Tuesday, November 9, 2004

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Open Fallujah thread

Feel free to comment on the current offensive in Fallujah here.

Andrew Sullivan has some contrasting assessments that are worth checking out.

posted by Dan on 11.09.04 at 09:52 AM


How nice of the sovereign government of Iraq to request we level half of one of their cities after our election, and not before.

Rumsfeld still clings to the illusion that we are still in Iraq because Mr Allawi has requested our presence. Who does he think he's fooling?

posted by: josh on 11.09.04 at 09:52 AM [permalink]

Of course had we done it before our election it would have been an 'election stunt'. Cant win with the tin foil hat crew.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 11.09.04 at 09:52 AM [permalink]

How clever to use Kurds to attack the Arabs in Fallujah. Just in case it never occurred to them to fight each other, we're forcing them into it. I guess we want to make sure that there is plenty of basis for hatred when we're gone. We'll get that civil war one way or another.

posted by: Njorl on 11.09.04 at 09:52 AM [permalink]

An interesting link concerning the progress of the Algerian anti-colonial war. As usual, we are winning every battle handily, but are still losing the war. We can reduce every city in Iraq to rubble, but it won't necessarily establish one iota of political control. Today it is Fallujah, tomorrow Ramadi, and then another operation in Baqubah, followed by a re-re-re-conquest of Samarra. Eventually Mosul will have to be retaken as well, as it is the actual nerve center of the insurgency, such as one exists. It could go on for years like this.

posted by: haydar on 11.09.04 at 09:52 AM [permalink]

Haydar is absolutely right that this scenario could play out again and again. But that is _not_ inevitable. Insurgencies have been put down, historically they are _usually_ put down notwithstanding the current obsession with Vietnam. Granted the anti-colonial record is less promising, but this is not a classic colonial uprising. We _want_ to leave. Here are a few things that definately need to happen and that the Bush team has really dropped the ball on to date:

-Set dates for coalition/US withdrawal in incriments, dependent on certain conditions. IE, if Basra remains quite, X amount of troops will be withdrawn on X date. Needless to say these dates wont be this year, but starting next spring we should see them. This will help build momentum of hope and trust post elections.

-Have the elections on time, no matter what. Make it clear they will go forward with or without Sunni turnout. If necesarry keep the thousands of troops currently in the Triangle on the streets to allow for voting w/o repurcussions. Ignore Sunni Mullah posturing, when it becomes clear the elections are going forward, they will join up just as Sadr did. Too much is at stake.

-Photo IDs for every Iraqi. No brainer. The Brits did this in the 50s in Malaya. I think technology has improved a bit since. This eases sooo many problems, from voter fraud to spotting insurgents. Its an infamia this hasnt happened yet.

-Elections are the carrot, plopping thousands of Kurd and Shiia soldiers into Sunni cities is the stick. Dont forget that. Handwringing about what will scare Sunnis is bad thinking. We want to scare them. Into doing what we want. A civil war must be made clearly suicidal for Sunnis.

-Keep the pressure on insurgents, particularly foriegners. Cut deals with locals, but never in such a way that US forces are barred from towns. Keep insurgents running. They are far less effective when forced to 'pop up' in other cities where they dont have a secure base.

-We need more troops for the next 6 months. Take them from the Balkans and South Korea. Period.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 11.09.04 at 09:52 AM [permalink]

In the post-colonial era (after WW-II), insurgencies (at least on the scale seen in Iraq) are rarely put down by a 'foreign' government. Historically, its been local or bordering governments. Even local governments generally have political settlements to put down an insurrection.

The French, of course, were spectacularly unsuccessful in the post-WW II era in putting down insurgencies. They failed in both Vietnam and Algeria. We failed in Vietnam. The Soviet Union failed in Afghanistan.

The British gave up most of their posessions witout much of a fight. In Malayisa , the British had some success against insurrection. IReland is a more complicated story, but its certainly not been an unqualified success.

China was able to crush Tibet without much of a fight. There was no real armed rebellion in this case, though. The Vietnamese did defeat Khmer Rouge guerillas in Cambodia.

Overall, in the post-colonial period, insurrections have rarely been successfuly beaten.

posted by: Fisk on 11.09.04 at 09:52 AM [permalink]

We _want_ to leave.

