The U.S. military is on a course to try to subdue terrorist-infested Fallujah by force before the first national election in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq in January, according to U.S. officials.
One official said efforts to solve the persistent problem of Fallujah diplomatically were a failure, and the question now is “when, not if” to mount what promises to be bloody, street-to-street fighting.
“They are shaping the battlefield right now,” said the official, referring to the regular, precision air strikes on identified insurgent safe houses inside the city of 300,000. “Those attacks are a prelude to much bigger military action.”
The official said there is hope the air strikes will show city residents that the insurgents are losing and not to give up hope. Insurgents, including followers of international terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi, have controlled sections of Fallujah since Baghdad fell in April last year. U.S. forces have not patrolled inside the city since the spring.
Officials said Prime Minister Iyad Allawi had been cool toward a big military offensive, but has realized in recent days that it likely is the only option. The United States, however, needs more time to build up the Iraqi national guard so it can play a significant role in liberating the city, officials said.
The city has come to represent failures by the Bush administration to anticipate the postwar insurgency and the coalition’s inability to control all Iraqi provinces after the fall of Baghdad.
“We have killed a lot of them,” said the U.S. official, referring to the air strikes. The source, who asked not to be named, said an assault on Fallujah is a certainty. The source said there are 500 to 1,500 foreign and Iraqi insurgents in the city.
Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Buster Glosson, who planned the 1991 air war against Iraq, said the country cannot move to full democracy until Fallujah is tamed.
“You need to quarantine Fallujah with Iraqi national guard, U.S. special forces and United States Marines,” Gen. Glosson said. “This quarantine needs to be announced by the Iraqi government, and it needs to be put into effect immediately, not 24 or 48 or 72 hours later. Those violating the quarantine will be treated like terrorists.”
Eventually, Gen Glosson said, “They should systematically rid the city of terrorists. I mean totally. There is no other way to ensure the stability necessary for that country to have any success at democracy.”
Cleaning out Fallujah will be good not only for Iraq, but also for the United States, he said.
“The spectacle of Zarqawi beheading and killing Americans must not be tolerated anywhere in the world,” Gen. Glosson said. “If you don’t make them pay a penalty for it, more idiots will try it.”
Gen. Glosson said the U.S. military made three mistakes: not destroying the elite Republican Guard, some of whose officers now lead the insurgency; disbanding the regular Iraqi army, pushing its soldiers toward the insurgency; and stopping U.S. Marines in April as they were clearing Fallujah of terrorists.
Bush administration officials say the April cease-fire was necessary because the battle was preventing U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer III from getting all sides to agree on the makeup of an interim government.
Gen. John Abizaid said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that, “I assume that there will be certain areas of the country that will have to be fought over in order to have the elections take place.”