Marines pulling back from Fallujah and putting Saddam-era general in charge. Elsewhere 10 U.S. troops die in three separate incidents.
After three days of negotiations between American commanders and four former Iraqi generals, the parties agreed to replace the U.S. Marines surrounding the rebellious town with former Iraqi soldiers.
The agreement is not a cease-fire plan similar to the one in effect now. It does not depend on insurgents turning in weapons or halting hostilities.
Nevertheless, some U.S. commanders had previously believed such proposals to be dicey propositions in part because the Iraqi troops have been inactive for more than a year. It was unclear yesterday what role, if any, might be played by American advisors or special forces who ordinarily assist in such operations.
The new plan amounts to a reformation of scattered segments the Iraqi Army which was disbanded after U.S. forces toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein.
Roughly 900 to 1000 former Iraqi troops, under the command of a former Iraqi general, would constitute the Fallujah Protection Army, said [the commander of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment in Fallujah, Lt. Col. Brennan] Byrne.
It would gradually take responsibility from the Marines for stabilizing the Sunni stronghold and subduing, if necessary, any insurgent activity in Fallujah. The troops and the commanders would all be Sunni, he said.
“They’ll pick up from us,” said Byrne. “The plan is that eventually the whole of Fallujah will be under the control of the Fallujah Protection Army. The goal is that anyone should be able to come into the city without being attacked.”
The FPA, consisting of about 1,100 former Iraqi soldiers, will be under the command of a “General Salah”. A Lt.-Gen. Salah Abboud al-Jabouri, a native of the Falluja region, served as governor of Anbar province under Saddam and was the Iraqi Army’s deputy chief of staff after the 1991 Gulf War. The _Washington Post_ reports that he participated in the cease-fire talks with U.S. officers which ended that war and before the U.S. invasion last year was named by Saddam to be military adviser to Ali Hassan Majeed (better known as “Chemical Ali” for his use of poison gas against Iraqi Kurds in the late 1980s.) Majeed was the commander responsible for all forces in southern Iraq during the most recent war.
Abboud sounds like a real sweetheart. He had close ties to Saddam but He will now reportedly be under the command of Lt. Gen. James P. Conway, the commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. I just hope this guy in sufficiently vetted.
Interestingly, some of the local militia under the control of tribal leaders as well as former insurgents themselves also could be incorporated into the FPA. This is what SCIRI’s Badr Army has been agitating for in Basra and other mainly Shi’ite cities in the south for some time.
Still, I’m not sure if this is a decent and necessary idea or a another horrible, harebrained scheme that will blow up in the Americans’ faces. If the fighting stops because Fallujah rebels might be less inclined to shoot at other Iraqis, and people can enter and leave the city without getting shot, then that’s no doubt a Good Thing. Fallujah isn’t so strategic that it needs to be under direct control of the Americans. It just needs to be quiet enough so traffic can get through.
If, instead, the Americans have decided that Iraqis are going to be pissed off no matter what they do, then getting former Iraqi generals — who probably have _a bit_ of experience in dealing with _intifadas_ going all the way back to 1991 — might be the best option, militarily. Assuming they can be trusted of course. Many of the top generals in the old Iraqi army were Sunni; cracking down on uppity Shi’ites in 1991 is one thing. Cracking down on your former comrades-in-arms is quite another.
Using Iraqis to beat the snot out of Iraqis is a completely different story _politically_, however. At this point, things seem so thoroughly FUBAR in the political realm that it may not make much difference, other than to get the Iraqis troops involved marked for revenge killings by relatives of the insurgents. But hey, if they’re former Ba’athists, they were probably already marked men anyway.
The Marines seem to think it’s not a retreat.
It could also give the insurgents a way to save face — should they want one. “These people know they’ve been defeated,” said Marine Capt. James Edge, a liaison between the new force and the Marines. “They’re seeing that if they stay in the fight they will be quickly obliterated. This [deal] is an option that allows them to save face.”
I’m not so sure this is about the insurgents saving face. The Marines have the superior firepower, true, but doing what it takes to really defeat the insurgents would incur so many civilian casualties that winning Fallujah would mean losing Iraq — if it’s not lost already. Regardless of what the reality is, this can be — and will be — spun on the Iraqi street that the Marines got beat and pulled out.
UPDATE 14:12 EDT
U.S. warplanes carried out new air strikes and gunfire erupted in parts of this volatile city Thursday night, hours after Marines announced a deal to end a nearly month-long siege that has cost hundreds of lives. … The new fighting in this city 35 miles west of Baghdad came as U.S. jets pounded three areas, including Fallujah’s Golan district that has been the scene of heavy fighting in recent days between Marines and some of the estimated 2,000 Sunni Muslim insurgents in the city. Gunfire was heard from the areas as the jets roared low over Fallujah.
How will this affect the plan? No one seems to know yet.
In other grim news, 10 U.S. troops died in three incidents. Eight died in a car bombing south of Baghdad. One was killed in a convoy attack in the capital and another died from a roadside bomb in Baqoubah, north of the Baghdad. At least 126 U.S. soldiers have died in April,
UPDATE 14:36 EDT And in other news, according to a recent poll, a solid majority of Iraqis are out of patience with the Coalition and the occupation, with 71 percent saying the American and other troops are occupiers and not liberators. (If the Kurds are excluded, 81 percent say this.) Nearly half (46 percent) of those surveyed thought the occupation was doing more harm than good. Thirty-three percent said it was doing more good than harm. Because of the sampling error, whether Iraq was better off was a statistical tie with 42 percent saying it was better off and 39 percent saying it was worse off. A solid 57 percent want the occupation to end immediately. This is despite 53 percent saying they would feel more insecure if the troops left. Yes, they hate the occupation that much.
Alarmingly, more people (52 percent) said attacks against Coalition troops were always or sometimes justified, while only 25 percent said the attacks were always unjustified. Last summer, 64 percent of Baghdadis thought attacks on U.S. troops were either somewhat or completely unjustified. Support for the insurgency, then, seems to be growing. And this was poll was conducted _before_ the April violence.
The “USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll”:http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/iraq/2004-04-28-gallup-iraq-findings.htm, with a sampling error of 1.7 percentage points, was conducted among 3,444 Iraqis throughout the country in late March and early April. The polling was conducted in person, in respondents’ homes.