View Full Version : In Fallujah, a nightmare scenario of urban war

04-30-04, 06:03 AM
In Fallujah, a nightmare scenario of urban war

Heavy casualties foreseen in house-to-house combat

By Tom Bowman

Sun National Staff

Originally published April 29, 2004

WASHINGTON - As Marines prepare to head back into the rebellious Iraqi city of Fallujah, the stage is set for the most dreaded type of ground combat: urban warfare.

While military officers and civilian officials held out hope that negotiations could produce a peaceful resolution to the standoff, they stressed that force might well be necessary.

Fallujah could then pose the type of nightmare scenario that U.S. commanders expected to encounter in Baghdad last year. Some military officers and defense analysts feared that Saddam Hussein's soldiers would pull back into the city, set fire to oil-filled trenches and fire at U.S. troops from a warren of buildings and alleyways. But the capital fell with little resistance.

Marine Maj. Gen. John Sattler, operations director for the U.S. Central Command, which oversees coalition forces in Iraq, estimated that there are 1,500 insurgents in the city, a mix of foreign fighters, Baathist elements and criminals. Pentagon officials put the number higher, with 2,000 to 5,000 foreign fighters and an unknown number of local insurgents.

Those forces have spent the past two weeks of a shaky cease-fire shoring up fortifications in Fallujah, a city of 250,000 about 35 miles west of Baghdad. One neighborhood was estimated to have 800 to 1,000 foreign fighters, one official said.

Last summer, there were plans to cordon off Fallujah, seize weapons and issue identification cards, but the situation in the city "did not deteriorate" then and such measures were seen as unnecessary, said a military officer familiar with the plan.

Officials had hoped that Ramadi, another rebellious city in the so-called Sunni triangle, would serve as a model for dealing with Fallujah. In Ramadi, a combination of talks with local leaders, patrols by Iraqi security forces and infusions of U.S. money for rebuilding seemed to pacify the population, a senior officer said. Moreover, the 82nd Airborne Division, which turned over the province to the Marines in March, appeared to have a handle on the security situation.

'High-cost warfare'

Since then, violence has erupted in Fallujah, presenting Marines with the prospect of close and deadly combat that can produce scores of military and civilian casualties.

Though talks continue, some current and retired officers say the only way to gain control of Fallujah is through force.

Ralph Peters, a retired Army officer who writes frequently on military strategy, said that with the insurgents digging in, the only way to resolve the standoff and send a message of U.S. resolve is through military action.

"You've got to do the dirty work immediately," said Peters. "The Marines can do it. They can do it well."

Randy Gangle, a retired Marine colonel and director of the Center of Emerging Threats and Opportunities at the Marine base in Quantico, Va., said urban warfare presents two distinct problems, complex terrain and the possibility of mass civilian casualties.

"You've got the problem of large numbers of civilians in the battle space," said Gangle. "Morally and ethically, you don't want to harm them."

Before the latest round of attacks, the director of Fallujah's largest hospital told the Associated Press that 600 people, mostly civilians, had been killed, though the health minister in the U.S.-appointed government, Khudayer Abbas, said the death toll was less than half that.

"It's high-cost warfare," said Russell Glenn, senior military and political analyst at the Rand Corp., a think tank in Santa Monica, Calif. "Noncombatants have been the ones who have suffered in far greater numbers. They end up getting used wittingly or unwittingly as human shields."

A greater number of civilian casualties could create further political problems by feeding anti-coalition sentiment in Iraq.

Tactically, said Gangle, a force that is smaller and not as well armed can hold off a stronger attacker in an urban environment by using its knowledge of buildings and narrow streets. And overwhelming U.S. firepower can be blunted in a city, where pinpoint targeting with smaller munitions is usually needed instead of the bombs and missiles that could create a wide swath of destruction.

If the use of force is necessary to take back Fallujah, Sattler said, "We just want to make sure that fighting is as precise as it possibly can be in an urban environment and that we limit to the best of our capabilities any civilian casualties or collateral damage."

Surveillance systems, such as unmanned, picture-taking aircraft called drones, can be helpful inside a city but cannot provide commanders with the same quality of photographs that they can produce in the open countryside.

"They can't take pictures inside buildings," Gangle said.

'Three-block war'

In past urban battles, such as the Nazi siege of Stalingrad during World War II, a city was often subdued by laying waste to it. But in the past decade, the U.S. military has adopted a methodical and surgical approach, pressed by such officers as Gen. Charles C. Krulak, the former commandant of the Marine Corps, who coined the term "three-block war."

As Krulak, now retired, explained it, Marines in the future would be fighting on one block, peacekeeping on another and providing humanitarian assistance on still another.

In recent years, the Marines and the Army have set up mock cities at bases from North Carolina and Louisiana to California, where March Air Force Base in the Riverside area provided an abandoned housing area with scores of buildings for training.

Members of the 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton, Calif., who are now encircling Fallujah, spent two weeks at that urban warfare training site earlier this year honing their skills, from clearing buildings to setting up observation and sniper posts on rooftops.

Fighting in cities also means quickly getting off the streets and finding shelter. About 70 percent of military casualties in urban terrain occur on the streets, Gangle said.

Marines also practiced securing streets leading into cities as well as controlling the electricity and water supplies. A key component of urban combat is psychological operations, such as dropping leaflets and mounting radio broadcasts, in an effort to control the population.

So far, the Marines in Fallujah are using these textbook techniques. Marine snipers are setting up positions in the city, officials said, while other forces are dropping leaflets saying, "Surrender, you are surrounded."



