US battle plans begin to unravel
By Michael Schwartz
In the New York Times this week the first crack appeared in the armor of the "victory in Fallujah" facade maintained by the major US media since the battle began. Eric Schmitt and Robert Worth discuss a secret Marine Corps report that reveals the major bind the US has gotten itself into by sweeping through Fallujah and attempting to pacify it. This US strategy has created exactly the dilemma that many critics of the war had been predicting: in order to hold Fallujah the United States has to keep large numbers of troops there, and then the Americans will not have sufficient troops to handle the uprising elsewhere in the Sunni areas.
The problem is summarized thusly in the New York Times article: "Senior marine intelligence officers in Iraq are warning that if American troop levels in the Fallujah area are significantly reduced during reconstruction there, as has been planned, insurgents in the region will rebound from their defeat. The rebels could thwart the retraining of Iraqi security forces, intimidate the local population and derail elections set for January, the officers say."
Beneath this general problem lie three key problems that made the attack on Fallujah a desperation measure in the first place, and which is now creating a new and deeper crisis for the US military in its aftermath.
First, and most important, the people of Fallujah hate the Americans and support the guerrillas (even if they may have complaints about much of what they do). This means that as soon as the people return, so will the resistance, hidden from US view because virtually all the guerrillas are residents of Fallujah with supporters in the community. They will not be turned over to the US or to Iraqi police, and they will therefore begin to mount attacks on whoever is left to guard the US-installed local government.
Second, the US cannot depend on Iraqi police or military to fight this next phase of the "battle of Fallujah". Here's how this problem was reported by the Times: "Senior officers have said that they would keep a sizable American military presence in and around Fallujah in the long reconstruction phase that has just begun, until sufficiently trained and equipped Iraqi forces could take the lead in providing security. 'It will take a security presence for a while until a well-trained Iraqi security force can take over the presence in Fallujah and maintain security so that the insurgents don't come back, as they have tried to do in every one of the cities that we have thrown them out of,' General George W Casey Jr, the top American commander in Iraq, said on November 8. American commanders have expressed disappointment in some of the Iraqis they have been training, especially members of the Iraqi police force. Other troops have performed well, the officers have said."
The key thing here is that when the Americans entered the Fallujah battle they believed that the Iraqi forces would be ready to take over immediately after the city was cleared. But the mass defections and unwillingness to fight exhibited by the Iraqis have forced a drastic revision in these estimates, so that now US military leaders are forced to keep a US presence during the "long reconstruction phase" (read - "until the guerrilla attacks stop") while they wait (probably in vain) for a new cycle of training to produce an Iraqi force that is capable of resisting the guerrillas (the first three efforts to produce such a force have already failed - there is no reason to believe that the next will succeed).
The third problem is that the US simply does not have enough troops to hold Fallujah and also do all the other fighting that is now necessary. The Times reporters expressed it thus: "If many American troops and the better-trained specialized Iraqi forces, like the commando and special police units, are committed to Fallujah for a long time, they will not be available to go elsewhere in Iraq, possibly creating critical shortfalls." In other words, when the resistance drives the police and local government out of other cities (as they did recently in Samarra, Tal Afar and Mosul) the US will not have sufficient troops to recapture the cities, and they will have to allow them to remain in rebel hands, just as Fallujah remained in rebel hands for six months.
This is the ultimate denouement of the attack on Fallujah. The US is now faced with the choice of leaving Fallujah and allowing the shura mujahideen government that has ruled it since April to return to power, or allow the resistance to take power in many other cities. Either option will leave the US in a significantly worse position than it was in before the attack. As so many predicted, the attack on Fallujah has strengthened the resistance and weakened the US occupation.
Michael Schwartz , professor of sociology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, has written extensively on popular protest and insurgency, and on US business and government dynamics. His work on Iraq has appeared on ZNet and TomDispatch, and in Z Magazine. His books include Radical Politics and Social Structure, The Power Structure of American Business (with Beth Mintz), and Social Policy and the Conservative Agenda (edited, with Clarence LO.