Jewish World Review May 10, 2004 / 19 Iyar, 5764
Winking not blinking in Falluja
Has the United States blinked in Fallujah? The Arab media, and ours, have
portrayed the withdrawal of the Marines from a portion of the city and their
replacement with the "Fallujah Protective Army" as a victory for the
"Covering their faces with checkered headscarves, militiamen loyal to a
former Iraqi general jubilantly took to the streets of this battlescarred
city yesterday to celebrate what they called a triumph over withdrawing U.S.
Marines," wrote the Washington Post.
The apparent appointment, and then the swift dismissal of MajGen. Jassim
Mohammed Saleh, who once served in Saddam's Republican Guard, as commander
of the Fallujah Protective Army added to the impression of American forces
in confusion and retreat.
Opponents of the war in Iraq were gloating at the news reports of the Marine
withdrawal, while supporters were disheartened.
"The decision to lift the siege of Fallujah was a grave mistake," said
Mackubin Owens, a retired Marine colonel who teaches strategy at the Navy
War College. "It sends the wrong message to both our enemies and our
friends. It teaches them that the United States rewards violence and
terrorism and confirms the Arab belief that the Americans are soft."
But it isn't a good idea to get SITREPS (situation reports) from a news
media that (a) knows next to nothing about military affairs, and (b) has a
political interest in reporting bad news from Iraq. What's been reported as
a blink is really more of a wink.
There has been no Marine withdrawal. As the invaluable "Wretchard" of the
web site "Belmont Club" explains: Fallujah is roughly rectangularly shaped,
with the long axis running North-South. An estimated 1,500-2,000 insurgents
have dug in the northern third of the city, a slum known as the Golan. The
Marines have them hemmed in there. The Marines have repositioned forces
from the southeast quadrant of the city (where there are few insurgents but
many civilians) to the northeast (closer to the insurgent stronghold). Four
checkpoints in the southeast which had been manned by Marines have been
turned over to the Fallujah Protective Army.
"We have assigned the Iraqi battalion to our least engaged sector until they
can get their feet on the deck, absorb the weapons and equipment we are
passing their way, and prepare for the next phase of the operation," said
LtGen. James Conway, commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.
The pro-insurgent web site al Basrah is worried about what the next phase of
the operation might be:
"U.S. aggressor forces have begun to mass north of the defiant city, as the
two base centers of the invaders that to the northwest of the city beyond
the residential area and that to the northeast in the agricultural area
beyond the railroad tracks have begun to join up," al Basrah said. "The
people of Fallujah can see this massing from a distance and some are fearful
of what it might portend."
The Marines say many of the insurgents are Syrians. They are backed up by
UPI, which reported Monday that "an entire neighborhood seems to be
completely under the control of foreign Islamic fighters, mostly from
Osama Mansour, an Iraqi employee of UPI, entered Fallujah Saturday with a
mid-level official of the "Army of Mohammed," an umbrella group for Iraqi
resistance fighters. When they reached the Golan neighborhood, they were
arrested by fighters who spoke Arabic with a Syrian accent.
After three hours of interrogation, they were released. "If your name
wasn't Osama, we would have killed you," one of them said.
The Marines are trying to separate the locals in Fallujah from the hard core
insurgents and foreign fighters. A story in the Christian Science Monitor
Wednesday indicated they are having some success:
"The message broadcast from mosques is also becoming more favorable, despite
initial declarations of victory over U.S. forces," wrote reporter Scott
Peterson. "Marines say recent messages are: 'Return to your homes, don't
take up arms, the fight is over.'"
The Marines are pursuing a sophisticated strategy of "talk talk, fight
fight." It's too early to tell whether it will work, but there is no reason
yet for declaring it a failure.
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JWR contributor Jack Kelly, a former Marine and Green Beret, was a
deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan
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