Iraqi politicians are playing a growing role in blocking U.S. commanders from unleashing fatal force on insurgents.
In the most glaring example, Adnan Pachachi, a Sunni member of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, insisted to American Administrator L. Paul Bremer that Marines cease their attacks on insurgents in Fallujah so he could initiate talks.
“We consider the action carried out by U.S. forces as illegal and totally unacceptable,” Mr. Pachachi told the United Arab Emirates-based Al Arabiya satellite channel at a time when Marines were in hot pursuit of criminals and terrorists inside the Sunni-run city west of Baghdad.
Mr. Pachachi joined other council members Friday in scolding Mr. Bremer for not consulting them before Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the U.S. commander in Iraq, ordered counterattacks in Fallujah and in southern Iraq, where firebrand cleric Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr is inciting violence.
The protests resulted in orders to end the Marine assault after forces had killed more than 400 Sunni holdouts and foreign “jihadists” who have come to Iraq to kill Americans and their allies. The Marine operation was triggered by the April 4 killing and mutilation in Fallujah of four former U.S. commandos who worked as a security detail.
The political pressure continued yesterday, as another council member, Shi’ite Ahmad Chalabi, warned the United States not to move against Sheik al-Sadr’s militia in the holy city of Najaf for fear of enraging Muslims around the world.
“Najaf must not be touched,” Mr. Chalabi, a staunch American ally, told Reuters news service.
“The Governing Council is a political body that has no military experience,” said retired Army Lt. Col. Robert Maginnis, a military analyst. “They can certainly advise Paul Bremer and the U.S. administration on the political circumstances. But they dare not tell us how to put the life and limb of Americans who are there to bring freedom into jeopardy. I’m concerned these people will do just that if we’re not careful.”
Added a defense source at the Pentagon, “Kind of hard to imagine what Gen. Sanchez was thinking when he ordered the Marines to cease fire when they were killing the enemy — all because the Iraqi leadership isn’t able to control the terrorists. Aren’t we supposed to be freeing the Iraqis from terror?”
Amid the battle for Fallujah, Arab TV channels such as Al Jazeera have reported that U.S. personnel are deliberately killing noncombatants, a charge that Gen. John Abizaid, the overall American commander, says is not true. They also have released casualty figures for civilians in Fallujah that Marine Corps commanders hotly dispute.
More than 2,000 U.S. troops are poised around Najaf, but have not yet moved against Sheik al-Sadr, a fiery Shi’ite who gets funding and encouragement from Iran.
Sheik al-Sadr unleased his private militia of ragtag fighters two weeks ago to kill coalition members.
For their part, Gen. Abizaid and Mr. Bremer are trying to settle on a policy short of an all-out military assault that could prompt mass Governing Council resignations and, thus, jeopardize the scheduled June 30 shift to Iraqi sovereignty.
“There is not a purely U.S. military solution to any of the particular problems that we’re facing here in Iraq today,” the four-star general said this week. “There may be combinations of Iraqi and American solutions to the Sadr problem, to the Fallujah problem. There may be purely Iraqi solutions that are arrived at. So it’s a combination of military and political action.”
Jack Spencer, a military analyst at the Heritage Foundation, agrees.
“I don’t think the Governing Council is dictating to our military,” Mr. Spencer said. “I think the coalition is taking into consideration all viewpoints and acting appropriately. In the case of Fallujah, we’ve seen action there again today.
“Ultimately, we need to keep in mind what our objectives are. Our objectives have to be, in least in the near term, that Iraq is not exporting terrorism or exporting weapons of mass destruction or destabilizing the region,” he said.
“Democracy will come, but it’s not going to happen overnight. And it certainly is not going to come as long as the face of government is American. So it’s very important to turn sovereignty over to them and make them stay the course. Make them responsible for that security. They’re the ones ultimately responsible for quelling the uprising,” Mr. Spencer said.