The Second Battle for Fallujah

“Go out of our country saveges [sic],” reads the sign proudly displayed at a combined American-Iraqi outpost in Karma, just northeast of Fallujah. “If you don’t we shall kill you all because you are terrorists and killers.” It’s signed “Islamic Resistance.”

The “saveges” aren’t leaving anytime soon, but not for lack of trying on the part of the enemy. During the week I spent in the Fallujah area, in the vast rough-and-tumble Sunni province of Al Anbar that’s a way-station for Jihadists between the Syrian border and Baghdad, I heard countless firefights, repeatedly felt the thumps of outgoing howitzer fire from Camp Fallujah, was targeted by heavy mortars, and visited two Iraqi Army (IA) observation posts that had just been attacked.

It wasn’t like Ramadi, a terrorist hotbed closer to Syria where I was personally in two firefights. And yet when I was in Fallujah for over a week last year I never heard a single firefight or a single explosion, friendly or enemy.

After the hard-fought Battle of Fallujah in November 2004, is the enemy slowly taking back the area? Is beating off enemy attacks somehow better than not having them at all?

As I discuss in this week’s issue of the Weekly Standard, in “Back to Fallujah,” the answers are not simple. But what’s happening now in Fallujah illustrates what must be done if we are to ultimately defeat the insurgents and terrorists throughout all of Iraq.

Part of the uptick in violence is simply because when I was there in May, 2005, residents had just started trickling back to their homes. Now they’re back and the enemy can hide among them.

Yet the other reason almost certainly has something to do with the Iraqization program. At it’s highest, U.S. troop strength in the area was something above 3,000. Now it’s down to about 300, with a few thousand IA and IP (Iraqi Police) filling the vacuum. (Exact numbers are confidential.)

The bad guys continue to attack Marines, but around Falluja at least they prefer Iraqis. Is that because they’re softer targets?

Col. Thomas C. Greenwood says no. “I think the insurgents target the Iraqis not because they’re lesser fighters; I think it’s because they can have a huge psychological effect. Any small victory they score helps them. It puts a damper on recruiting and allows the local populace to see insurgents have strength.”

Greenwood is assistant chief of staff for Marine advisers to all three branches of the Iraqi security forces: the army, the border forces, and the police.

There’s truth to his claim. But it remains that the enemy needs softer targets. I watched a video that had fallen into coalition hands of an attack on a Falluja police station with a surrounding wall. The film depicted one bad guy firing a rocket propelled grenade while running, making the odds of hitting the target slightly less than zero.

Another fired his light machine gun at a wall directly in front of him, while yet another kept tripping over the ammo belt that dangled from his weapon. Others simply held their weapons above their head and fired over the wall.

It also remains true that the IP and IA provide softer targets; they are not yet up to the job of defeating these Keystone Kop “warriors.”

The police are still woefully undertrained and undermanned; they spend all too much time sitting in their reinforced stations and often require protection themselves.

The IA are clearly superior to the IP in terms of ability and weapons, yet they lack the aggressiveness of American troops. They seem to equate victory with merely forcing the enemy to break off an attack.

The Iraqis will never be up to American fighting standards. But they’ve greatly improved as a fighting force in the last year. Moreover, while there’s no evidence enemy numbers are increasing, the size of the IA and IP are growing dramatically.

“We only have about 3,000 IP now” in Al Anbar, Greenwood said, “but we expect to break the 10,000 point by next fall. Further, “we have about 18,000 Iraqi soldiers in Al Anbar and had only half of that last year.”

Says Greenwood, “One high-ranking Iraqi officer told me ‘Al Anbar is worse than the devil!’” But Greenwood disarmed him. “I said with your help, we’re going to make it too nice for the devil to visit.”