reflections

Nov 15, 2004 | 13:14 GMT

5 mins read

Geopolitical Diary: Sunday, Nov. 14, 2004

It can be difficult to separate the important from unimportant on any given day. Reflections mean to do exactly that — by thinking about what happened today, we can consider what might happen tomorrow.
The last major stronghold in Al Fallujah appears to have fallen. That does not mean the fighting is over, however. Guerrillas remain in the city, bypassed by the main body of U.S. troops. Operating in small teams, these guerrillas will strike at softer targets, such as supply vehicles and isolated foot patrols. They will be difficult to find. The rubble provides excellent cover. They will become visible when they launch attacks, so U.S. forces will configure themselves so as to be able to rapidly reinforce troops that have come under guerrilla attack. The game of hide-and-seek can be a long and brutal experience. The guerrillas will have to be killed, induced to surrender, or manage to exfiltrate the city. Nevertheless, the main battle is over, and more quickly than we expected. It was our expectation that the United States would draw out the assault as in An Najaf, in order to avoid major casualties and to permit the battle to serve as the backdrop for the critical negotiations taking place between Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and the United States on the one side and the Sunni leadership on the other. But that wasn't the way the United States played it out. The basic outline is in place, but the U.S. goal is clearly more ambitious than we thought. As the battle in Al Fallujah quieted, U.S. leaders began publicly speaking of dealing with other guerrilla strongholds in other cities. Rather than using Al Fallujah as the backdrop for negotiations, the United States has clearly decided on a much broader canvas. Officials are looking at the entire Sunni triangle, and all the cities within it, as sequential targets until the Sunni leadership turns on the guerrillas. The picture the United States is now painting is of a broad sequential or even simultaneous campaign directed against city after city until the guerrilla movement has suffered overwhelming attrition and the Sunni leadership capitulates to American political demands. It has undoubtedly been noticed by the Sunnis that the attack against Al Fallujah has brought a very muted response in the United States. The Democratic left is so dispirited by the defeat of John Kerry that it has hardly been noticed, in spite of casualties in Al Fallujah. Equally interesting has been the quiet from Europe. France and Germany clearly don't want to tangle with President George W. Bush at this point. Equally important, the killing of a Dutch filmmaker who had criticized Muslims has had a chilling effect on Europeans in general. The broad public has been shocked and is rethinking its views on Muslims in Europe and, therefore, on the U.S. war effort in Iraq. Events in Amsterdam have caused the Europeans to view Iraq through a different prism. More than at any point since the Iraq war began, the United States is free from constraints. Neither U.S. public opinion nor European diplomacy is shaping U.S. war plans. Based on Vietnam, there has been a belief among many that a guerrilla insurgency cannot be defeated. This thinking is true if by "defeated" you mean completely eradicated. If, however, what you mean is reducing the guerrillas so they no longer threaten the regime or basic stability, guerrilla movements can, in fact, be suppressed — and have been. In Vietnam, the communists deployed hundreds of thousands of troops, with secured sanctuaries in neighboring countries and a robust logistical pipeline — the Ho Chi Minh Trail — supporting them. Iraq has thousands of guerrillas, probably less than 10,000. There is no sanctuary, and there is no robust supply line. They survive through the support of the population, and that support depends on the Sunni elders. At the moment the elders decide the price is too high, the insurgency will rapidly degrade. The United States is trying to show the elders just how high the price will be. We expected Al Fallujah to last for weeks. It has lasted for days, and new operations already are being planned. The United States is in a position to carry out a ruthless campaign designed not only to root out the guerrillas, but to impose a massive cost on the Sunni communities. The United States is not constrained politically and has the necessary force to carry out this campaign. On the other hand, it cannot afford to take too long in carrying out this campaign. In short, the United States is trying to back the guerrillas against the wall by splitting them from the Sunni elders, and to do it much faster than we had expected it to happen. We now have an extremely dynamic situation developing in Iraq, where the most likely course is a re-evaluation by the Sunni elders of their prior position, and potentially, a civil war among the Sunnis as one result. The outcome is far from certain, but the war is certainly now taking a dramatic turn.

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