View Full Version : Behind the Scenes in Fallujah

04-29-04, 06:13 AM

Behind the Scenes in Fallujah

By David DeBatto

The past two weeks have seen a lull in the fighting in Fallujah, broken only by sporadic firefights between U.S. Marines and insurgents. A “truce” has been called while negotiators from both sides try and hammer out some kind of compromise that will prevent this militant hotbed from becoming a killing field for both sides. While the rest of the world watches, unseen strategies and maneuvering are no doubt taking place behind the scenes.

Rest assured, the battlefield commanders are not resting on their laurels and just hoping that the peacemakers succeed. They do want a peaceful resolution without question, but as all good commanders do, they are preparing for the worst. In this case, the worst would involve an intensification of the street fighting we have already seen on a much larger scale, to include house-to-house fighting with the inevitable higher casualties that usually accompany such actions.

Tactical Human Intelligence Teams (THT) are almost certainly working overtime developing sources for the kind of information they need to locate both the militia members as well as their weapons caches. Even in a pro-Ba’ath city like Fallujah, there are always those that will sell out their neighbor for either cash or some other favor. That may sound harsh, but that is the reality of HUMINT (human intelligence). The better the THT’s do their jobs, the more soldiers and Marines will come home after their rotation.

Another angle almost certainly being played is that of the local sheiks. They hold enormous sway with their tribes, less so in urban areas like Fallujah, but they still are a crucial link in the power structure that I am sure is not being overlooked by American military leaders.

Why are they crucial? For one simple reason; they control their tribes. Tribes are the basic social block in Iraqi society throughout most of the country. The tribes can, and have, hunted down anti-coalition forces operating within their tribal areas and turned them over to the coalition. This is a very effective way of dealing with the insurgents for two reasons; the tribes know their area and people better than the coalition ever will. Also, using local tribes to locate and capture militants and weapons caches results in zero coalition casualties.

It is a win-win situation for both the sheiks, which maintain control and prestige within their tribes, as well as for the coalition, which enjoys decreased security risks as well as the success of building a stronger relationship with local leaders. This is a formula that has been replicated, with varying levels of success (due in large part to inconsistent policies of local commanders), across Iraq and one that I hope is being used behind the scenes now.

Still another issue involves how well the coalition is involving the Islamic religious leaders. This is one of the most difficult and least successful tactics used by coalition forces thus far. What I mean by that is that we have failed, almost completely, to communicate in any meaningful way with the imams and clerics in Iraq, to include Fallujah. This is a lost opportunity for us. As with the sheiks, religious leaders in Iraq hold enormous power and in many cases even more so than the sheiks. They also have their own pecking order, which is mostly unknown to outsiders. It does exist however.

Right now, I have little doubt that senior Shia clerics are closely monitoring the situation in Fallujah and Najaf to see how the coalition forces handle the situation both in terms of forces possibly entering their holiest city and mosques as well as the conclusion of the affair involving radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

As with almost everyone else in Iraq, clerics tend to play both sides against the middle. I believe they, especially Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, would like nothing better than for the coalition to dispose of young Mr. Sadr. At this point, he is just an irritant and upstart pretender to Sistani’s leadership within the majority Shia community.

But as we have seen, Sistani has been very quiet, even for him, these past few weeks as this scenario involving his young rival has played itself out. It is a common Shia MO to let the United States do the dirty work for him in removing Al-Sadr from the scene while he sits back, far removed from the action. This same strategy has been played out since the war began last year with the coalition forces essentially removing the rival Sunni leadership from Iraq, thereby paving the way for the Shia majority to fill the vacuum. It would come as no surprise to me if that is exactly what is going on now with al-Sadr.

There are even more tactical and strategic angles being played out behind the scenes in Fallujah and Najaf right now but this is far too brief a forum to discuss them all.

Suffice to say that this is a very complex event in a war of complex events. We have paid the price in lives and casualties these past few weeks because of our inability to predict the next move of the enemy. Let us pray that this period of truce has enabled us to learn from that mistake and correct the problem.

Contributing Editor David DeBatto is a former Army staff sergeant and Counterintelligence Special Agent who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom where he was injured in combat serving in a Tactical HUMINT Team. He is currently writing a novel based upon his military service. He can be reached at info@mrdavid.net.

Ó 2004 David DeBatto. Send Feedback responses to dwfeedback@yahoo.com.