Fallujah: Phase II, Guerrilla War?
Reuters reports on the impressive coordinated tactical strike by guerrillas at Fallujah on Saturday. Some forty masked, armed men were involved, and the attack was brazenly launched in broad daylight. Late reports put the number of dead at at least 27, with dozens wounded. The London daily al-Hayat reports that four of the attackers were killed, two of them of Lebanese nationality. (There are a number of small radical Sunni Lebanese Islamist and nationalist movements, often based in Tripoli in the north, including al-Jama`ah al-Islamiyyah, Harakat al-Tawhid al-Islami and Usbat al-Ansar. One of the freed prisoners was a Lebanese captured early last week, according to al-Hayat.
My colleague, military historian and former Green Beret Tom Collier referred to it as “Phase II, Guerrilla War.” This kind of operation is beyond the ambushes, sniping and grenade and bomb attacks we have been seeing, he says.
Apparently the half-hour-long attack on the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps by one group of guerrillas was a feint, since it did not produce any significant casualties on the pro-American side. At the same time, 15 guerrillas came at the police station with rocket-propelled grenades and machine gun fire, managing to free 22 prisoners.
The attack comes in the wake of a similarly large operation, with many snipers in place, during the visit to Fallujah Thursday of US military commander in Iraq Gen. John Abizaid. From all accounts, Abizaid and others were lucky to have escaped injury, and it seems to me certain that disloyal elements in the Iraqi police informed the guerrillas of his visit. Abizaid has admitted that the Fallujah police are “not ready,” and some of them are talking about quitting. Collier wonders if the US “puppet forces” will collapse into ineffectiveness, as happened in Vietnam.
Fallujah is an almost completely Sunni Arab city of about 300,000 west of Baghdad and has been a scene of persistent violent opposition to the US presence. Some of the guerrillas are Arab nationalists, others Sunni Muslim fundamentalists, though little seems to be know about the latter.
The Scotsman says that “according to aid agency USAID there were more attacks during January than any month since September. These included 642 organised assaults involving mortars, hand-grenades and small-arms, 522 ‘random’ incidents from drive-by shootings to rock-throwing, and 11 attacks on coalition aircraft. Little wonder that, as we report today, there is a growing demand for British machine-guns and other weaponry from security firms in Iraq.”
On the positive side, it is worth reading an Associated Press piece on the returning 101st Airborn Division and Maj. Gen. Petraeus. They fought courageously against the Baath fascists, and I have formed a favorable impression of the contribution Petraeus and his troops made to post-war Mosul. Unlike some other commanders in Iraq, he came across in the press and in the emails I got from people in the north as genuinely concerned, humane and a problem-solver. He is also a straight shooter. He told AP, “There were few easy days in Iraq.”