Skip to comments.Iraq at the Tipping Point
Posted on 11/18/2004 8:52:16 PM PST by PajamaTruthMafia
CAMP FALLUJA, Iraq
Every time I visit Iraq, I leave asking myself the same question: If you total up all the positives and negatives, where does the balance come out? I'd say the score is still 4 to 4. We can still emerge with a decent outcome. And the whole thing could still end very badly. There's only one thing one can say for sure today: you won't need to wait much longer for the tipping point. Either the elections for a new governing body happen by the end of January, as scheduled, and the rout of Saddam loyalists in Falluja is consolidated and extended throughout the Sunni triangle, or not. If it's the former, there are still myriad challenges ahead, but you can be somewhat hopeful. If it's the latter, we've got a total fiasco on our hands.
I came out to the Falluja front in a small press pool accompanying the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers, who flew in to inspect the toughest problems in Iraq firsthand. Most of the fighting in Falluja was over by the time we arrived at this headquarters compound, although the tom-tom beat of 155-millimeter howitzers, still pumping rounds into the city, was constant. Here are the questions I came with and the answers I took away:
How important is taking Falluja? Huge. Falluja was to the Iraqi insurgency what Afghanistan was to Osama bin Laden. It was the safe haven where militants could, with total impunity, plan operations, stockpile weapons and connect the suicide bombers from abroad with their Iraqi handlers. That's gone. One arms cache alone found here had 49,000 pieces of ordnance, ranging from mortars to ammo rounds. Another arms cache blown up last week kept exploding for 45 minutes after it was hit, a senior U.S. officer said.
What happens next in Falluja? The plan is for Iraqi Army, police and National Guard units to move in, restore order and hold the place so the insurgents can't retake it and voting can be conducted in January. Whether the Iraqi Army can do that is unclear. Don't believe any of the big numbers that people in Washington throw around about how many Iraqi security people we have trained. Those numbers are meaningless.
The reality is this: Where you have individual Iraqi police, National Guard and Army commanders who have bravely stepped forward to serve the new Iraq and are willing to lead - despite intimidation efforts by insurgents - you have effective units. Where you don't have committed Iraqi leaders, all you have are Iraqi men collecting paychecks who will flee at the first sign of danger. The good news: there are pockets of Iraqi leaders emerging throughout the Army and police. The bad news: there are still way too few of them.
Then do we have enough U.S. troops? No way. U.S. commanders are constantly having to make hard choices between deploying troops to quell a firefight in one place or using them to prevent one from breaking out in another. With two months before elections and the campaign about to start, Iraq remains highly insecure. And with most aid workers having pulled out, U.S. forces have to do everything. Units of the First Cavalry in Baghdad might be fighting militants in Sadr City in the morning, dealing with sewage problems in the afternoon and teaching democracy in the evening. Some of these young soldiers already have three Purple Hearts from having survived that many grenade attacks in Baghdad.
What have we learned from the many insurgents captured in Falluja? A vast majority are Iraqi Sunnis, with only a few foreign fighters. This is an Iraqi Sunni rebellion, but a senior Iraqi official told me that they had discovered Saddam loyalists who were using Aleppo, Syria, to regroup and plan operations.
Bottom line? Iraq is a country still on life support, and U.S. troops are the artificial lungs and heart. At the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit in Babil Province, which I visited, 211 marines have been injured in fighting in the past few months. But 180 of them insisted on returning to duty after being injured. U.S. forces still have a strong will to win.
But another thing remains impressively strong: The insurgents will go to any lengths to intimidate Iraqis away from joining the new government. Too many people, from cleaning women to deputy ministers, are being shot. The insurgents' strategy is intimidation. The U.S. strategy is Iraqification. This is the struggle - and the intimidators are doing way too well. Without a secure environment in which its new leadership can be elected and comfortably operate, Iraq will never be able to breathe on its own, and U.S. troops will have to be here forever.
Do we know the number of dead foreign fighters and what percentage of the total they are?
Isn't it true that in Afghanistan, the foreigners usually fought to the death while the natives were more apt to surrender?
Is it possible that as in Afghanistan the foreigners fought to the death and hence, make up a small portion of the total "captured?" If so, is it correct to draw the conclusion "This is an Iraqi Sunni rebellion?" If so, why would they allow themselves to be lead by a Jordanian?
Why does it matter? There are those who want to keep the war on terror and Iraq separated.
Iraq is central to the War on Terror....the Facts say so!!! This is another NY Times Bull S***I article!!!!
