintaining the cordon only in Fallujah's troubled northwest sector. US commandershope that the new force can bring calm to a city that has been in turmoil since the killing of four US security contractors March 31 prompted US offensive operations. ...

The marines say they will wait and see. Though reports from journalists in Fallujah Tuesday indicated that insurgents - ubiquitous recently as they celebrated the Marine pullback - are now barely visible, few think they are gone.

The message broadcast from mosques is also becoming more favorable, despite initial declarations of victory over US forces. Marines say recent messages are: "Return to your homes, don't take up arms, the fight is over."

Interestingly enough, the unit being deployed in the Monitor story is the maligned  Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, not the Fallujah Brigade, whose position on the embankment now makes any attack against the northwestern 'Golan' neighborhood very unlikely, since any assault would have go through the ICDC lines. The impression conveyed is that the cordon around 'Golan' is now very loose. The Washington Times reports that any senior foreign fighters have probably escaped the net already although the Monitor and the Mitchell Prothero Associated Press report (Behind Enemy Lines) of yesterday suggests that there are still plenty of "foreign fighters" left.

A military source said if international terrorist Abu Musaab Zarqawi was ever in Fallujah, as was suspected, he was able to escape. The source said although the Marines blocked roads leading out of the town of 300,000 residents, the cordoning was not "airtight." He said the assessment that senior fighters have left Fallujah is based on intelligence reports. "The problem is they don't know where they have gone," the source said.

The friendly waves and conciliatory messages being broadcast from mosques -- in addition to the reappearance of the ICDC -- may mean that at least one of General Conway's operational objectives has been met. He planned to drive a wedge between the hard core enemy and the regular citizens, to separate anticoalition forces from the idea of an insurgency. Conway was quoted by the Prothero report as saying:

"It got at what was essentially at that point our operational objective, which was to separate out the hard-core insurgents and freedom fighters from the other citizens of the city that may well have taken up weapons against us, based upon the fact that they thought they were defending their city, based upon the call of the imams and those types of things," Conway said.

This would restore mobility to the battlefield since operations against the enemy can now take the form of raids against selected targets instead of the seizing and holding entire city blocks. From this stage onward, operations in Fallujah can no longer be understood in terms of linear operations. How successful this will be remains to be seen, but it is fair to say that the enemy can no longer regard Fallujah as an inviolable sanctuary. Conway's strategy may or may not be the same thing the Belmont Club theorized about back in April 3 that "once the Marines get the momentum of processing going, the tribal leaders will lose control and the whole structure will start to crumble. The Marines can exploit their physical domination by offering clemency or even rewards to those who rat out on other perps. The inner bastion of Fallujah will collapse like a termite-eaten post as each man looks out for himself."  Success will depend on how successfully the Marines can blend civil affairs and military tactics.

Meanwhile, a much more decisive battle is brewing in the Green Zone. Michael Rubin, a former Coalition Provisional Authority staffer, has let fly with both barrels at State Department policy in Iraq in the National Review -- although few other agencies are exempt. The essential indictment is that professional diplomats, from long habit and politically nuanced instincts, attempted to pack the future Iraqi government with the cocktail party set, people who gave a good dinner and spoke fluent English, just the sort of people who would make "Papa Doc" Duvaliers. Rubin writes:

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Ryan Crocker became both Garner and Bremer's governance director. He handpicked the political team, staffing it almost exclusively with career Near Eastern Affairs diplomats and members of the Policy Planning Staff. I have worked on the Iraqi issue for several years, and knew many of the diplomats and analysts from de-briefings following the academic year I spent teaching in Iraqi Kurdistan. Few supported Bush administration policy. In a seminar I attended before joining government, one U.S. diplomat spoke about the fallacy of regime change in Iraq. Several diplomats openly disparaged President Bush. One high-ranking career diplomat spoke of his affection for Howard Dean. I was surprised to see that a particular British analyst had joined the governance group. Shortly before the September 11, 2001,terror attacks, he had argued that any Saddam replacement would be "as illegitimate as Israel." Rather than promote democrats and liberals, the Crocker team sought to stack the Governing Council with Islamists, Arab nationalists, and tribal leaders; they largely succeeded.

That ironically would have the effect of recreating precisely what America came to destroy simply for the convenience of the familiar. Rubin warns: "the State Department, CENTCOM, and CIA argument that only a strongman or benign autocrat can govern Iraq creates a self-fulfilling prophecy." Viewed in that light, the events of April may just as ironically have had the effect of freeing American ground commanders to do whatever was practical, dealing with the local councils and leaders which Rubin claims the diplomats were loathe to condescend to. Independence day from the Green Zone.

One of the fascinating things about following events in Fallujah has been watching the USMC adapt to the circumstances as it found them, fulfilling its mission in often surprising ways. How strange that the imperative for survival should enforce a rate of evolution in military formations far faster than for diplomats frozen in their lofty towers. Clemenceau famously said that "war is too important to be left to the generals". Perhaps he should have added that occupation is too important to be left entirely to the diplomats.