04-30-04, 06:04 AM
U.S., Iraq Generals Reach Tentative Deal


FALLUJAH, Iraq - U.S. Marines negotiated a plan Thursday to pull back forces from Fallujah, a move that could lift a nearly monthlong siege and allow an Iraqi force led by a former Saddam Hussein-era general to handle security. Fresh clashes broke out despite news of the proposal, and U.S. warplanes dropped bombs on insurgent targets.

Ten U.S. soldiers and a South African civilian were killed in attacks elsewhere, including eight Americans who died when a bomb hit as they tried to clear explosives from a road south of Baghdad.

Negotiations were also taking place in the southern city of Najaf, where tribal leaders and police discussed a proposal to end the U.S. standoff and for followers of a radical Shiite cleric to leave the city.

U.S. military commanders met with former Iraqi generals Thursday to discuss details of the Fallujah proposal, Marine Capt. James Edge said.

However, U.S. officials in Washington and Iraq gave somewhat differing accounts on the status of any agreement.

A Marine commander in Iraq said a deal was reached but later said "fine points" needed to be fixed.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said there was no deal yet and officials were "still working on it."

Pentagon spokesman Larry Di Rita said he could not rule out that an agreement was in (AP) _ place, but he said the U.S. military command in Baghdad told him that they could not confirm it.

In an apparent gesture to help the Fallujah negotiations, U.S. authorities Thursday released the imam of the city's main mosque, Sheik Jamal Shaker Nazzal, an outspoken opponent of the U.S. occupation who was arrested in October.

One possible sticking point was a U.S. demand for insurgents to turn over those responsible for the March 31 killing and mutilation of four American contract workers, whose bodies were burned and dragged through the streets. Di Rita said winning assurances that the perpetrators would be turned over remains a U.S. goal of the Fallujah talks.

The plan for the Iraqi force outlined a surprising new way to find an "Iraqi solution to an Iraqi problem," said Marine Lt. Col. Brennan Byrne. It envisions a force of some 1,100 members called the Fallujah Protective Army.

The force, which would replace the Marine cordon and move into the city as U.S. troops pull back, would be led by a leading general from Saddam's army and include Iraqis with "military experience" from the Fallujah region, Byrne said.

It could even include gunmen who fought with guerrillas against the Americans _ particularly ex-soldiers disgruntled over losing their jobs when the United States disbanded the old Iraqi army, another Marine officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The new force would not include "hardcore" insurgents or Islamic militants holed up in the city, the officer said. Many of the guerrillas in Fallujah are believed to be former members of Saddam's regime or military.

Byrne identified the commander of the new force as Gen. Salah, a former division commander under Saddam. He said he did not know the general's full name, but Lt. Gen. Salah Abboud al-Jabouri, a native of the Fallujah region, served as governor of Anbar province under Saddam.

Marines on the south side of the city began packing up gear Thursday in preparation to withdraw and breaking down earthen berms and other security barriers. But Byrne later said the timing for a pullback was unclear.

Washington is under intense international pressure to find a peaceful solution to the standoff that has killed hundreds of Iraqis and became a symbol of anti-U.S. resistance in Iraq, fueling violence that made April the deadliest month for American forces.

U.S. Marines encircled the city of 200,000 on April 5. Hospital officials said more than 600 Iraqis, many of them civilians, were killed in the fighting along with eight U.S. Marines. But the figures were disputed by Iraq's health ministry and an exact toll was not known.

As negotiations continued, so did the fighting that Fallujah has seen since the beginning of the week. Marines and guerrillas skirmished, with blasts and sporadic gunfire heard from the northern part of the city. Residents reported buildings on fire.

Three F/A-18 Hornets flying off the aircraft carrier USS George Washington in the Persian Gulf dropped three 500-pound bombs Thursday on targets in the Fallujah area in support of Marines, Navy spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Danny Hernandez said.

Witnesses reported rockets fired into the Golan neighborhood, a bastion of the insurgency, and two houses were on fire. Ambulances and fire engines had to turn back amid the gunfire. Marines and guerrillas have clashed repeatedly in the northern district since Monday.

Inside the city, some residents breathed a sigh of relief at news of a pending deal.

"I will be so happy today. I'm hoping for a quiet night without bombs or explosions," said Hassan al-Halbousi, who spent the entire siege alone in his house after sending his family to Baghdad.

"I can't believe what we have gone through," he said. "The bombing has terrified me. No one is in the streets."

In Rome, meanwhile, the families of three Italians held hostage in Iraq led a march Thursday by several thousand people near St. Peter's Square after the abductors threatened to kill the captives unless Italians carried out a "huge demonstration" against the war.

The relatives described the march as a peace rally and said they were not giving in to the captors. Four Italian security guards working in Iraq were abducted April 12, and the kidnappers killed one of them a few days later.

U.S. forces were also in negotiations for the holy Shiite city of Najaf, where the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has been holed up.

Ahmed Shaybani, a spokesman for al-Sadr, told The Associated Press that talks were under way between Najaf police and tribal leaders about ending the U.S. standoff. He said a proposal emerged under which al-Sadr followers would hand over security to the Najaf police and the Mahdi army would leave the city.

Shaybani said the proposal would be accepted if the Americans agreed not to enter Najaf and did not act in a hostile way toward its holy sites. Al-Sadr, who is wanted in the killing of another cleric, would remain in the city.

