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The Tally Ho

Monday, September 06, 2004

Losing Iraq

In case you missed it, Dexter Filkins of the New York Times had an article yesterday titled One by One, Iraqi Cities Becomes No-Go Zones. Dexter writes
The calls are rising for the Americans to pull out of even more areas, notably Sadr City, the sprawling neighborhood in eastern Baghdad that is the main base for the rebel cleric Moktada al-Sadr. There, leaders of his Mahdi Army are demanding that American soldiers, except those sent in to do reconstruction work, get out.

Negotiations with rebel leaders foundered last week on precisely the issue of the freedom of American soldiers to enter the area; the Iraqi government, possibly with American backing, refused to accept the militia's demand. Even so, the point seemed clear enough: where Iraqis once tolerated American soldiers as a source of stability in their neighborhoods, they increasingly see them as a cause of the violence. Take out the Americans, the Iraqis say, and you take out the problem. Leave us alone, and we will sort our own problems.

"All we want is for the Americans to stay out," said Yusef al-Nasiri, a top aide to Mr. Sadr. "When the Americans come into the city, they insult our people. That's when the people get nervous. It makes them uncomfortable."

That certain Iraqis believe their cities and neighborhoods would be better off without American soldiers is neither new nor surprising; that is what the guerrillas' insurgency, now in its 17th month, is all about. What is new, however, is that the Americans, in certain cases, appear to agree or have decided that the cost to prove otherwise would be too high.

Dexter also writes that since the withdraws, the United States plans to back a control by a group of former Baathist officials have failed and now Falluja is run by a group of Islamic Fundamentalists who called themselves "Islamic council of holy warriors."

In John F. Burns and Erik Eckholm's 29 August article In Western Iraq, Fundamentalists Hold U.S. at Bay, also wrote about this.
In the past three weeks, three former Hussein loyalists appointed to important posts in Falluja and Ramadi have been eliminated by the militants and their Baathist allies. The chief of a battalion of the American-trained Iraqi National Guard in Falluja was beheaded by the militants, prompting the disintegration of guard forces in the city. The Anbar governor was forced to resign after his three sons were kidnapped. The third official, the provincial police chief in Ramadi, was lured to his arrest by American marines after three assassination attempts led him to secretly defect to the rebel cause.

The national guard commander and the governor were both forced into humiliating confessions, denouncing themselves as "traitors" on videotapes that sell in the Falluja marketplace for 50 cents. The tapes show masked men ending the guard commander's halting monologue, toppling him to the ground, and sawing off his head, to the accompaniment of recorded Koranic chants ordaining death for those who "make war upon Allah." The governor is shown with a photograph of himself with an American officer, sobbing as he repents working with the "infidel Americans," then being rewarded with a weeping reunion with his sons.

In another taped sequence available in the Falluja market, a mustached man identifying himself as an Egyptian is shown kneeling in a flowered shirt, confessing that he "worked as a spy for the Americans," planting electronic "chips" used for setting targets in American bombing raids. The man says he was paid $150 for each chip laid, then he, too, is tackled to the ground by masked guards while a third masked man, a burly figure who proclaims himself a dispenser of Islamic justice, pulls a 12-inch knife from a scabbard, grabs the Egyptian by the scalp, and severs his head.

The situation across Anbar represents the latest reversal for the First Marine Expeditionary Force, which sought to assert control with a spring offensive in Falluja and Ramadi that incurred some of the heaviest American casualties of the war, and a far heavier toll, in the hundreds, among Falluja's resistance fighters and civilians. The offensive ended, mortifyingly for the marines, in a decision to pull back from both cities and entrust American hopes to the former Baathists.

The American rationale was that military victory would come only by flattening the two cities, and that the better course lay in handing important government positions to former loyalists of the ousted government, who would work, over time, to wrest control from the Islamic militants who had emerged from the shadows to build strongholds there. The culmination of that approach came with the recruitment of the so-called Falluja Brigade, led by a former Army general under Mr. Hussein, and composed of a motley assembly of former Iraqi soldiers and insurgents, who marched into the city in early May, wearing old Iraqi military uniforms, backed with American-supplied weapons and money.

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