- The Washington Times - Monday, November 8, 2004

Although the celebrations and lamentations continue, President Bush’s reelection honeymoon is over. On Sunday, U.S. Marines and Army forces, aided by two Iraqi brigades, began storming the insurgent-occupied Iraqi city of Fallujah, having already taken a hospital and two bridges on the city’s western edge. Pentagon officials have refused to provide a timetable for the campaign, named Operation Phantom Fury, but the nature of urban warfare suggests that the American public should brace itself for a bloody battle. Yet the taking of Fallujah must be done.

Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon yesterday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld reiterated the necessity of ridding Iraq of insurgent strongholds, which have been attacking civilians and undermining the sovereignty of the Iraqi government. Mr. Rumsfeld also said that a retreat similar to the one that kept Marines from securing Fallujah in April will not happen. “I cannot imagine that it will stop without being completed,” he said. That’s good news, since forsaking Fallujah to the insurgents last spring has become, in hindsight, a big blunder in the Iraq war.

And that is exactly the strategy that Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is pursuing. One of the reasons for the April retreat was concern among the 25-member Iraqi Governing Council over rising civilian casualties, which were trumpeted by the Arab news network Al Jazeera. Zarqawi’s weekend counterattack, once more aimed at galvanizing the international media, killed more than 60 civilians in three cities. This time, however, the recent statements by both Mr. Rumsfeld and Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, who has imposed a 60-day emergency rule on the country, suggest that the same mistake won’t happen again.

Unfortunately, in urban warfare civilian casualties are inevitable. Back in April, Fallujah insurgents showed no hesitation in using civilian buildings, such as schools, hospitals and mosques, for defensive positions. Such street-by-street fighting seems to favor the insurgents, but there is little worry that American forces are at a disadvantage. Indeed, with aerial reconnaissance, superior night vision and smart bombs, U.S. forces not only have a strong tactical edge over their enemies, but also in minimizing the loss of innocent life.

Another consideration is whether the insurgents decide to stay and fight. It is just as possible that only a few extremists will remain in the city, while the ringleaders disperse into the countryside and neighboring towns. While this tactic has been used by guerrilla forces historically, it is by no means a course the insurgents must follow. Should Zarqawi lose Fallujah, he will have lost a major base of operations, much as al Qaeda did following the overthrow of the Taliban. As U.S. forces continue their sweep of the Sunni triangle, it might be impossible for him to regain the level of strength he had in Fallujah.

With Iraqi elections approaching in January, it is time to bring the full weight of our military power to bear on those who continue to undermine Iraqi democratization. And the hammer must fall first in Fallujah.

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