Sez you. If we were to actually put down the insurgency and establish order wouldn't the Bush administration choose to keep all those bases it originally planned on?

posted by: Toadmonster on 11.09.04 at 09:52 AM [permalink]

Fisk: absolutely correct. However... insurgencies were almost always crushed and impotent during WW2, particularly in nations conquered by Japan (the French resistance has been completely over-lionized, it had minimal effect on the wars outcome). Technology of insurgents hasnt changed revolutionarilly since then.
Why? First tactics. The WW2 method of putting down insurgents was swift and complete brutality. That works, but its clearly not our best option (it may have a place, at least as a threat).
More importantly, critical national interest. Whether Japanese in China or Americans on Okinawa, losing was not an option. The same could never be said for the French in Indochina or Algeria, or the Americans in Vietnam, or the Russians in Afghanistan. The less vital the interest, the greater possibility of defeat by the insurgents. There is something about a vital threat that focuses resources and will. Iraq is perhaps not a vital interest, but it is clearly a much more critical interest than Somalia or Vietnam. We havent seen it on the civilian reconstruction side sadly, but on the military side there is certainly a sense of crtiical importance.
Finally, there is another way to win over guerillas, particularly ones so infiltrated and partially co-opted by foriegn zealots. That is to physically demonstrate the way you are offering is far better than the alternative their actions provoke. We need to rebuild faster than they tear down, we need to show them democracy while Zaqawi blows up school kids, we need to show them a proud national government made up of all sects. We can do all these things and have a great chance at victory, but they wont happen by themselves, and there are historical examples to point to. This is not an unwinable war.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 11.09.04 at 09:52 AM [permalink]

Belmont Club has a great assessment ofthe strategy, if anyone's interested:

posted by: Tony on 11.09.04 at 09:52 AM [permalink]

"Answer hazy, ask again later."

"The ionization cloud during re-entry blocks all communications."

Trying to track this battle while it is going on is pretty silly. Only the U.S. military knows what is going on and they won't disclose anything which might impede operations.

posted by: Tom Holsinger on 11.09.04 at 09:52 AM [permalink]

I just really hate this business of announcing offensives months in advance and leaving it to frontline commanders to try and scrape up some small scraps of tactical surprise.

I don't know that the first assault on Fallujah last April after the Blackwater incident was the best thing to have done, but it did make some very substantial progress -- largely, I think, because the enemy wasn't expecting the Marines to come after them so quickly. They've had months to prepare for this week's battle, which means getting the key leaders out of town and fortifying a built-up area so that it can't practically be cleared without leveling most of it.

And we will lose Marines and GIs because the job started last April was not finished.

posted by: Zathras on 11.09.04 at 09:52 AM [permalink]

The stated (I think) rational for the Faluja campaign is

1) that major population centers must be brought under control if elections are to mean anything.

2) that the insurgency will be greatly hindered by taking away its urban infrastructure in places like Faluja

I think rational people can see from the violence around Iraq in the last two days *while Faluja was been cordoned off *the insurgency has not been hindered, at least in the short run.

As for 1), surely some sort of negociation would have gained access for a UN team of observers during the elections. At least it could have been tried.

Face it, this campaign is 90% revenge, ordered by a President with a 3% mandate.

posted by: stari_momak on 11.09.04 at 09:52 AM [permalink]

I think it would be an interesting exercise to ask how a military action designed to topple the regime of Saddam Hussein would have differed from the present action if it were carried out in March 2001 instead of March 2003.

Once the administration decided action against Iraq would be politically more feasible if it were to link Iraq with al Queda, and then created this vague "war on terror" notion, I think we lost the ability to discern what our end goal should be in Iraq.

Too many agendas from various factions in the US have been allowed by a weak president to be inserted into what should should have been a much more straight forward military action. Oil industry interests, Israeli security interests, economic shock therapy supporters, privatization of noncombat military tasks promoters, wider Middle East democracy advocates, stepping stone bases across the globe advocates, and others all seem to have had the upper hand at various times during the last 18 months. The result is that we have no clear end goal. We have managed to offend every interest group in Iraq at one time or another depending on which particular policy advocates had the upper hand at a particular time.

posted by: lansing on 11.09.04 at 09:52 AM [permalink]

It's amazing that some here think insurgency represent the will of Iraquis. Most of acounts talk about intimidation and forced cooperation.

posted by: lucklucky on 11.09.04 at 09:52 AM [permalink]

Its truly amazing how smoothly and mistake free some of the people around here think a war can be run.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 11.09.04 at 09:52 AM [permalink]

Mark, that's an old lie, but thanks for trying.

This admnistration was repeatedly warned about - well, about just about everything. The sheer difficulty of conquering a country vs. smashing an army in a campaign, the need for a large number of boots on the ground at once, the need to prevent civil disorder, the need to not piss off people unnecessarily, ....

