Thursday, November 18, 2004

How important is Falluja

Interpretations of Falluja are on a spectrum from "Whackamole" (insurgents will redeploy, aka flee) to "striking at the heart" (US administration rhetoric).

Truth somewhere in between? From Fallujah, Thomas Friedman writes:

How important is taking Falluja? Huge. Falluja was to the Iraqi insurgency what Afghanistan was to Osama bin Laden. It was the safe haven where militants could, with total impunity, plan operations, stockpile weapons and connect the suicide bombers from abroad with their Iraqi handlers. That's gone. One arms cache alone found here had 49,000 pieces of ordnance, ranging from mortars to ammo rounds. Another arms cache blown up last week kept exploding for 45 minutes after it was hit, a senior U.S. officer said. (New York Times, 18 Nov)

From another part of the planet, Greg Palast observes:

Falluja Arithmetic Lesson
Monday, November 15, 2004

by Prof. Greg Palast

Today's New York Times, page 1:"American commanders said 38 service members had been killed and 275 wounded in the Falluja assault."

Today's New York Times, page 11:"The American military hospital here reported that it had treated 419 American soldiers since the siege of Falluja began."

Questions for the class:

1. If 275 soldiers were wounded in Falluja and 419 are treated for wounds, how many were shot on the plane ride to Germany?

2. We're told only 275 soldiers were wounded but 419 treated for wounds; and we're told that 38 soldiers died. So how many will be buried?

3. How long have these Times reporters been embedded with with military?

Bonus question: When will they get out of bed with the military?

Today's New York Times, page 1:"The commanders estimated that 1,200 to 1,600 insurgents had been killed."

Today's New York Times, page 11:"Nowhere to be found: the remains of the insurgents that the tanks had been sent in to destroy. ...The absence of insurgent bodies in Falluja has remained an enduring mystery.""

"Every time I hear the news
That old feeling comes back on;
We're waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the Big Fool says to push on."
- Pete Seeger, 1967

And in a move that looks significant (see Juan Cole, 18 Nov), 47 Iraqi political parties announce boycott of January elections:

Forty-seven Iraqi political parties, including many with a religious base, have announced that they will boycott the planned January elections. They met at the Umm al-Qura mosque in Baghdad under the auspices of the Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars and its allies among Sunni fundamentalists, but they were joined by 8 Shiite parties and one Christian one. The Iraqi Turkmen Front and the People's Union Party (Communist) also joined in the boycott.

On insurgency, my father, Mungo Henderson, (a very young Second Lieutenant in the British Army during the"Emergency" in Kenya in the 1950s - a nasty little war) describes Iraq as "a giant West Bank with no borders - totally unwinnable".

See also this, from Daryl G. Press and Benjamin Valentino, professors of government at Dartmouth:

The history of counterinsurgency warfare is a tale of failure. Since World War II, powerful armies have fought seven major counterinsurgency wars: France in Indochina from 1945 to 1954, the British in Malaya from 1948 to 1960, the French in Algeria in the 1950's, the United States in Vietnam, the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, Israel in the occupied territories and Russia in Chechnya. Of these seven, four were outright failures, two grind on with little hope of success, and only one - the British effort in Malaya - was a clear success.

Many counterinsurgency theorists have tried to model operations on the British effort in Malaya, particularly the emphasis on winning hearts and minds of the local population through public improvements. They have not succeeded. Victory in Malaysia, it appears in retrospect, had less to do with British tactical innovations than with the weaknesses and isolation of the insurgents. The guerrillas were not ethnic Malays; they were recruited almost exclusively from an isolated group of Chinese refugees. The guerrillas never gained the support of a sizable share of the Malaysians. Nevertheless, it took the British 12 years to defeat them, and London ended up granting independence to the colony in the midst of the rebellion.

And the good news? Well, my father saw horrible things in Kenya, but he came back with an absolute understanding of the equality and worth of all human beings. He was and is no racist - something that's quite unusual in his generation.

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