Shaybani said he doubted the U.S. forces, which have vowed to capture or kill the cleric, would agree to the terms. But, he said, "we accepted the offer on condition that the Americans do not enter Najaf" or take action around its Shiite shrines.

Shaybani said the issue of al-Sadr and the arrest warrant should be left until after June 30, when the U.S.-appointed council would hand power to a caretaker government.

Meanwhile, eight U.S. soldiers were killed Thursday when their team from the 1st Armored Division was attacked while removing roadside bombs from a key highway, near the town of Mahmudiyah, south of the capital, the military said in a statement.

A driver in a station wagon neared the team, then "detonated an explosive device," the statement said.

Earlier Thursday, another U.S. soldier from the Texas-based 1st Cavalry Division was killed by a rocket-propelled grenade attack on his patrol in eastern Baghdad, the military said. A U.S. soldier was killed and another wounded when a roadside bomb exploded near their convoy outside the city of Baqouba, 24 miles north of the capital, the military said.

Gunmen attacked a car in the southern city of Basra, killing a South African, the fifth citizen of that country to die in Iraq.

The American deaths raise to 126 the number of U.S. troops killed in combat in April, the bloodiest month for U.S. forces in Iraq. The military said another soldier died in a vehicle accident in western Baghdad.

At least 736 U.S. troops have died in Iraq since the war began in March 2003. Up to 1,200 Iraqis also have been killed this month.



04-30-04, 06:06 AM
Specials > Iraq in Transition
from the April 28, 2004 edition

Why US troops have new shoulder pads

A new combat trauma registry that tracks casualty patterns in Iraq may spur development of new gear.

By Scott Peterson | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

FALLUJAH, IRAQ – For military medics, the lesson that matters most from Lt. Jeff Copeland's US Marine convoy is not that it was ambushed three times by Iraqi insurgents on a single run.
The key point for them: How and where were the two US casualties wounded?

As US troops struggle with ongoing violence, a newly established US Navy Combat Trauma Registry is charting casualty patterns in hopes of improving troop protection. The number of US dead in April has reached 122, with nearly 900 troops wounded.

Already, specific dangers for US forces - roadside bombs and urban warfare - are prompting swift innovations.

The military, for example, has rush ordered thousands of Kevlar shoulder guards and blastproof sunglasses. The reason? Ask Lieutenant Copeland, a US Navy combat medic officer from Gainesville, Fla., whose first taste of combat came two weeks ago. Two of his marines took shoulder injuries from bullets and shrapnel. "He's done, he's gone home - he can't shoot," Copeland says of one case. New Kevlar shoulder guards might have protected the marine and kept him on the battlefront.

Monday, Fallujah remained relatively calm as marines prepared for joint patrols with Iraqi forces later this week. But in Najaf, US forces killed 43 Shiite militiamen in a gun battle and destroyed an antiaircraft system belonging to the insurgents. Spanish peacekeeping troops also completed their withdrawal from positions in Najaf and Diwaniya.

At Camp Fallujah, seven miles east of the city, new forms arrived this week that will allow surgeons to log details of injuries and answer questions about their cause, and armor used.

Using a prototype form until now, US Navy medical corpsmen at the Bravo Surgical Company here have detailed more than 190 trauma cases.

The new forms can be filled out on computer; some medical officers nearer the front line will hold voice recorders. "All we have is this huge database from Vietnam that ... needs updating," says US Navy Capt. Eric McDonald, chief surgeon for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. "We're trying to answer those questions - which glasses are better, which armor, which vehicle is better - in a scientific way."

There has been close cooperation between the US Army and the Navy, which traditionally provides medical support for the marines. "If you watch Roman Legion movies, that is where we are getting to," says Navy Capt. John Siefert, a doctor from San Diego, Calif., referring to Kevlar shoulder guards and lower skirts on flak vests.

"I've seen mockups of the future warrior, and they look like [Star Wars] storm troopers," says Cmdr. Ben Ernst, medical director of the unit, from Chillicothe, Missouri.

Trauma centers in US hospitals today are a direct outgrowth of Army medics coping with combat trauma in Vietnam. Improvements since that era - including forward surgical teams much closer to front-line action - have trimmed front-line death rates.

In the 1991 Gulf War, ceramic armor plates were used only by Special Forces; today they are standard issue.

Parallel to the budding Navy effort, the Army has been pursuing the first stages of its own trauma registry. The birth of key innovations in Iraq, in fact, began over the winter, when the Army's 82nd Airborne controlled this area.

It was Lt. Col. Kelly Bal, an orthopedic surgeon with the Army's 82nd Airborne, who first detected the pattern of wounds to exposed shoulders.

Colonel Bal jerry-rigged a Kevlar groin protector from a typical armored vest to fit around the upper arm, says McDonald. A prototype saved a soldier. The Army quickly bought 6,000, some 2,000 of which are now being used by marines. The Marines have ordered 25,000 more shoulder protectors.

A similar story surrounds the wide use of Wiley-X sunglasses with ballistic lenses and padded frames, and toughened goggles - a direct result of blast wounds to the eyes from IEDs.

"Ideally, we would travel in hermetically sealed bubbles ... but we don't drape ourselves in this stuff [because] everything you add is a benefit, and has a cost," says McDonald. Shoulder protectors may hamper a marksman and add a heat burden. Some ballistic glasses tend to fog in heat.

Experts are also working on a better earplug that permits frequencies like voices while protecting against the noise of a nearby grenade blast. Surgeons here also expect more coverage of neck and lower abdomen areas. "The future is mining that database," says McDonald, "to find the places where benefits [of new measures] outweigh risks."