And their reaction was to systematically ignore advice, and exclude those who wouldn't toe the ideological line.

The present situation is the fault of this administration. And of those who voted for it.

posted by: Barry on 11.09.04 at 09:52 AM [permalink]

I have read a lot of arguments and counter arguments concerning the chances of defeating the insurgency. Suffice to say, this is not Vietnam, and it is not Algeria. It's its own crazy mix of competing and collaborating forces. One thing is clear, however: The insurgency is doing amazingly well after just a year and a half. A year ago, I could not have imagined the U.S. mounting major tank assaults on Iraqi cities. This does not bode well for the success of the mission. These are ham handed tactics that are not well designed to get at the enemy. The more dead civilians, the more destroyed buildings, the more ineffective we look. As we are blowing up buildings they are busy slaughtering hapless Iraqi police and national guard. This war may not be unwinnable, but if we don't get a lot smarter real soon it will be lost.

posted by: haydar on 11.09.04 at 09:52 AM [permalink]

I like reading "The Belmont Club" too, but it must be pointed out that the Belmont Club borders on the delusional at times.

That is the site that, after the 1st withdrawal from Fallujah, explained that it was clever military tactics. Au contraire, it was clearly a decision based on Iraqi or Arab political considerations - so clearly that anybody believing otherwise must be considered to be not completely in contact with reality.

The Belmont Club also has the occasional piece about the defeat of "the Left" in its project of dismantling Western civilization.

So -- I enjoy the guy, but many of the analyses you'll find there are stuff woven of air. (Others admittedly are sharp and pertinent. But caveat emptor.)

posted by: TheWesson on 11.09.04 at 09:52 AM [permalink]

Is it just me, or are some people talking out of our nether regions here?

haydar: You have no idea if the tactics we're using are ham-handed. To read the reports from the BBC and others, it's exactly the opposite. This Fallujah campaign constitutes a major tank assault? The VII Corps assault in Desert Storm was a major tank assault. This is nowhere near that scale.

Maybe you should talk to Tom Holsinger, he doesn't think we can know anything about tactics or the course of the battle unless we learn it from the US military.

Njorl thinks we're forcing the Kurdish Iraqi soldiers to help us in Fallujah. Hey, they could always desert like the Shia ones did.

Stari: How exactly did the Marines have cellular calls in Fallujah cordoned off this last month? Or did you think the insurgents were passing notes via Camel Express or something? Gosh, maybe somebody planned for the inevitable assault on Fallujah and told people to launch attachs when it began!

Naah, that's crazy talk. Now, that letting the UN in thing, that was a good idea. Because the UN has just LOADS of credibility in Iraq. I mean, it's working in Darfur, right?

Oh, wait. Damn.

Sheesh, people. Can we apply some critical thought to this stuff before we comment? As they used to say, "Open mouth, insert foot, echo internationally".

posted by: Tony on 11.09.04 at 09:52 AM [permalink]

As I understand it, the Belmont Club's analysis of the attack on Fallujah is that an insurgency deprived of a base is greatly weakened.

That's a good argument. But it also occurs to me that a insurgency which has a good degree of popular support can, in effect, find/rebuild a base anywhere. (Unless the anti-insurgency force is present everywhere - e.g. via massive manpower.)

I don't think they have significant infrastructure to destroy. Their command structure, such as it is, can be reassembled anywhere that it would not be brought immediately to the attention of the occupying authority. I think in this case, that includes most of the Sunni Triangle.

Even this somewhat pessimistic analysis begs the question of whether the overall support of the insurgency (politically and militarily) is increased or decreased by attacks such as the current one on Fallujah.

My viewpoint has generally been that extremely sharp, brutal response is what has been necessary to quell insurgencies in the past ("No, you cannot hide in my house, because if they discover you here, they will kill me and my entire family.")

I suspect that the Coalition (well, the US) is not politically capable of such a response, not least because of fears about the general reaction among the wider Arab population.


posted by: TheWesson on 11.09.04 at 09:52 AM [permalink]

The Wesson: You're quite right. Wretchard can be a bit fanatic when there's no serious large-scale action going on.

As a straight analysis of what the forces are doing, which objectives they're aiming at, what their posture might be, etc. he's been spot-on several times.

Caveat emptor, though. It's a fair comment.

posted by: Tony on 11.09.04 at 09:52 AM [permalink]

Whatever the results of this action, the elections end-game still strikes me as suspiciously oversimplified. I get the impression that Sadr and the Shia have remained quiet mainly because they foresee themselves as the potential majority winner.
If on the other hand the government is arranged to stifle the lopsided population representation I think we really have to wonder how quiet the Shia will remain.

posted by: Harry Truman on 11.09.04 at 09:52 AM [permalink]

I think, until the carrots and the sticks both get bigger, we're going to continue to have trouble with the resistance.

