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Thursday, April 29, 2004

No good options

No good options

In Two Sieges, U.S. Finds Itself Shut Out
Officials See No Good Options for Ending Fallujah, Najaf Standoffs

By Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Robin Wright
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, April 29, 2004; Page A01

FALLUJAH, Iraq, April 28 -- Perched atop sandbags and peering through powerful binoculars, Marine officers manning front-line positions around this tense city can see the problem clearly enough, even through the swirling dust that gives Fallujah the sepia hue of a Wild West town: Military-age men in white robes swagger about with impunity, they say, hardening their defenses and resupplying their encampments.

The Marines say the men are Sunni Muslim guerrillas who have taken over this Euphrates River city and transformed it into a stronghold of resistance to the American occupation of Iraq.

But neither here, nor in the Baghdad palace that serves as the headquarters of the U.S. occupation administration, nor in the corridors of official Washington, is the solution to the Fallujah problem clear. Although American officials and Iraq's U.S.-backed leaders agree that the insurgents should be captured or killed, preferably before the Americans hand over limited sovereignty on June 30, no good options exist to accomplish that goal, according to U.S. officials familiar with the issue.

A further incursion into Fallujah -- the only way many Marine officers say the insurgency here can be squelched -- has been rejected by local and national Iraqi leaders as an unacceptable risk to tens of thousands of noncombatants in the city.

"There are a lot of different proposals on the table, but all of them are fraught with problems," said one senior U.S. official in Iraq, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The same dilemma confronts U.S. military commanders and civilian officials 130 miles to the south, in the holy city of Najaf, as they attempt to resolve a standoff with a radical Shiite Muslim cleric and hundreds of his militiamen. Even more so than in Fallujah, a full-scale move into the city by U.S. forces would fuel Iraqi anger and further poison relations between the United States and the country's Shiite majority.

As military commanders and civilian administrators scramble to craft solutions to the crises in Fallujah and Najaf, "all the choices are unpalatable," said a senior U.S. official in Washington who spent several months in Iraq last year and who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the subject. "No one likes the options."

A post on Atrios goes into great detail on the numbers of US forces, but the reality is that the Marines are facing the Iraqi Army, not just "guerrillas", which is being centrally directed by former commanders of the army, maybe the Republican Guard.

I nearly broke my TV, when ABC's David Wright said it was inevitable the Marines will win. It isn't. The Marines should have won already. If these were just guerrillas, the Spectre should have broken their backs. It didn't even come close. Instead, when the Marines tried to seize the train station, they got repulsed. Guerrillas can't do that. Soldiers can.

The Marines need a divisional push to seize Fallujah and they don't have the men. Not even close. When you get into urban warfare, you need men, not machines. If they launch their battalions into Fallujah, they'll get ground up.

Any time someone says the Marines can win, remember, every Iraqi has an AK-47. Shopowners, kids, ex-soldiers, and Iraq, a veteran's meeting would fill a soccer stadium, old ladies. When those .223 rounds start slamming into your house, picking up and shooting is easy. No guerrilla force has been as lavishly equipped and and as cheaply equipped as the Iraqis. They merely had to drive to dumps and pick up all the weapons they wanted. Saddam's gift to Iraq was free weapons. He may have starved and tortured them, but he gave them the means for self-defense.

So when a "guerrilla" leader in Iraq looks to face the Americans, his men go into the streets with all the weapons of a modern infantry platoon, machine guns, automatic weapons, rpgs, hand grenades, mines, and with most of the men trained professionally as soldiers. The lie that these are foriegn fighters and remnants is just that. The remnants died in frontal attacks last March and April and foreign fighters would have been killed without an Iraqi support network.

Imagine if you lived in Ohio and all of a sudden Britons, Canadians and Australian guerrillas showed up to fight the Iraqi occupation Army. How long would they last if they didn't have local support? A month? Maybe two? They don't have the local accent, they can't eat or hide out. They wouldn't even be an effective military force.

Instead, we are facing people who have enough military training to dig in and hold defensive positions, just like they did against Iran. Say the older guys were 19-20 in 1988. They're in their mid-30's now and the younger guys know the techniques of combat, even if they haven't been shot at.

Another thing, which should have been evident from the Iran-Iraq war was that the Iraqis are extremely brave when well led. The poor leadership of the Gulf War has not been replicated. Instead, the Iraqis are demonstrating a real courage on the battlefield. Even posting bounties on Kimmit, Sanchez and Rumsfeld for $15m. That's more like the 101st at Bastogne than some scared guerrilla force. The Iraqis definitely seem to have a swagger to match the Marines. And their leaders, unlike US reporters, know exactly the position the Marines are in. They are also experienced enough not to try and go on the offensive against the Marines. It may have thrown them off balance at Ramadi, but the cost was very high.

The US command keeps trying to minimize who we are facing, and anyone with a brain can see Fallujah has a coordinated, widely supported defense led by professionals. If it wasn't, the Marines would have rolled it up weeks ago. They didn't agree to a cease-fire because they were winning. And despite the talk, it is clear the "local leaders" are not in charge. Former Iraqi Army officers are. If we ever get the whole story of the defense of Ramadi, many American commanders will be proven a liar or very lucky they didn't press the issue.

posted by Steve @ 12:49:00 PM

12:49:00 PM

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