04-30-04, 06:07 AM
U.S. to give Iraqi soldiers another try


FALLUJAH, Iraq ---- When a loud crack sounded from the adjacent building in Fallujah on Thursday, the frontline Marines chalked the blast up to their noisy new neighbors and waited for the report of another "kill."

The new Iraqi Counter Terrorism Force soldiers hidden in the house next door had just fired on a man carrying an AK-47 assault rifle in a neighborhood where U.S. forces have declared there are "no friendlies."

As the violent stalemate in Fallujah bags a third week, the appearance of specially trained Iraqi snipers this week was a welcome development for Marines at the front ---- and an opportunity for the Iraqis and their U.S. Army Special Forces advisers to prove that not all Iraqi troops will cut and run when the shooting starts.

"They're doing all right ---- damned good shots, actually," a U.S. Special Forces adviser said Thursday, refusing to give his name.

He said his small team of Iraqi Counter Terrorism Forces, part of a larger group of tough Iraqi volunteers who recently returned from four months of training in Jordan, were on their way to becoming a lethal weapon against the insurgents of Fallujah and elsewhere in the beleaguered country.

"We're kind of moving in steps, one at a time," he said of enlisting the Iraqis in the fighting along Fallujah's northern edge. "They can't learn everything at once, but we're trying."

Iraqi troops motivated

The Iraqi troops sounded even more confident than their American trainers Thursday, saying that with the Marines and Army Special Forces soldiers at their sides, they could clean Iraq of "terrorists" and rescue it from anarchy within a year.

"We came to Fallujah to kill terrorists," one 31-year-old Shia soldier who identified himself as Abu Sajad said through an interpreter.

"Why else come to Fallujah," he said. "The Iraqi and American special forces will cleanse Fallujah of the terrorists and foreigners who contaminate it."

Like his comrades, Sajad wears a scarf over his face and dark sunglasses under his Kevlar helmet to hide his identity.

During a break from shooting insurgents Thursday, he and two comrades eased back into the soft couch in the living room of an Iraqi home that Marines recently "requisitioned."

Holding a heavy, black Remington sniper rifle in one gloved hand and gesticulating wildly with the other, Sajad said he was abused under Saddam Hussein.

Although he was a soldier in the Iraqi army, he said he was jailed for a year because he visited the Shia holy city of Karbala to worship at the Mosque of the Imam Hussein. Shias under the Sunni Baathist rule were barred from observing Shia holy days and festivals.

Now, he said, he and the others are fighting and killing some of those who enforced such policies, some of them former fellow soldiers in the Iraqi military who are now fighting the Americans in Fallujah.

Iraqis had shaky start

While the Army paratrooper battalion that preceded the Marines in Fallujah had organized two battalions, or about 2,000, Iraqi Civil Defense Corps troops, the Marines had only a few weeks to work with the new soldiers before they pushed the situation in Fallujah over the edge and into all-out warfare.

When the lead started flying April 5, almost all of the Iraqi troops deserted their posts, refused to show up for duty, or were not trusted by some Marine units to be allowed near the front lines.

About the only Iraqis who joined the fight in Fallujah were some 40 Iraqi Special Forces of the 36th Battalion from Baghdad ---- a ragtag militia of mostly Kurdish fighters who seemed eager to storm the city and "kill 'em all," according to their American adviser from the 5th Army Special Forces Group.

With only a handful of Iraqi troops ---- who quickly became an even smaller and almost exclusively Kurdish militia after a dozen of its Shiite members mutinied before a raid on a mosque in a nearby village ---- the U.S. leaders could hardly boast of a meaningful Iraqi contribution to the war effort in Fallujah.

It was clear that even with the transfer of power to an Iraqi government looming just two months away, the battle of Fallujah was an American fight, and a success or failure would be an American victory or failure in Fallujah ---- not an Iraqi one.

U.S. efforts to Iraq-ize the war seemed to have failed in Fallujah.

But this new group of Iraqi special forces, the ICTF, was just one of the signs that the United States might be renewing efforts to turn over the fight against the insurgents to the Iraqis themselves.

Iraqi forces, many of them the ICDC troops who deserted earlier, are training with Marines for joint patrols of the city. The patrols were promised this week, but Marine officials thought better and gave the forces more time to train together.

Another sign was the rumor circulating around the front lines Thursday night that an Iraqi general would soon be calling the shots in Fallujah, leading a force of at least 1,000 Iraqi troops into the city by today.

(Wire services confirmed later Thursday that a former general in Saddam's army would lead such forces, and that his group might be made up largely of insurgents who would switch from fighting Americans to shooting at former comrades.)

Although the development was being reported by news agencies late Thursday night in Iraq, troops on the northern and western fronts were still battling insurgents with small arms, tanks and airstrikes.

Rebels' rockets lit up the sky as they hit in the southwest, where U.S. Army soldiers have relieved some Marine units.

"I've heard that, but nothing has been passed by battalion," said Capt. Kyle Stoddard, commander of one of the Marine infantry companies in the north. "Marines have been asking me that all day. I can only tell them, 'I don't know.' "

Iraqis not ready to stand alone

The Iraqi special forces troops, however, say they are not yet ready to put an all-Iraqi face on the war and, for the time being, will remain a clandestine force under masks and scarves content to fight alongside the Americans.