My worry is that we won't have the ability to increase the carrots or the will to find a thicker branch.

posted by: Tony on 11.09.04 at 09:52 AM [permalink]

I think that part of our strategy has been, for lack of a better label, "Flypaper II". Both domestic Baathists and foreign jihadis have flooded into Fallujah and a few smaller Sunni Triangle towns and launched terror strikes and kidnappings from them, rather than dispersing into widely distributed cells and attacking all over the country simultaneously. This shaheed concentration was permitted, and perhaps facilitated, by the US military, which then recently surrounded and isolated them. And now, the Venus Flytrap is snapping shut and our Air Force, Army and Marines can kill them en masse, and are busily engaged in doing just that.

posted by: Salamantis on 11.09.04 at 09:52 AM [permalink]

Except for the ones that left last week of course.

posted by: Harry Truman on 11.09.04 at 09:52 AM [permalink]

I think Tom Holsinger has it right.

We won't get a clear picture of what's happening in Fallujah until the US military has no reason to keep it secret and no reason to lie about it.

Possibly as early as 2010.

Guessing from first principles, it makes sense that all fallujan civilians who're willing to leave will be gone by now. We weren't stopping them from leaving for a while there, and they have no reason to stay and be killed. Everybody who's still in Fallujah wants to be there, there are no innocent civilians.

They similarly will have moved out everything they need that they don't particularly need for the defense of fallujah. Everything left there will be destroyed, so why leave it there? They might have such a big armory there that they couldn't move it out. They can be expected to be converting as much of that as possible into IEDs etc and placing them wherever they might be useful. The whole point of leaving anything in fallujah is to attack invaders with it.

Their only viable strategy has all along been to attack our supply routes. They can't hope to match us in stand-up battle. But they've only made nuisance attacks against supply convoys. Is that all they can do? Or have they been refining tactics and training crews, with the idea of doing a whole lot of that all at once? The fallujah debacle is one reasonable time for them to step up those attacks, if they can.

Meanwhile, our attack on fallujah has no particular tactical or strategic significance, its importance is political. How will we know what political result it has in iraq? We won't know and the US military won't know until the iraqis tell us. But the political effect in the USA is obvious. After we retook Samarah last time we got a groundswell in wingnut support for the war. They were telling everybody who'd listen how it showed the insurgents were losing. They were *really* *happy*. This will be like that only more so. Unless we miscalculate and take too many casualties or something. But there's no reason that should happen. With liberal use of airstrikes and artillery we should be able to keep our casualties down pretty well.

posted by: J Thomas on 11.09.04 at 09:52 AM [permalink]

Everybody who's still in Fallujah wants to be there, there are no innocent civilians. -- J Thomas

BS. Fallujah is a city of 200-300,000 people. Everyone can't evacuate.

As for Salamantis' theory that this was a deliberate Venus fly-trap strategy, the top Marine commander shot that one down months ago.

posted by: Carl on 11.09.04 at 09:52 AM [permalink]

The only thing more dangerous than historic analogy is the ignorance of history.

Munich, 1936 has been used to justify more foolishness than I have time to go into now, but we must continue to look at historic examples to both temper our facile assumptions and to have some imperfect guide to measure progress.

Take for example the comment that the Iraqi insurgency is not “popular”. An insurgency’s job is not to be popular--its aim is to sharpen contrasts—the local population’s choices must be limited to being between siding with infidels (and traitors) or local patriots. However, narrowing choices must be reconciled with Mao’s dictum about fish swimming in a friendly sea. Any rational analysis will show that the insurgents are showing no signs of losing the local population's sustaining support while at the same time they are increasing their ability to intimidate Iraqis from joining the fight along side the US military. They have had less success at getting the Iraqis to not join “Iraqi” Army units in the first place, but given the recent cold-blooded massacres of Iraqi Army recruits and police, I would hazard to guess that the momentum is on the insurgent’s side.

That said it has to be pointed out that, no matter how foolish the invasion of Fallouja may seem the US Marines are doing an excellent job of minimizing civilian casualties. Indeed, it’s hardly the point. The insurgents have had seven months to move bases, and the reports so far make it clear that that is exactly what they did, leaving a skeleton crew behind to put up some token resistance, the Battle of Fallouja II is close to irrelevant. Just imagine the insurgent’s war councils back in late September. Given the choice to do things by the books and get the hell out of dodge or stay and take on the full weight of US firepower, do you really think there were many votes to dig in and fight?