That is not his intention....can you say Quagmire?....
'We don't do body counts' - Gen. Franks, same one predicted the constitution wouldn't survive a WMD attack on American soil
We know that isn't his intention. That's why, if starting from the NYT's bias the worst he sees is positive equal the negatives we can read this as good news.
Friedman is worthless
Thomas Friedman has been hawkish, since before the war began & he began wringing his hands as soon as it started.
he may work for the NYT, but Friedman is right here.
if we don't see the iraqi security forces, national guard, and police - stepping up more over the next 3 months, I don't know where this thing is going to go. US forces cannot keep hopping from one city to the next, going house to house to take out insurgents, using our current rules of engagement, and taking casualties like we have this month, with no end in sight. I don't like having to say this, but at some point, there have to be enough iraqis willing to fight to have their own country.
True, but this particular piece has some useful information.
From article: "U.S. commanders are constantly having to make hard choices between deploying troops to quell a firefight in one place or using them to prevent one from breaking out in another - "
Why can't we find out once and for all - Are more troops needed? If so - where is the hold up? Is Rum. being hard nose or are the military brass lacking guts - ?
Also - Why does everything have to be rushed - Why are deadlines set - Are we listening to the UN or other nations (France, etc) too much and forgetting the real goal - of taking out "all" terrorist - ?
I would think a war was a war - and should be considered a war - taking a natural course to the end - at which time the enemy is defeated in such numbers to make it possible to start to rebuild or hold an election or whatever the next step would be once the war was ended -
Seems we only do everything half way anymore - and that always comes back at the U.S. 1000% or more -
President Bush got on a ship and said the big part of the war was over - we had between 100 and 200(est) dead -
Then we started playing cat and mouse(figure of speech) with the enemy - ending up with over 1,000 dead - they picked them off 2 to 3 at a time and on other days 6 to 8 or more at a time -
Now we hit that town where it was thought most were coming from or where the plans were made - and we have around 50 to 60 dead -
It appears to me we lose more men playing at war than actually fighting a war -
I know this enemy is different - but if you ask me more thought needs to go into planning on how to deal with them - as the way we are doing it now has holes - or too much political involvement - or something - Could we be listening to too many voices? At what price?
He has delved into "the Arab street", but seems to have missed doing his homework in the area of the histories of emerging democracies.
Another point along those lines. How do they know that those captured/dead are Iraqis vs say Syrians?
The ethnic groups in Afghanistan are numerous - but none of them are Arabs - making ID'ing foreign fighters less of a problem.
We know the leadership of the terrorists in Iraq is in large part foreign. We can also make a fairly logical assumption that most of the true suicide attacks are committed by Palestinians - to get any significant number of people to do such a thing you need years and years of propaganda - like in Arafat's Palestinian Authority...
We also can reasonably claim that Iran explicitly controls the Shiite "resistance", and that Syria has something of an alliance with the remains of the Iraqi Baathist Party.
The relationship of the Sunni Baathists/Syrians and the Sunni Islamists is rather difficult to ascertain. But there seems precious little fighting between them even though they are operating in the same areas (unlike Iranian proxy forces).
Well it is just a guess, the logical assumption is that the ties between AQ and Hussein's regime allowed them to cement an alliance of some sort. That would explain, for example, Hussein welcoming AQ's Zarqawi into the country for medical treatment and allowing him to stay.
As such, the notion that this "resistance" is primarily homegrown is laughable. On the most basic level ask yourself this...why did the "resistance" come into being not right after the war, but months later as Bush got bogged down by the MSM's ludicrous complaints and unable to extend the Bush doctrine to Iran and Syria???
Downtown Fallujah : Part of downtown Fallujah is seen through a bullet and shrapnel riddled board. (AFP/Patrick Baz)
Yep, and I love all the delicious corrollaries popping up since the election.
Agreed. We need to lay it out clearly that we will host elections. Trust me. We will hold elections. I think the Bush team realizes that we are going to have to get medieval on the baathists and jihadis to pull this off. And I think they are politically willing to take a good shot at it.
Once the elections are held, we need to begin a strategic withdrawal, maintaining a quick reaction force in the region. The Iraqis will have to work out their internal affairs themselves. We need to establish a strong intelligence network in-country and condition our exit with the warning that we will return if need be.
Friedman is generally on target. He just doesen't see any exit strategy. Right now, I think there is. You just can't show your hand to your opponent so Bush and Rumsfeld are keeping it mum.
I believe that we will.
N Y Times Photographer?
Is he trying to deliver a hidden message?
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