"We (special forces) are Shia, Sunna and Kurd. We are all Muslim," said 24-year-old Abu Ahmed, a Sunni soldier who said that not even his family knows he is a soldier working with the Americans.

"I came here to fight terrorists and save Fallujah," he said. "With the Americans we can do this. My family will understand someday what I have done for them."

Abu Yasser, 25, who said he was also Shia, said what the Americans needed to do was to arm and train more special forces and provide more money for informants in Fallujah. He said many of the insurgents, especially the former soldiers, were motivated by cash.

Yasser said he joined with the Americans because he despised the old regime.

"Saddam killed my father," Yasser said from beneath an olive drab helmet and thin, dark shades. "He was working with the (Shia) party and they murdered him."

While the Iraqi troops seemed genuine in their hatred for Saddam and the insurgents, they also seemed convinced that their American special forces counterparts would be there to support them forever.

"The future is with the coalition forces," said Sajad, who said that his vision of Iraq in five years would be "like New York." He said he had never been to New York, but it "looks good in the movies."

Sajad said he also had more practical hopes for the short run.

"Cash and guns ---- American guns like these," Sajad said, grunting from beneath his disguise and tapping his outstretched fingers on the barrel of his U.S. Army-issued M-4 carbine slung across his chest.

"I want people to know that we are Iraqis. All of us are Iraqis and Muslim," he said. "We will not stop until we kill all the terrorists, all the Baathists, and everyone who worked with Saddam."

Staff writer Darrin Mortenson and staff photographer Hayne Palmour are reporting from Iraq, where they are with Camp Pendleton Marines. Their coverage is collected at www.nctimes.com/military/iraq.



04-30-04, 06:08 AM
Marines get TV broadcasting equipment for Iraq

By: North County Times wire services

CAMP PENDLETON - Thanks to an audio and video gear donation received today, San Diego County-based Marines soon will be able to send Iraqis in the war-torn Fallujah area a TV news "alternative," officials said.

Spirit of America presented the equipment to the 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton, laying the groundwork for its delivery to al-Anbar province.

The U.S. military will use the electronics to help outfit seven broadcast stations in the region, which includes the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, officials at the North County USMC station reported.

The goal is to ensure that Iraqis "have access to better, more balanced information," according to Spirit of America, which aids U.S. citizens working abroad to improve the quality of life in other countries.

"By equipping local television stations and providing the ability to generate news and programming, the Marines will create a viable news alternative -- one owned and operated by local Iraqi citizens," the nonprofit states on its Web site.



04-30-04, 06:09 AM
Battle for Fallouja Seen as Inevitable

With forces poised for a full-scale assault on the Sunni stronghold, U.S. officials pause to weigh the stakes of urban warfare in Iraq.

By John Hendren and Tony Perry
Times Staff Writers

April 29, 2004

FALLOUJA, Iraq -- The plans have been laid, the troops are positioned, and all is ready for a massive Marine assault on Fallouja — and with it the long-dreaded prospect of major urban warfare in Iraq.

"We got the last unit in place today. We're tightening the noose," Col. John Toolan declared with grim satisfaction, standing on the roof of the Marine command post at the edge of the volatile Sunni Muslim city on Wednesday as occasional hostile rounds zinged overhead and American tanks rumbled toward their positions on the dusty plain.

Now, from Fallouja to the White House to the Pentagon and across the Capitol, officials are taking a deep breath.

From one end of the chain of command to the other, there is a palpable sense of how high the stakes may be in the looming battle between U.S. forces and insurgents holed up in the city of 300,000 in the Sunni Triangle:

• The virtual certainty of civilian casualties and their potential for spurring wider resistance to the U.S.-led occupation.

• The problem of ordinary Iraqis' increasingly negative attitude toward the U.S. presence.

• The American public's perception of how the war is going.

• The reaction of the international community as the June 30 deadline approaches for the transfer of power to a transitional Iraqi government.

• Whether U.S. casualty rates continue to climb or begin to decline.

Yet high as the risks may be, U.S. officials — and many outside analysts — say a full-scale assault is all but inevitable.

"This is a real turning point," said W. Patrick Lang, a former head of Middle Eastern affairs at the Defense Intelligence Agency.

"If we don't firmly take back Fallouja and establish in the minds of all these people in Iraq that we're in control, we'll have to fight battles like this all over Iraq, and on the roads. This is a crucial battle."

Since April 5, days after four American civilian contractors were killed and their bodies mutilated in Fallouja, Marines have encircled the city. And despite an 18-day cease-fire, skirmishes have erupted daily, with Marines calling in airstrikes Wednesday for the second consecutive day.

It is the sense of Fallouja's importance to larger U.S. interests in Iraq and beyond, Pentagon and Bush administration officials said, that has caused delays in a planned full-scale assault — which at one point was set to begin Sunday.

By delaying the attack, U.S. planners have hoped to show the Iraqi population, the Muslim world and the American public that Washington has done everything possible to avoid a bloody assault on the city.

At this point, however, almost no U.S. officials expect the talks between insurgents and local leaders in Fallouja to succeed.

Nevertheless, L. Paul Bremer III, the U.S. civilian administrator overseeing Iraq, and the top commander on the ground, Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, have at least once ordered the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force to postpone the scheduled attack, with the approval of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, defense officials said.

One senior official described the delay as part of "a whole developing public diplomacy, information operations campaign" designed to reduce negative reactions to a final assault.

Accordingly, U.S. officials have sought to focus attention on the insurgents' violations of the cease-fire. And they have described the response by American forces as purely defensive and retaliatory.

