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Nov 12, 2004 | 05:59 GMT

4 mins read

Iraq: The Continuing Battle in Al Fallujah

As it moves into its second phase, the U.S.-Iraqi assault against Al Fallujah continues to go smoothly. However, even if the assault is successful, more work remains to be done. The multinational force in Al Fallujah, which will likely be smaller when it moves into a security posture, will have to stave off possible further insurgent attacks. Meanwhile, the U.S. and Iraqi military leadership must give thought to hunting insurgents in other cities throughout Iraq, where attacks have increased recently.
Aerial strikes in the southern half of Al Fallujah on Nov. 10 and Nov. 11 signaled the start of the second phase of the U.S.-Iraqi attacks against the city. The aerial assault preceded the movement of armored vehicles and troops southward across the Baghdad Highway, which divides Al Fallujah in half. In spite of rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire forcing two U.S. helicopters to make "hard landings" and a handful of vehicles being destroyed, the push through Al Fallujah has been going relatively well. The harsh, bloody house-to-house fighting expected to take place in the city has yet to occur. Although 225 seriously wounded coalition troops reportedly have been flown to Landstuhl, Germany (it is unclear how many were from Al Fallujah), fewer than 20 U.S. deaths have been reported. If the coalition troops complete the assault against Al Fallujah, their work will still be far from over. After sweeping through Al Fallujah, the U.S.-Iraqi forces will likely leave a fraction of its troops behind to secure the city. At that point, if any insurgents remain — a possibility, given the elusive guerrilla tactics the city's defenders have employed — they could attack the diminished force and retake the city. The multinational force will also have to turn its focus to other cities in Iraq where militants continue launching attacks — and possibly do the same thing in those other cities that it is doing in Al Fallujah. Reports coming out of Al Fallujah on Nov. 10 told of "slaughterhouses" where hostages were filmed and killed. On Nov. 11, U.S. forces actually rescued several hostages and discovered what several Marines told the media were "strange deaths," including a female corpse with its feet cut off and the body of a young Iraqi who had been shot in the chest. It is possible that insurgents eliminated some from within their ranks who were no longer willing to fight — though this is not hard evidence of a crisis of morale among the insurgents. Eyewitnesses have reported that there was no call to prayer in the city Nov. 11, though previously calls were given during the fighting. Instead, messages of direction and motivation aimed at the insurgents have been broadcast using the mosque speaker systems throughout the city. It is difficult to determine how hard the U.S.-led forces are hitting the insurgents, simply because the guerrilla tactics complicate compiling a battle damage assessment. Estimates put enemy casualties near 600 — not a small number, but still a fraction of the estimated 3,000 insurgents in the city. Associated Press reporters embedded with U.S. Marine units have said that resistance has increased noticeably, possibly because the insurgents are being pushed into a shrinking area and are forced to engage the U.S. forces more often. It could also be that the insurgents have chosen to take on the Marines as they move into the older, more cramped parts of the city, where the U.S. forces have limited ability to maneuver. In spite of the increased resistance, there are no reports of any significant counterattack or push against the U.S.-led forces. As the U.S. Marines push through to the southern end of Al Fallujah, the insurgents will have to launch a counterattack soon, during this hot phase of combat. It should be noted, that the insurgents are not required to counterattack. In fact, it would be more to their advantage to go into hiding in Al Fallujah until the multinational force moves from an assault posture to a security posture, which requires fewer troops. That would be the most advantageous time for the insurgents to launch a counterattack and attempt to retake the city, though it might be weeks or months down the line. While media and military attention seems focused on Al Fallujah, the number of attacks in the rest of the country has risen. In Baqubah, As Samara, Kirkuk, Mosul and Baghdad, attacks using car bombs, improvised explosive devices and rocket-propelled grenades have occurred, with Iraqi police as apparently favored targets. There are other cities, such as Ar Ramadi, that have taken in insurgents, thus spreading the guerrilla forces around the country. A plan for hunting insurgents throughout Iraq has not been forthcoming through either media reports or military statements. Other than statements from U.S. Marines regarding a commitment to rebuild Al Fallujah, there has been little evidence of an "after plan." However, the multinational force must use what it learns from the assault against Al Fallujah to conduct similar operations in trouble spots throughout the country. The military's having a measure of such an assault's difficulty — and political fallout — means that other assaults likely will not be far behind.

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