One needs liberal amounts of factor 36 Sunblock applied in strange places when reading Wretchard during major military operations. That guy’s pumping some serious sunshine up the orifices of his readers. It is indeed entertaining, just like reading Sidney Sheldon was back when I was fifteen, but it should be clear that the Belmont crowd are charter members of the faith-based delusional society and be taken as seriously as The Other Side of Midnight is.

posted by: Kevin de Bruxelles on 11.09.04 at 09:52 AM [permalink]

". Both domestic Baathists and foreign jihadis have flooded into Fallujah and a few smaller Sunni Triangle towns and launched terror strikes and kidnappings from them, rather than dispersing into widely distributed cells and attacking all over the country simultaneously"

while simultaneously flooding out of Faluja to attack Iraqi police, US soldiers, and kidnap(!) members of Allawi's extended family. Thus dimned elusive shadeedi.

posted by: stari_momak on 11.09.04 at 09:52 AM [permalink]

The "flypaper" theory ought to be considered, along with the "throwing out rotten beef carcasses to warm gently in the sun" theory.

It's quite possible that the best metaphor for Fallujah is "spanking a rotten beef carcass to get rid of the flies."

To continue the metaphor, you'll kill some flies (those that choose to stick around) and disperse the rest, at least until you throw the rotten beef carcass on the ground again.

To stretch the metaphor still further, to get rid of the flies you'd have to sterilize your beef carcasses and throw fly-netting over all the beef carcasses you have lying around.

To bring that back to reality, here's my take on it: To quell the insurgency, you'd have to sweep Iraq city by city, with massive concentrations of manpower (search every house thoroughly, document all irregularities, and confiscate all weapons), and ensure somehow that the insurgency can't re-infiltrate in any numbers. You'd also want to seal the borders.

The suggestion above of a national ID card seems rather pertinent. Would be useful for elections too.


Unfortunately, now it's looking like the January elections won't really be free elections. I'll have to dig up that reference, I guess - what I recall is the slate of candidates will be limited (by the US) and that exile votes will be counted.

In other words, people will vote, but the deck will be stacked.

Let the beef carcasses warm gently!

the wesson

posted by: TheWesson on 11.09.04 at 09:52 AM [permalink]

Karl, I've seen unverified reports that all but 50,000 people have left Fallujah. I can imagine it. They couldn't evacuate 200,000 people in a week but they could in three months. That averages to about 2,000 a day.

Since the continuing airstrikes have shown them what to expect from a cold-blooded assault, and without an assault they can all expect to be bombed sooner or later, it sure makes sense to get out.

That doesn't say they did, since after all the reports that they did could have been released mainly to persuade the public that civilian casualties won't be an issue.

But it has been reported and it's reasonably plausible that it could be true.

posted by: J Thomas on 11.09.04 at 09:52 AM [permalink]

TheWesson, if the election doesn't look to iraqis like an open free election it will be pretty much useless.

I mean, why bother? We'd do better to just keep Allawi than have an election the iraqis don't accept. Hell, we might as well give the country to Diem to run. Except he's dead.

posted by: J Thomas on 11.09.04 at 09:52 AM [permalink]

Yeah, I'm rather worried that we've ousted a Saddam, only to turn to a Saddam-lite. Worse, a Saddam-lite who is limited in his ability to control the country (because, say what you will about the US, they won't countenance hundreds of thousands of political murders per year) - and who will therefore become a rather weak puppet basically propped up by American forces.

This is a recipe for a Vietnam-like situation. Americans propping up a disliked ruler would increasingly bring nationalism even more to play on the part of the insurgents ... and that is really a no-win situation. Well, no-win without an extreme national commitment on the American side.

I'm afraid it could end up in years of slow bleeding for the US and Iraq.

We'd be better off with a straight democratic vote, standing back as some sort of fracas erupts, and then trying to make some sense of the situation after the dust settles. Pitch in on the side of whoever has the best claim to be for democracy.

Sometimes there's nothing like a war to make people not want to have a war.

the wesson

posted by: TheWesson on 11.09.04 at 09:52 AM [permalink]

>Ireland is a more complicated story, but its >certainly not been an unqualified success.

Well, the initial position of the British government and pro-British settlers in Ireland was that Ireland was an integral part of a United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

Civil war seemed to be coming to Ireland before the First WW, and the First WW split the United Kingdom. How's that for a qualified success?

posted by: sm on 11.09.04 at 09:52 AM [permalink]

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