But the tanks, AC-130 gunships and attack helicopters used in these "counterattacks" have delivered such heavy firepower that some analysts believe they have a larger purpose: to soften up and hollow out the insurgent forces before a final assault.

Moreover, military sources said, Special Forces units and other special operations teams have carried out lower-profile offensive operations within the Fallouja perimeter, including raids on suspected guerrilla leaders' hide-outs.

Many military strategists believe that such attacks should be followed by a full-scale assault, the blueprints for which have been approved by the Pentagon.

Defeating the Fallouja insurgents "would deal a blow to all the insurgents across the country," said Marine Maj. Gen. John F. Sattler, chief of operations for the U.S. Central Command, which is directing the Iraq war.

"I just believe that that would send a message to the rest of those who are possibly hanging on, thinking that they can hold out long enough or they can hold out until they can negotiate on their terms. I think that the message will be sent that ... that's only a pipe dream on their part."

At the White House, officials sought to portray an atmosphere of business as usual, emphasizing that President Bush was working on an array of issues, including preparing for his appearance before the Sept. 11 commission today. The president met Wednesday morning with the prime minister of Sweden and then dropped in on a White House staff briefing.

But Iraq clearly took up a large portion of Bush's day.

After his usual early morning briefings by the CIA and the FBI, the president convened a National Security Council meeting that included a video link with Bremer and Army Gen. John Abizaid, head of the U.S. Central Command. Abizaid was in Afghanistan, Bremer in Iraq.

Afterward, the president met with Rumsfeld.

Bush also spoke to reporters, saying, "Our military commanders will take whatever action is necessary to secure Fallouja on behalf of the Iraqi people."

The president had been kept abreast of developments around Fallouja even during his brief helicopter trip to Baltimore on Tuesday afternoon, one senior White House official said.

"The president is in close contact with military leaders in Washington and in the region," said Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary. As events warrant, Bush's national security advisor, Condoleezza Rice, regularly keeps him updated throughout the day, he said.

The White House activity is part of what Pentagon officials said is an intensive series of communications and consultations between field commanders, senior military leaders, principal administration officials such as Rumsfeld, and the White House.

Key to these discussions, one official said, is a perception that the situation in Fallouja is the converse of the Tet offensive in Vietnam. That hard-fought battle ended with U.S. forces prevailing, but the size and ferocity of the guerrillas' attack caused Tet to be perceived as a strategic and public relations failure.

By contrast, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity, U.S. officials believe that the Fallouja insurgents have raised their profile militarily, but have set themselves up for a larger defeat.

For one thing, the insurgents have not been able to expand their base beyond Al Anbar province. For another, the fighters already have suffered 1,500 to 2,000 deaths, by U.S. military estimates.

Critics of the Bush administration's policy argue that such a view is unrealistically rosy and that even a military victory could further alienate Iraqis and the Muslim world.

The Pentagon's approach to Fallouja is markedly different from the approach in Najaf, where U.S. forces have ringed the town occupied by radical Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada Sadr's Al Mahdi militia. No full-scale assault on Najaf is in the offing because occupation political and military leaders say they are satisfied that they have marginalized Sadr, whose gains in public support have come through direct confrontations with coalition troops.

U.S. officials believe that there is a good chance that rival Shiite leaders and Iraqi officials will help defuse the Najaf standoff.

No such hopes exist for Fallouja, most military strategists say, pointing out skirmishes continue amid truce talks.

"If the negotiators were able to get some tangible results, they would take the deal. The fact of the matter is they're not," said Gen. John Keane, who was involved in war planning and operations in Iraq before retiring as the Army's vice chief of staff in November.

"I think there's probably some frustration waiting, given the fact that the Marines are being attacked. But I also believe that it's the right strategy," Keane said.

With 7,000 Marines in position around Fallouja, the final assault, officials said, will be an extension and expansion of what's being done now, including greater use of armor and attack aircraft.

"It's not a guns-blazing, culminating kind of thing. It's going to be much more subtle than that," a senior administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

But another senior military official, who described attacks Tuesday and Wednesday as relatively small retaliatory strikes, said there would be no mistake that one of the most significant battles since the U.S. invaded Iraq last year had begun.

"When we go in, you'll see, we're going to go in with heavy armor, and we're going to kill people," he said.

Hendren reported from Washington and Perry from Fallouja. Times staff writers Richard T. Cooper, Edwin Chen and Esther Schrader in Washington and Patrick J. McDonnell in Baghdad contributed to this report.



04-30-04, 07:45 AM
Iraqi Forces Get Crash Course for Patrols in Fallujah <br />
<br />
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran <br />
Washington Post Foreign Service <br />
Wednesday, April 28, 2004; Page A16 <br />
<br />
<br />
FALLUJAH, Iraq, April 27 -- Four Iraqi...

04-30-04, 08:47 AM
Well it's started, a retired Army General stated that we given the insurgents in Fallujah, Iraq a "tactical" victory.
That might brew more unrest in other parts of Iraq.
Because this tactical victory might appear to favor the insurgents.
You're damned if you do, and you're damned if you don't.
What's the answer to all this madness?

Semper Fidelis

04-30-04, 10:31 AM
In Two Sieges, U.S. Finds Itself Shut Out
Officials See No Good Options for Ending Fallujah, Najaf Standoffs
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Robin Wright
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, April 29, 2004; Page A01

FALLUJAH, Iraq, April 28 -- Perched atop sandbags and peering through powerful binoculars, Marine officers manning front-line positions around this tense city can see the problem clearly enough, even through the swirling dust that gives Fallujah the sepia hue of a Wild West town: Military-age men in white robes swagger about with impunity, they say, hardening their defenses and resupplying their encampments.

