Skip to comments.U.S. Preparing Long Iraq Drive to Quell Unrest
Posted on 04/10/2004 12:42:37 PM PDT by demlosers
ASHINGTON, April 10 American commanders are preparing for a prolonged campaign to quell the twin uprisings in Iraq, issuing orders to attack any members of a rebellious Shiite militia in southern cities relentlessly while moving methodically to squeeze Sunni fighters west of Baghdad until they lay down their arms.
Officials in Baghdad and at the Pentagon said the military was prepared, if no peaceful solution materializes, to use two distinct sets of tactics to counter what they viewed as two different insurgencies both of them dangerous and complex situations on difficult urban battlefields.
One campaign would entail retaking cities around Baghdad, if necessary block by block against an entrenched Sunni foe. The other would involve a series of short, sharp, local strikes at small, elusive bands of Shiite militia in southern cities, continuing until the militia was wiped out. Even as commanders offered a cease-fire to Sunnis in Falluja, allowing Iraqis to try to find a peaceful solution, and postponed any assault on Shiites in Najaf and elsewhere during religious holidays, they prepared for campaigns against foes who showed unexpected discipline and ferocity this week.
"We are on a war footing," said a senior military officer in Baghdad.
President Bush, in his weekly radio address, made clear on Saturday that the battle could last for weeks, after a week in which fighting in Iraq took the lives of 46 American soldiers, several allied soldiers and hundreds of Iraqis. "This week in Iraq, our coalition forces have faced challenges, and taken the fight to the enemy," the president said, without mentioning the exceptionally high rate of casualties. "And our offensive will continue in the weeks ahead."
Senior Pentagon officials and military officers reaffirmed their decision to "confront head-on and defeat" the militiamen loyal to Moktada al-Sadr, the Shiite cleric leading an insurrection across southern Iraq.
A senior Pentagon official conceded that the conflict with Mr. Sadr's militia had been thrust upon the Americans at an inopportune time, just as they were trying to knit together a broad-based government to establish Iraqi sovereignty on June 30. "Attacking the Sadr militia was not an option anybody wanted," one senior Pentagon official said. "Now we have to go out and do it."
Assessments by American military intelligence put the strength of the Sadr militia at between 300 and 400 hard-core fighters, but note that it can rouse between 3,000 and 6,000 foot soldiers or other sympathizers.
Already, "We think we have taken away a significant capability," Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy director for operations of the military's task force in Iraq, said in a telephone interview. "It no longer is an offensive threat; but it still remains a threat." General Kimmitt said the order had gone out "to destroy the Sadr militia deliberately, precisely and powerfully."
But now the militiamen who took control, to varying degrees, in Kut, Kufa, Najaf and a section of Baghdad called Sadr City have broken into small groups, with some already seeming ready to melt away to fight another day. "We believe that many who were wearing the Mahdi Army uniform last Saturday have tucked it under the bed and put their AK's back in the closet," one senior military officer said.
That means detailed intelligence will be required to identify the militia's leadership and important fighters, a factor noted by Mr. Bush in his radio address, which carried a warning of the "struggle and testing" that lay ahead. In Falluja, he said, the Americans "are taking control of the city, block by block." In the south, he said, "they have taken the initiative from al-Sadr's militia."
"Prisoners are being taken, and intelligence is being gathered," Mr. Bush said. "Our decisive actions will continue until these enemies of democracy are dealt with."
But unless something changes, continued fighting of the ferocity of the past week implies continued high casualties on both sides.
Military officials in Baghdad and Washington said commanders had been surprised by the fierceness of the Sadr militia, and by the discipline shown by a number of the Sunni fighting units that engaged marine forces in Falluja and Ramadi in the restive region west of Baghdad.
In past months, much of the anti-coalition violence in the Sunni triangle had come from explosives dropped along roadways, mortars or rockets set up to launch on timers or brief sneak attacks, which officers call "shoot and scoot." But engagements this week, in particular a firefight that claimed the lives of a dozen marines, were set-piece, coordinated small-unit actions, or what one officer called "a stand-up fight between two military forces."
"This is an area that has harbored pro-Saddam individuals who benefited from the regime," said one senior Pentagon official. "Our challenge is to win their hearts and minds, to convince them that a better Iraq is in their future. But the challenge in that is to convince them while they're shooting at us and we're shooting back."
The military ordered a suspension of combat operations in Falluja on Friday in hopes that meetings between community leaders and members of the American-appointed Interim Governing Council might allow the delivery of food and medicine and the care of the wounded. On Saturday, they offered a more expansive cease-fire. But continuing Marine Corps operations were intended to illustrate commitment there and in Ramadi, and to convince Sunni fighters that resistance cannot prevail. "These were not negotiations," said one senior military officer. "These were discussions. And we are prepared to continue offensive military operations if the fighters do not lay down their arms."
So even as marines at Falluja announced that they would allow women and children to leave the city and food and medicine to enter, after inspection, they also called in AC-130 gunships and 500-pound laser-guided bombs from jet fighters when they came under fire.
"We will always be humanitarian in our efforts," Maj. Gen. James N. Mattis, commander of the First Marine Division, wrote in an e-mail message. "We will fight the enemy on our terms. May God help them when we're done with them."
As commanders weigh the need for additional troops to flatten the crest of violence, troops of the First Armored Division have been told they may be held in Iraq for up to 90 days past their planned departure this month. Pentagon officials also are considering whether to order into Iraq additional troops previously not part of the current rotation plan.
Military officers noted privately that they were confident their soldiers could win at the battlefield level, but noted that their combat missions carried a heavy political component: they are ordered to respond with decisive force, but to do so with such precision as to not agitate the broader Iraqi population. The task was framed by a leading Democrat on the Senate Armed Services committee as "a terrible dilemma."
"We cannot sit back and let these attacks go without response, but then our response runs the risk of engendering more resistance and more sympathy for the attackers," said the senator, Jack Reed of Rhode Island.
William L. Nash, a retired Army major general and veteran of the 1991 Persian Gulf war and the Bosnia mission, said that while combat in Falluja, Ramadi, Najaf and other hot spots drew public attention, "the key to success remains in the political field, not the battlefield."
Not to be insensitive to our great warriors on the hunt world-wide, but this WAAYYY overstates the case. The casualty rate in minuscule compared to any other war in our history, excluding Desert Storm, and is even exceeded by the occasional "police action". New York F'ing Times. Fifth Columnists!
For those in the Liberal enclaves, "According to Britannica.com, a fifth column refers to any clandestine group or faction of subversive agents who attempt to undermine a nation's solidarity."
That's the first time I've seen any major media recognize the situation for what it is, a political crisis not a military crisis.
The wednesday night news on one Canadian network sounded like the fall of Saigon was happening all over again.
IMHO, you could put a .308 between the eyes of the top 200 or 300 Sunni insurgents -- not causing another dime's worth of damage to anyone or anything -- and the "broader Iraqi population" would be plenty agitated.