Friday, February 13, 2004

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What's going on in Fallujah?

It would seem that hostility to the United States has not waned in Fallujah. The attack on General John Abizaid , the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, would seem to confirm this. This reporter's first-hand account of the attack contains this priceless passage:

Abizaid was walking about, seemingly unfazed, talking to some of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps members he had come to visit. I grabbed my camera and began shooting pictures of him talking to an Iraqi commander. I noticed Abizaid, an expert in Arab affairs, was speaking in Arabic. He told me later the commander said, with regard to the attack: "This is Fallujah. What do you expect?"

This would seem to be Juan Cole's assessment as well. Certainly the increase in attacks in recent weeks is fueling fears of Balkanization.

However, the Chicago Tribune has another story on Fallujah today suggesting that the situation might not be as bleak as first thought:

The reputation of Fallujah is simple and fearsome: It's known as the toughest town in Iraq, the epicenter of the insurgency, the place where more than 35 American soldiers have lost their lives.

An attack Thursday--when a top U.S. general's visit was disrupted by rocket-propelled grenades--added more evidence to the indictment.

But something else is happening in Fallujah as residents look for a less violent way to get the Americans out. This city on the banks of the Euphrates River and at the edge of the desert is taking small but critical steps toward choosing its own government....

there are signs of progress in a city where Hussein recruited the shock troops of his military and industrial complex. Water has been restored to 80 percent of the city and there is more electricity now than immediately after major combat, although blackouts still occur.

And there is growing acceptance here that Fallujah has to join the rest of Iraq--at least politically--to secure a fair share of reconstruction cash.

"I am not cooperating with Americans; I am dealing with them," said Mohammed Hassan al-Balwa, president of Fallujah's provisional city council. "We need to help ourselves."

Read the whole article.

UPDATE: The New York Times has more.

posted by Dan on 02.13.04 at 10:15 AM


"I am not cooperating with Americans; I am dealing with them," said Mohammed Hassan al-Balwa, president of Fallujah's provisional city council. "We need to help ourselves."

This attitude seems entirely reasonable to me. I am glad that he prefers Fallujah's citizens help themselves. As for “Balkanization”---what’s wrong with that? Iraq was an artificial entity imposed on a large number of people who often had little in common. Why not let the situation evolve over time? I’m all for these groups going their own way. We need only be concerned that the basic rights of the citizenry are respected. The rest of it is up to them.

posted by: David Thomson on 02.13.04 at 10:15 AM [permalink]

There's more in the NYT today, in a story by Dexter Filkins (the guy who broke the story of the Zarqawi memo - he seems to be reasonably plugged in there):

"Certainly, tensions between Iraqis and American troops have eased noticeably in many towns and cities in the area north and west of Baghdad where much of the insurgency has played out. In many places there, the Americans have pulled back substantially, turning over responsibility for keeping order to Iraqi forces.

"In Baghdad, the Americans are far less visible than they once were, and are planning further pullbacks. In formerly chaotic towns like Ramadi and Falluja, the Americans have mostly shut down their posts and camped outside of town.

"The security situation has gotten much better," Sheik Majid Ali Suleiman, a powerful tribal leader in Ramadi, said in an interview this week. "You don't see the Americans in the city anymore. That's good. And they have arrested a lot of the big people who were making the attacks."

"But tensions have only eased, not disappeared."

posted by: Al on 02.13.04 at 10:15 AM [permalink]

I think Balkanization refers to a specific kind of breakup of a country. One that involves a violent breakup into several mutually hostile areas. Like what happened in the former Yugoslavia, which is in the Balkans.

I agree that Iraq doesn't have to stay together, it can just as easily end up with everyone going their own way. Just so long as it happens peacefully, with democratic government(s) being set up. That counts as a win for everybody involved as far as I'm concerned.

posted by: sam on 02.13.04 at 10:15 AM [permalink]

I was thinking, maybe the break up of Iraq, creating a Kurdish homeland is what the neo- conservatives are after. If Iraq breaks up along ethnic lines, why not Iran too. Iran has a 51% Persian majority, 25% are Azerbajanis, the rest are Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen.

posted by: Ricky Vandal on 02.13.04 at 10:15 AM [permalink]

Water has been restored to 80 percent of the city and there is more electricity now than immediately after major combat, although blackouts still occur.

