Stand-Down in Fallujah
The US abruptly decided Thursday not to press the Marine assault on Fallujah. Instead, it is forming a 1000-man Iraqi unit to restore order in the city, led by a former Baath officer. There is controversy about who the commanding officer will be. Al-Hayat named Major General Jasim Muhammad Salih al-Muhammadi. Western wire services said it would be Salah Aboud, former army deputy chief of staff who at one point in the early 1990s had been an aide to the notorious “Chemical Ali,” Ali Hasan Majid.
There are everywhere signs that the United States has embarked on a policy of re-baathification, rehabilitating thousands of ex-Baathists and putting them to work. Fifty former Baath officers met with Minister of Defense Ali Allawi on Thursday, expressing their deep disappointment with the current make-up of the new Iraqi army. The policy has two goals. First, it is aimed at mollifying the Sunni Arabs, who have given the US so much trouble in the past year, and from whom the high-ranking Baathists were largely drawn. Second, it serves as a threat to insurgents and Shiites, that if they continue to make trouble, they will be facing the aides of Chemical Ali.
Whoever made the decision to pull back and try to put an Iraqi face on the confrontation in Fallujah had more good sense than has been demonstrated by American leaders recently in Iraq. A bloody invasion of Fallujah had the potential of greatly deepening Iraqi and Arab hatred for the United States. It remains to see whether the new Iraqi force is up to the task of restoring order and quelling the fighters. The police in Fallujah have so far been ineffective, often admitting that they refuse to fight Iraqis on behalf of the Americans.