Jewish World Review May 10, 2004 / 19 Iyar, 5764

Jack Kelly

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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 insurgents.

"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."

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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 Syria."

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 administration. Comment by clicking here.

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