Usually the comparisons are made with the days before major military combat.

posted by: GB on 02.13.04 at 10:15 AM [permalink]

Balkanization is not a good thing, artifically created Iraq or not. It means destablization and the invitation of outsiders - Iran and Turkey in particular - to meddle in Iraqi affairs. Worse, it provides exactly the kind of weak state apparatus that invites terrorism. If the Kurds get their piece, the Sunni Arabs theirs, and the Shiites theirs, who's to say Ansar al Islam won't get theirs too? Balkanization would be disastrous.

posted by: Elrod on 02.13.04 at 10:15 AM [permalink]

The game that Iran and Turkey make out of a Kurdish state should be interesting indeed.

posted by: Waffle on 02.13.04 at 10:15 AM [permalink]

"Balkanization is not a good thing, artifically created Iraq or not."

I do not see how Iraq is weakened by granting the different groups a great deal of autonomy. A loosely held federation should be sufficient to take care of the needs of the overall population. Ansar al Islam would not be provided with a territory because it is a terrorist organization. They have no political rights. Such a group has absolutely no interest in politics anyway. They are nihilists who love only death.

posted by: David Thomson on 02.13.04 at 10:15 AM [permalink]

The problem with a loosely held federation is that for many the federation is only the first step to independence. It is not easy to maintain a strong central government in a federal state - the US, Canada and Germany are probably the most successful models of federation and all of had or continue to have grave political crises resulting from it. It's not that an Iraqi federation is, on its face, a bad idea. It's just that if Iraq moved toward something like that right now, everybody in the region would be interpreting it as the first step toward the complete breakup of the nation, with the neighbors getting involved. Moreover, it might encourage ethnic minorities in other countries (Kurds in Turkey and Iran, particularly) to stablize those governments. The result would less likely be a victorious self-determination than a bloody, even genocidal, civil war. Also, about Ansar, they held a small swath of territory in Kurdish-controlled Iraq for many years before 2003. Why wouldn't they be able to did it again, what with a weak central government to kick them out?

posted by: Elrod on 02.13.04 at 10:15 AM [permalink]

Re: Fallujah

Doesn't look so good there after all. A huge gun battle took place at the police station with about 20 cops killed and all the prisoners freed. The US army didn't intervene because it was safely ensconsed outside the city. Is this what we have to look forward to when the US pulls completely back from Baghdad?

posted by: elrod on 02.13.04 at 10:15 AM [permalink]

Probably so, elrod. Just to show how disconnected the CPA is from what's going on in the country, the attack took place just two days after Gen. Mark Kimmitt said, "95 percent of the people in Fallujah ... are fully supportive of the coalition."

Meanwhile, the AP is reporting that "Before the attack, the gunmen set up checkpoints and blocked the road leading to the police station, but residents did not notify police."

And that's to say nothing of the stealth Islamicization going on in the south of the country . . .

posted by: Swopa on 02.13.04 at 10:15 AM [permalink]

Belmont Club today has a whole different take on Fallujah based on a USA Today story. The 82nd Airborne offered to send reinforcements and the Iraqi police said they didn't need them, although they did need more ammo (very much in the spirit of the mayor's comment). Also several of the dead insurgents were said to be non-Iraqis. Not all outbreaks of violence are battles lost.

posted by: Joel on 02.13.04 at 10:15 AM [permalink]


The Belmont Club post misreads the USA Today article -- though, in fairness, the article itself doesn't make clear the irony of that passage.

The person who said U.S. assistance wasn't needed was with the Iraqi Civilian Defense Corps base, but people weren't dying there. They were attacked by a smaller guerrilla force whose aim was just to tie the ICDC down so its troops couldn't reinforce the police.

Meanwhile, some distance away, the police were being slaughtered.

posted by: Swopa on 02.13.04 at 10:15 AM [permalink]

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