Friday, June 25, 2004

Fallujah

So, what's been happening in Fallujah in the past few days? I keep reading about the hunt for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his terrorists. We seem to be doing a lot from the air: "U.S. aircraft last week dropped leaflets on the city urging residents to turn in al-Zarqawi," and "airstrike after airstrike after airstrike. Question: why did we put ourselves in the position where we can't do much more than strike from the air? The Marines had our enemies in Falujah surrounded and were about to finish them off. Then we seized a cease-fire from the jaws of victory. As part of this cease-fire we handed the problem of Fallujah to the "Fallujah Brigade." Just as in Tora Bora, we sent in poor surrogates and they have failed miserably, with the insurgents still in control of Fallujah:
The travelers entered Fallujah first through a checkpoint operated by the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, a U.S.-trained paramilitary unit meant to add muscle to the American-led occupation. The men in black berets distractedly waved cars past, onto the city's main street.

Then it became apparent who was really in charge. A few yards in, wild-eyed young men in masks pulled cars over at will, searched them and demanded identification documents. No one could leave or enter without passing muster. Other groups of fighters in masks roamed side streets and alleys, brandishing rifles at all sorts of angles.
Combining the article of the last link with our resorts to airstrikes fully convinces me that Fallujah remains a haven for terrorists.

This is just one aspect of the woe from our lack of resolve in Fallujah. Let's look at other levels. First consider the humanitarian aspect. Although many residents of Fallujah escaped becoming collateral damage in a pitched battle in the Marines took control of the city, they did not escape tyranny:
A few weeks ago, masked insurgents, apparently religious Sunnis, paraded four men through town who had been caught selling beer and whiskey along the banks of the Euphrates. The men were shirtless, and their backs were bleeding. They had been savagely whipped for selling alcohol, which is legal in Iraq. There have also been reports of masked men running checkpoints in the city and enforcing a strict Islamic code in which dominoes, videos and Western-style haircuts are banned.
Next, consider what Fallujah has done to our credibility. We said we would find the killers of the four contractors and bring them to justice, which is kind of hard when the insurgents still control the city (see last link). From the same NYT article as the above quote, we learn that,
Mahmood Othman, a Kurdish politician who sat on the governing council, called Falluja ''another Taliban'' and complained that the deal the Marines made set a bad example. ''This could be a model for the rest of Iraq,'' Othman said. ''Whenever you want your own rule, you fight the Americans, and they'll back off.'' Othman pointed to Karbala and Najaf, two Shiite holy cities where Americans are contemplating granting some form of local control to the very militiamen they were just fighting. ''See,'' he said. ''More Fallujas.''
You'd think, given the perception of this administration as incredibly hawkish, that this sort of self-defeating halfheartedness would be only be heard of in recollections of administrations past.

Of course, what was done was done for a reason. Again quoting the NYT article:
An American military commander responded to that concern by saying that nobody should be complaining about Latif [leader of the Fallujah Brigade]. He was the best option they had, the commander said, short of invading the city and putting a marine on every street corner.
Granted, the alternative of victory would have been costly both in blood and publicity, but - and I strongly suspect this is because we gave our enemies such a haven - we still face a loss of blood and publicity in the form of more terror attacks from al-Zarqawi's network. Hopefully, as Iraqi security forces mature, they will properly deal with our common enemies. The new Iraqi prime minister has made a point of talking tough, but actions speak louder than words. We must wait and see.

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