Friday, November 12, 2004

River War 2

At least one set of people understand that the battle for the Sunni Triangle is a single, integrated theater which does not consist of Fallujah alone.

Insurgents have set police stations ablaze, stole weapons and brazenly roamed the streets of Mosul as Iraq's third largest city appeared to be sliding out of control, residents said. Explosions and fire from assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades echoed across the city and columns of smoke rose from at least two police stations set alight. At least seven police stations have been attacked in the past 48 hours.

The US military issued a statement admitting that local security forces had been overrun in several areas and said local authorities were doing what they could to restore order. "It's crazy, really, really crazy," said Abdallah Fathi, a resident who witnessed one police station being attacked.

"Yesterday, the city felt like hell, today it could be the same or worse." The northern city of Mosul has seen frequent outbreaks of violence, but residents and reporters said the past two days were the worst since the end of the war last year. As US forces battle to suppress insurgents in the city of Fallujah, west of Baghdad, it appears many fighters may have fled to other cities where they are launching new attacks. In the past three days, there has been a step up in guerrilla activity in Samarra, Baiji, Baquba, Tikrit, Ramadi and parts of Baghdad - across the Sunni Muslim heartland.

The US military understands this too. Shortly before the Fallujah operation commenced, an earlier post quoted a US source as anticipating these kinds of diversionary attacks. The Seattle Times reported on November 7:

Reports are circulating among Iraqi and U.S. officials that large numbers of insurgents have already left the Fallujah area in anticipation of the coming invasion. The militants are reportedly fanning to other cities in the Sunni Triangle, where they will stage diversionary attacks -- and underscore that despite an expected defeat for insurgent forces in Fallujah, the rebel movement remains strong.

"There will be horrific events outside Fallujah," said a senior U.S. diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity. "I would never tell you that violence in Sunni areas won't get worse when you open up a battle." He added that officials expect that period to last "not many weeks." "You will have a shortish period when everybody will say the whole country's falling apart but they (the insurgents) will not be able to maintain that tempo."

The aim of the present campaign in the Sunni triangle is to destroy the enemy human and physical infrastructure to prevent the enemy from maintaining that tempo, a subject described in The River War. For  follow-on Iraqi forces to hold places like Fallujah so that the enemy cannot regroup within it again, the skilled and dangerous professional soldiers of the old regime must be reduced to the point where the new Iraqi government can contain them. Whether the US will succeed remains to be seen. But it is likely that while the battle for Fallujah is ending, the campaign for the Sunni Triangle is just beginning.


  • Counteroffensive operations in Mosul against insurgents have started. "In a statement, the US military said it had launched offensive operations in southern Mosul to try to quell the rampaging insurgency after a request from the governor. 'Insurgent forces attacked several police stations and other targets within the city,' it said. ...'It doesn’t feel like the police or any local government officials are in charge at all,' one resident said. 'The insurgents are everywhere.'"
  • Takedown of a Sunni terrorist ring at a landmark mosque in Baghdad by US and Iraqi forces. "The U.S. command said American troops "provided the outer cordon" while the 90-minute raid was carried out by Iraqi troops. Two U.S. soldiers were wounded by snipers during the raid, the military statement said. Abdullah said they also found TNT explosives, lists with names of Iraqi officers employed in the U.S.-trained Iraqi National Guard, as well as photographs of recent attacks on U.S. soldiers and foreign convoys on the airport road."
  • At Fallujah the encirclement and destruction continues: the 108 hour plan is on schedule.  "The grim job of sifting through the hostile neighbourhoods, also uncovered numerous corpses --  not all killed by US military fire, said an AFP reporter embedded with the Marines. In one street, Marines found a body with its feet hacked off and a young man in a house with a bullet in his chest." The Associated Press reports that military age men in Fallujah aren't being allowed out. "Hundreds of men trying to flee the assault on Fallujah have been turned back by U.S. troops following orders to allow only women, children and the elderly to leave. ... Once the battle ends, military officials say all surviving military-age men can expect to be tested for explosive residue, catalogued, checked against insurgent databases and interrogated about ties with the guerrillas. U.S. and Iraqi troops are in the midst of searching homes, and plan to check every house in the city for weapons." The article continues:

Single refugees have made their way out of the city by swimming across the broad Euphrates River or sneaking out across desert paths, military officials said. On Wednesday and Thursday, American troops sunk boats being used to ferry people -- and in some cases, rebel arms -- across the river. The ongoing U.S. advance is bottling up Fallujah's insurgents -- and others fleeing the fighting -- in the southern section of the city, where U.S. forces were moving Thursday night. Most of the remaining attacks by insurgents inside Fallujah have been on Marines blocking the roads and bridges leaving the city, reports show. Marines have returned fire killing numerous insurgents trying to escape, officers here said.

It's a campaign, not a battle for a single town, and at issue is the destruction or survival of the Sunni insurgency. The enemy is maneuvering to strike at his chosen points and at US lines of communication. It's safe to say the foe will pull no punches. They won't be holding anything back for tomorrow. Allawie has also crossed his Rubicon and so, perhaps, has CENTCOM.