FALLUJAH FINALLY fell to US Marines last week. Few can have doubted that, with its overwhelming firepower and highly trained and mobile troops, the Pentagon would be able to capture the city if it so chose.
The real question is whether the fall of Fallujah represents a decisive tilt of the balance in favour of the US and its puppet regime. A television interview from Fallujah with Michael Ware, Time magazine’s bureau chief in Baghdad, suggests not.
Ware calls the capture of Fallujah “a sweeping victory” for the US but says, “I wouldn’t say that we’re losing this war at this stage, but I’m certainly not of the view that we’re winning…
“As a journalist, I was free until March this year to travel the breadth of this country. Then, after [the first Fallujah crisis in] April, I was much more restricted to the confines of the metropolis of Baghdad. Well, we’ve lost Baghdad.
“Sitting in my own compound in the city, I’m prone to mortar fire. They have kidnap teams circling our block. A journalist was kidnapped 300 metres outside our gate.
“[Abu Musab Al-] Zarqawi controls central nodes of the city, including the most infamous Haifa Street, the scene of bloody engagements for months now.”
Ware continues, “I try to shy away from analogies or comparisons to Vietnam. But sometimes it can be chilling. It was once said that the only ground the US soldier could control is that beneath his feet. Well, in many regards, so it is in Iraq. We do not control this country…
“Something that resonates with me to this day is interviews I’ve done with senior insurgent leaders, the upper echelons. And they talk to me about reading Vo Nguyen Giap, the Vietnamese general. They talk to me about reading Che Guevara, Mao Zedong.”
As in Vietnam, the US is trying to deny the insurgents support by winning the “hearts and minds” of the Iraqi people. But, according to Ware, “We’re not winning them. Day by day, there’s a steady drip feed of hearts and minds slipping away from us.
“Last year middle Iraq was sitting and waiting, giving us the chance to see how we fared, to see what we delivered. Well, that window is closed. And I fear that we’ve lost them. The insurgents may not have won them, but we certainly don’t have their attention anymore.”
The result is that when the US forces try to break through on one front, a new front opens up elsewhere. As the Marines began to storm Fallujah, fighting broke out in Samarra and Mosul.
Samarra was the target of a carefully prepared operation by US and Iraqi puppet forces back in the summer that was intended as a model for the assault on Fallujah.
Mosul is even more significant. Capital of the northern oil industry, the city is on the edge of the Kurdish region—the only part of Iraq where the US can count on local allies with a real political base.
But on 10-11 November insurgents overran nine police stations in Mosul. More than three quarters of the 4,000 Iraqi police in the city deserted.
A remarkable report in last Saturday’s Financial Times described how the same offensive “swept away all vestiges of government in the smaller towns in the Tigris valley to the south, forcing the US military to go in and rebuild Iraq interim government control virtually from scratch”.
Most US troops had been pulled out of the area to concentrate on Fallujah. Now new task forces have had to be assembled to retake lost ground.
The FT headline says it all: “Iraq’s Hit And Run Insurgents Outsmart Under-Strength Troops”. The US lacks the troops to deny the insurgents territory. No wonder the Black Watch was pulled in to help with the Fallujah offensive. It won’t be the last British unit to be sucked into the killing zone.
Before he was effectively sacked last week as US Secretary of State, Colin Powell privately told friends that they are losing in Iraq. His military career began with one great defeat for US imperialism in Vietnam. It looks like, in his last government job, Powell has helped to engineer another.