- The Washington Times - Monday, June 14, 2004

A new Iraqi-run brigade set up to enforce peace in Fallujah has yet to begin any missions against bands of insurgents who still roam the frontier town, U.S. officials say.

Senior coalition military officials said former Iraqi Gen. Mohammed Latif, who commands the “Fallujah brigade,” has stayed in communication with U.S. Marines patrolling the region. The sources declined to say whether the Marines have urged Gen. Latif to take action or risk a renewed Marine offensive.

“We certainly have not achieved our objectives in Fallujah,” an official said. “But we have not changed coalition goals of removing foreign fighters and arresting those responsible for murdering four Americans.”

It was a reference to the March 31 killing and mutilation of four former U.S. special operations personnel who were guarding a supply convoy in Fallujah. The atrocity touched off days of gunbattles between U.S. Marines and insurgents that resulted in hundreds of Iraqi deaths, most of whom, the coalition said, were enemy fighters, not civilians.

But the carnage prompted political intervention from the now-disbanded Iraqi Governing Council.

By May, the United States recruited Gen. Latif to command a brigade of Iraqis. The Marines then vacated Fallujah and now watch the town from afar. The hope was Gen. Latif would clean up the town, but he immediately declared that all foreign fighters had left the city, a statement disputed by the United States.

Gen. Latif’s lack of action comes despite a June 9 rebel attack that killed 11 brigade members. Some military officers say the brigade’s impotence underscores a perception that anticoalition mujahideen fighters won the battle of Fallujah.

“The forces in Fallujah do not actively patrol in the city but secure it from outside the city and keep the main routes open,” said an American military officer in Iraq.

The insurgency is made up of foreign fighters, loyalists to ousted dictator Saddam Hussein and religious extremists who see Fallujah as a birthplace for hard-line Islamic rule in Iraq.

The senior coalition official said Marine commanders, for now, are looking at the problem long term.

He conceded, “Tactically, one could make the argument this is not a raging success.”

But the official did point out that there is no increase in violence inside the city of about 300,000. Nor do intelligence reports indicate that the insurgency is strengthening. The main fear is that an increasing number of Islamist extremists have taken to the streets to try to instill a Taliban-style government.

“There is a little bit of extremism, but the Iraqi people are growing tired of this,” the official said.

“What’s the advantage of jumping in with military force,” he said, adding that the Marines could probably clean out the insurgency in a matter of days, but at a cost of more lives.

“Patience is not eternal on this,” he said.

Although the Marines have backed off in Fallujah, they continue to patrol Ramadi, another western city in their sector.

Almost daily, insurgents try to ambush convoys or kill Marines with roadside bombs called improvised explosive devices.

“Even if we reduce our presence, they come to us,” said the American officer. “There is plenty of propaganda that we are being engaged by a force with a different name — the ‘New Mujahideen.’”

The Fallujah-Ramadi corridor is a hotbed of coalition opposition. Foreign fighters have passed through the towns from Syria en route to Baghdad and other cities. Meanwhile, Sunni insurgents use both cities to base operations.

Yet, Fallujah Mayor Mahmoud Ibrahim al Juraisi told the Associated Press on May 28 that his city is “the calmest and the most peaceful city in Iraq.”

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