The Marines say the men are Sunni Muslim guerrillas who have taken over this Euphrates River city and transformed it into a stronghold of resistance to the American occupation of Iraq.

But neither here, nor in the Baghdad palace that serves as the headquarters of the U.S. occupation administration, nor in the corridors of official Washington, is the solution to the Fallujah problem clear. Although American officials and Iraq's U.S.-backed leaders agree that the insurgents should be captured or killed, preferably before the Americans hand over limited sovereignty on June 30, no good options exist to accomplish that goal, according to U.S. officials familiar with the issue.

A further incursion into Fallujah -- the only way many Marine officers say the insurgency here can be squelched -- has been rejected by local and national Iraqi leaders as an unacceptable risk to tens of thousands of noncombatants in the city.

"There are a lot of different proposals on the table, but all of them are fraught with problems," said one senior U.S. official in Iraq, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The same dilemma confronts U.S. military commanders and civilian officials 130 miles to the south, in the holy city of Najaf, as they attempt to resolve a standoff with a radical Shiite Muslim cleric and hundreds of his militiamen. Even more so than in Fallujah, a full-scale move into the city by U.S. forces would fuel Iraqi anger and further poison relations between the United States and the country's Shiite majority.

As military commanders and civilian administrators scramble to craft solutions to the crises in Fallujah and Najaf, "all the choices are unpalatable," said a senior U.S. official in Washington who spent several months in Iraq last year and who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the subject. "No one likes the options."

Even so, the senior military and civilian officials in Baghdad and Washington are committed to resolving both crises before June 30, when the occupation authority is set to hand over limited sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government. "There's really no way that we can leave this as a mess for the new government," the senior U.S. official in Washington said.

Military officials estimate there are between several hundred and a few thousand armed insurgents in Fallujah. Speaking to reporters Wednesday at the Pentagon, Marine Maj. Gen. John F. Sattler, head of operations for U.S. Central Command, put the number at about 1,500.

"We have not been able to determine any single leader," he said in a telephone briefing from Centcom's forward headquarters in the Persian Gulf country of Qatar. "There appears to be a loose federation of individuals who have come together with a common cause, and in this particular case, it's to derail the process as we move towards sovereignty."

U.S. officials said some of the insurgents were from other Arab nations but most were Iraqis -- a combination of Islamic extremists, loyalists of former president Saddam Hussein and criminals. People in Baghdad and other cities, however, maintain that the fighters in Fallujah are ordinary Iraqis who have taken up arms against the occupation; the sustained fighting and the Marine cordon around the city have prevented foreign journalists from independently assessing the nature of the guerrilla forces.

As they fight the Marines, some guerrillas have used techniques that suggest they have military experience, the officials said. In addition, based on the munitions and contraband uncovered by Marines during their initial foray into the city, U.S. military officials believe a large number of roadside bombs and car bombs detonated elsewhere in Iraq may have been manufactured in Fallujah.

A military intelligence officer noted this week that there have been no large car bombings in Baghdad since the Marines surrounded Fallujah in early April. "Fallujah is a place that is rife with terrorist leaders and bomb-makers who are responsible for attacks not just in Fallujah but across Iraq," the officer said.

Marines have established the cordon to prevent insurgents from slipping away. Combat engineers have built a six-foot sand berm along the city's southeastern fringe. Dirt-filled barriers and rows of razor wire block all roads into the city. Hundreds of Marines equipped with night-vision scopes patrol the urban edges in Humvees.

"If we let them get away, they'll just find another place to bring their breed of terror and chaos," a senior military commander said. "That's what this war is all about: It's about eliminating breeding grounds for terrorists."

White House Sets Strategy

U.S. military officials in Iraq said that because of political sensitivities, overall policy decisions about the standoff in Fallujah are being made by the White House, and Marine commanders have been reluctant to make public pronouncements about what should be done. But privately, many say they believe the only way to eliminate the insurgency is through a series of large raids.

They note that a cease-fire agreement signed April 19 has largely been ignored by people in the city. Although the deal called for such heavy arms as mortars and rocket-propelled grenades to be surrendered to the Marines, all they have received is a small assortment of rusty, inoperable weapons.

More significantly, Marines note, insurgents were supposed to stop attacking U.S. positions. But front-line Marine posts are fired on almost daily in some places, prompting the Americans to respond with everything from sniper fire to precision-guided 500-pound bombs dropped by Air Force fighter jets.

"The only way to ensure that we really get these guys is for us to go in and take them out," a Marine officer said.

Sattler, the Centcom operations chief, said the Marines and the Army's 1st Infantry Division, which has responsibility for north-central Iraq, have requested more armored equipment, including tanks and personnel carriers. Rotating into Iraq earlier this year, these units chose to leave much of their armor behind to allow greater mobility and closer contact with Iraqis, Sattler said.

On the Marine front lines, as snipers peer into the city through their scopes and infantrymen fortify their positions, there is an almost universal belief that offensive operations -- suspended in early April after just a few days of intense combat -- need to resume.

"Every one of them has a hunger deep down inside to finish the job," said Lt. Karl Blanke, a platoon leader with the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. "We've now shed our blood in the city. The last thing we want to do is walk away from it."

