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This is an editorial from USA Today, a Gannett publication that's distributed throughout the USA. Often it's provided free to guests at hotels and on airlines. The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal are two newspapers that really have national paid readership bases.|
Battle for Fallujah opens new phase in Iraq war
As decisive moments go, the U.S.-led assault on Fallujah now underway is a big one.
It is the largest military operation since the invasion. About 10,000 U.S. Marines and soldiers along with up to 5,000 Iraqis are moving on the city, which - sitting in the sullenly anti-American Sunni Triangle - has become the symbol of a successful insurgent rebellion.
In one sense, the outcome is assured. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said Monday that he would be "amazed" if the operation is not completed - meaning the U.S. and Iraqi forces will eventually take control of the city. Fallujah will cease to be safe harbor for insurgents who "chop people's heads off," as Rumsfeld put it, an essential step if stability is to be brought to Iraq in time for elections scheduled for January.
The battle must be fought. The training of Iraqi forces delayed it. But as the U.S. and others have learned the hard way, guerrilla wars are about more than taking territory. Capturing Fallujah will open a new period that could determine whether the insurgents will be protected by the populace, or rejected in favor of peace.
A point of reference: During the 1968 Tet Offensive in Vietnam, Marines fought a similar house-by-house battle against guerrillas in Hue City. They won a textbook victory, proving the U.S. military could roll back even the most entrenched enemy. Except for one thing: In the long run, the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese won anyway.
Iraq is not Vietnam, but the circumstances do cue the cliché: You can win the battle but still lose the war. Lasting success will be measured by other, more elusive, indicators.
One is the fate of foreign insurgents, most prominently Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his followers. Zarqawi, who has ties to Osama bin Laden, has claimed responsibility for many of the kidnappings and beheadings of foreigners. Iraqis have no natural allegiance to him. Destroying his Fallujah-based movement would alter the war's complexion. It would also aid the war on terror.
More complex is the goal of winning over Iraq's Sunni population and coaxing them into the Iraqi political process, hardly an easy task.
Sunnis, formerly Saddam Hussein's pampered favorites, have much to lose in a new Iraq. Despite being a minority, they've been dominant in Iraq for more than 80 years, and they're hostile at the prospect that the more numerous Shiites might rule. A successful insurgency has convinced many to keep fighting.
A U.S. victory in Fallujah could puncture some of their cockiness. But that is an optimistic scenario. They might as easily follow the example of guerrillas elsewhere and melt away to fight another day in other places.
Just how to win them over isn't obvious. The U.S. formula to date has turned into a frustrating Catch-22. Its grand Marshall Plan to bring all kinds of good things to Iraq, from new buildings to jobs to new investment, is on hold because of the insurgent attacks. Which means that the insurgents don't see the most basic proof of what a democratic society can deliver.
Perhaps it will just take time, along with the example of the other two main groups the Sunnis have to share Iraq with: the Shiites and the Kurds. Already, there has been some talk about elections going ahead in those areas but being delayed in Sunni areas.
The best Fallujah outcome, far from guaranteed, would need to follow the Hue City script. But change the bitter end.