Tomgram: Dilip Hiro, On the eve of the invasion of Falluja

"'We had to stop some operations until the [U.S.] elections were over,' said a senior Iraqi Defense Ministry official who requested anonymity because he's not an authorized spokesman. ‘The Iraqi government requested support from the American side in the past, but the Americans were reluctant to launch military operations because they were worried about American public opinion. Now, their hands are free.'" (Jonathan S. Landay and Hannah Allam, Bush expected to move quickly on Iraq, Knight Ridder)

"[Iraq is] a huge strategic disaster, and it will only get worse… The idea of creating a constitutional state in a short amount of time is a joke. It will take ten to fifteen years, and that is if we want to kill ten percent of the population." (Lt. Gen. William Odom, Director of the National Security Agency, 1985-88)

So let the madness begin.

In his first post-election press conference, our President said, "You asked, do I feel free. Let me put it to you this way: I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it. It is my style… and I'm going to spend it for what I told the people I'd spend it on, which is -- you've heard the agenda: Social Security and tax reform, moving this economy forward, education, fighting and winning the war on terror."

So brace yourself, because we are evidently on the eve of the spending of more than a little of that "capital" in Falluja. As I write, perhaps 10,000 American troops are at the edges of that recalcitrant city in the heartland of Sunni Iraq, supported by small numbers of recently trained, untrusted Iraqi troops who are meant, in that classic American phrase, to put an "Iraqi face" on the American battle to come. No news reports on these new Iraqi troops seem complete anymore without a quote from a skeptical American like "'These people,' says [Marine Sgt.] Scarfe, ‘will let us walk right to our death.'" And almost all reports out of Iraq indicate that these troops like the Iraqi police are thoroughly infiltrated by the insurgents. ("'The infiltration is all over, from the top ! to the bottom, from decision making to the lower levels,' says [a] senior Iraqi official.") In fact, just this weekend reports have surfaced that a Kurdish officer in the Iraqi security forces, briefed on the American plans for taking Falluja, has deserted, evidently with his briefing notes but without his uniform.

On the American side, our troops have been used as pawns in a game of political chess that certainly will leave them more exposed in any battle for Falluja than might otherwise have been the case. Our ultimate threat, of course, is that those 10,000 soldiers backed by air power and artillery will make an example of Falluja, producing an American version of the Roman solution to Carthage. It would serve as a fierce example of what might lie in store for any incompliant Sunni or Shiite city. As the intelligence outfit Stratfor recently put it in a report, "The Politics of Storming Al Fallujah": "[T]he fate of Al Fallujah will likely serve as an example to tribal leaders throughout the country who have remained undecided about their relationships with coalition forces and the IIG [Iraq Interim Government]." In other words, if you can't "liberate" them, crush them.

With the power of that threat in mind, our offensive against Falluja has been one of the slowest developing and most publicly announced events of recent times. This, in turn, means we have left the Fallujan insurgents all the time in the world to plan for the defense of the city or to fade away as the fighting begins. (Some Americans are already suggesting that casualties in the coming battle will reach Vietnam-era levels.) The insurgents, in turn, have been offering their own set of threats, ranging from waves of car bombs to missiles "tipped with deadly chemicals including cyanide."

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