But a resumption of offensive operations is widely opposed by Iraqis. "The only way to solve this is through a peaceful solution," said Hachem Hassani, a Sunni political leader who has participated in negotiations between city leaders and military commanders. "Attacking the city will only make matters worse."

The local leaders who participated in the discussions have described Fallujah as having been hijacked by foreign Islamic militants, people involved in the talks said. In a bid to end the standoff, the local leaders have urged U.S. officials to grant foreigners safe passage out of the city, but that request was rejected.

With persuasion and safe passage deemed unacceptable by the Americans, Iraqi officials have advocated another strategy: Let Iraqi security forces tackle the militants. The Marines have been ordered to conduct joint patrols in the city with Iraqi policemen and civil defense troops, but after three days of training conducted by Marine instructors, military officials said it was clear that the Iraqis did not have the skills to fight the insurgents on their own.

Plans to begin joint patrols on Thursday were postponed until at least Friday, Marine officials said. No reason was given, but intense clashes between insurgents and Marines on Wednesday have elevated tensions in Fallujah. The postponement also would give the Iraqis additional time for training.

Some Iraqi leaders have advocated bringing in security forces from other parts of the country or assembling a new force composed of former Iraqi army soldiers who are Sunnis. U.S. officials said both those concepts also have deep flaws. Allowing Shiites from the south or ethnic Kurds from the north to fight in Fallujah could spark ethnic and religious tensions elsewhere in Iraq; participation of Kurds in a special civil defense battalion that assisted Marines in the city earlier in the month fueled a wave of threats against Kurds living in Baghdad. Assembling a new force of military veterans also is regarded by American officials as a dicey proposition.


04-30-04, 10:32 AM
In Najaf, similar dynamics are in play. Any U.S. incursion into the part of the city around the tomb of Imam Ali -- one of the most sacred places in the world for Shiites -- is guaranteed to provoke...

04-30-04, 12:06 PM
US Marines hand Fallujah to former Saddam general

Fallujah: US Marines handed control of Falluja to a former general in Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard on Friday but fresh clashes showed that a month of fighting with Sunni Muslim insurgents was not over.

In a reversal of Washington's previous policy of excluding members of Saddam's Baathist regime from power, Jasim Mohamed Saleh said his new force would help police bring order and relieve a month-long siege that has cost hundreds of lives. "We have now begun forming a new emergency military force," he said, saying the people of Fallujah "rejected" US troops.

Marine commander Lieutenant General James Conway told the New York Times that Saleh, who was greeted by cheering crowds in his home town, would lead about 900 former Iraqi soldiers. Hours later, dozens of explosions shook Falluja as fighting erupted suddenly in the eastern outskirts, residents said.

US officials have struggled to stamp out open insurrection in Fallujah while avoiding more bloodshed that has cost more American lives in April than any other month in Iraq and turned many Iraqis against them. They have begun to recruit some former Baath party members to help restore order and basic services.

President George W. Bush, watching sliding poll numbers ahead of November's presidential election, gave commanders a free hand in Fallujah this week and the Pentagon sent more tanks. The improvised peace deal appeared to have averted an all-out assault on the city of 300,000--for the time being. "This is a minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, day-by-day proposition," one Marine officer said, as men and machines ground their way back from positions south and west of the city.

Since Bush declared an end to "major combat operations" a year ago on Saturday, 426 US service personnel have been killed in action in Iraq, 125 of them in April alone. Fewer than 100 died in the three weeks it took to topple Saddam.

Winning over Iraqi opinion is important for Washington as it prepares to hand over formal sovereignty to an interim government in Baghdad on June 30 while leaving more than 100,000 US troops in a country where many are clearly still hostile.

Washington suffered a public relations blow in that regard on Friday when Arab television channels broadcast pictures, first aired in the United States, seeming to show US soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners in Saddam's notorious Abu Ghraib prison.




04-30-04, 01:24 PM
April 30, 2004

Kimmitt: Marines will stay in Fallujah; suicide bomber kills two

Associated Press

BAGHDAD, Iraq — Marines will maintain a strong presence in and around Fallujah despite an agreement to hand over security to a new Iraqi force largely made up of former Iraqi soldiers, a senior U.S. officer said Friday.
Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt made his remarks as U.S. officials in Iraq and Washington said an agreement had been reached to establish an Iraqi unit to assume security and end the monthlong siege of Fallujah.

Witnesses saw Marines withdrawing from positions in the southeastern part of the city on Friday and handing them over to the Iraqis.

However, Kimmitt told reporters that the new Iraqi force will be “completely integrated” with Marines, who will retain strong presence “in and around” the city.

He insisted that the Marines were not “withdrawing” but were “repositioning” their forces.

Kimmitt said he had no information on the background of the reported new commander of the Fallujah force, former Maj. Gen. Jassim Mohammed Saleh. But Kimmitt said the commander had been vetted by the Marines who had full confidence in him.

Saleh formerly served as a senior officer in Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard.

Meanwhile, two Marines were killed and six wounded Friday in a suicide car bombing near the Marines’ camp in Fallujah, the U.S. military said.

Kimmitt said the attack occurred Friday morning.

However, the attack did not appear to have slowed down moves to turn over security inside Fallujah to an Iraqi force made up mostly of former Iraqi army members.

The latest deaths bring the number of U.S. service members killed since the Iraq war began in March 2003 to 738. A total of 128 U.S. troops have been killed by hostile fire this month, the bloodiest for American forces since the war began.