Thursday, April 22, 2004


The Coalition may resume operations in Fallujah in "days not weeks", following a ceasefire that could more aptly be called a slowdown as each side repositioned itself. The anti-coalition forces responded to a call for disarmament by turning in a load of broken weapons and firing a rocket propelled grenade into the collection center set up to receive arms. The truce had been more honored in the breach than in the observance, with enemy forces consolidating within the town and launching attacks from mosques and the Marines responding with fixed wing, helicopters and snipers. In the parallel war of press releases, the Islamists have responded to the recent charges by the coalition that they have been using ambulances and mosques for military purposes by declaring these have been targeted directly.

The allies have brought more Iraqi security personnel into the fight while anticoalition forces have responded by a further campaign of intimidation against Iraqi police, recently killing forty at 3 police stations with bombs. US forces have attempted to crack down on the Sadr's forces outside of the holy cities and anticoalition forces outside Najaf proper.

In the 1st Infantry Division's north-central area, Big Red One soldiers conducted a series of raids against safe houses near Balad, used by militia loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, Kimmitt said. The raids resulted in the detention of six targeted individuals and 15 other men. The 1st Cavalry Division's Task Force Baghdad captured 18 enemy personnel and confiscated a large amount of ammunition over the past 24 hours. In the western zone, three attacks took place against coalition and Iraqi security forces. Kimmitt said coalition forces continue to see anti-coalition forces fighting from fortified positions, misusing mosques as weapons storage sites and using them as command and control nodes. Outside Fallujah, the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force continues aggressive patrols and offensive operations outside Fallujah. The Marines had to halt the movement of humanitarian assistance into Fallujah due to attacks on coalition forces. They have since resumed, military officials in Baghdad said.

Possibly the most damaging weapon employed against the Fallujah insurgents has been the the disruption caused by the fighting and the "truce". Bits and Pieces noted that Fallujah waxed on the smuggling trade occasioned by the decades long sanctions. It has remained a smuggler's haven on the route to Syria largely because of its position as a nexus of highways and its position as a crossing on the Euphrates. The closure of the western highways from Baghdad probably one reason why the community "elders" have been urging the insurgents to lay down their arms. The enemy has attempted to break the containment of Najaf and Fallujah by launching diversionary atrocities elsewhere, a standard Islamic tactic worldwide, the largest being a multiple car bombing in Basra, which led to the death of more than 50 Iraqis, including schoolchildren. Sadr's agitators have blamed the blasts on British missiles.

Yet if the atmospherics are indicative, the US does not seem to want a new round of high intensity fighting in Iraq. From a statistical point of view, the current situation represents a return to November, 2003. In retrospect, the situation then was as bad, given what we know now, only not as obvious. Even then, the US was in a battlefield shaping mode, standing off from the principal hotbeds of Iraqi trouble. It had never entered Fallujah or Najaf in force, contenting itself to building up Iraqi security forces and maintaining the security over the road network and key infrastructure. A secret war with Syria was already under way on the border, probably mirrored by a similar one at the Iranian crossings. But the boils had never been lanced nor may they be in the near future. For now the movement is positional. 

Iraq is in its way a microcosm of the the unresolved strategic issues in the larger GWOT -- the role of Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran and Pakistan -- in the context of our changing international alliances. The recent but under-reported engagements between "our" Saudis and Jordanians and the enemy has provoked a massive response. Both the Jordanian and Saudi security establishments have been attacked with huge bombs, including an attempt with VX gas. A recently concluded offensive against the Al Qaeda in Pakistani tribal areas is part of this pattern. There is no essential difference between the attacks on the Jordanian intelligence headquarters and an isolated Iraqi police station except scale. The principles are the same. The search for an "end point" in Iraq simply mirrors the global ebb and flow of the fight. We bear the Ring though we do not know the way.