The Associated Press thinks a Coalition move on Fallujah is pending.
An uptick in airstrikes and other military moves point to an imminent showdown between U.S. forces and Sunni Muslim insurgents west of Baghdad â€” a decisive battle that could determine whether the campaign to bring democracy and stability to Iraq (news – web sites) can succeed.
American officials have not confirmed a major assault is near against the insurgent bastions of Fallujah and neighboring Ramadi. But Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi has warned Fallujah leaders that force will be used if they do not hand over extremists, including terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
A similar escalation in U.S. military actions and Iraqi government warnings occurred before a major offensive in Najaf forced militiamen loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to give up that holy city in late August. And U.S. and Iraqi troops retook Samarra from insurgents early this month.
Now U.S. airstrikes on purported al-Zarqawi positions in three neighborhoods of eastern and northern Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad, have increased. And residents reported this week that Marines appeared to be reinforcing forward positions near key areas of the city. Other military units are on the move, including 800 British soldiers headed north to the U.S.-controlled zone.
The goal of an attack would be to restore government control in time for national elections by the end of January. However, an all-out assault on the scale of April’s siege of Fallujah would carry enormous risk â€” both political and military â€” for the Americans and their Iraqi allies.
Does the AP article have the Grey Poupon of negativity? But of course.
A series of policy mistakes by the U.S. military and the Bush administration have transformed Fallujah from a shabby, dusty backwater known regionally for mosques and tasty kebabs into a symbol of Arab pride and defiance of the United States throughout the Islamic world.
A videotape obtained Tuesday by Associated Press Television News featured a warning by masked gunmen that if Fallujah is subjected to an all-out assault, they will strike “with weapons and military tactics” that the Americans and their allies “have not experienced before.”
Regardless of whether the threat was an empty boast, insurgents elsewhere in Iraq could be expected to step up attacks to try to relieve pressure on fighters in the Fallujah and Ramadi areas.
But the main problem an assault would pose for both the U.S. military and Allawi’s government is political, such as a widespread public backlash. A nationwide association of Sunni clerics also has threatened to urge a boycott of the January elections if U.S. forces storm Fallujah.
Look, as much as it could be desired that the U.S. cleared Fallujah in April, the interim Iraqi government took a stance and, to avoid robbing Allawi of needed legitimacy, we had to acquiesce. Now, for the sake of future legitimacy of the pending Iraqi elections, we may have to roll. Threats of unprecedented weapons and tactics by terrorists have to be considered but, if the Islamist bastards have the potential for such, an assault on Fallujah would only be an excuse for something they would certainly do unless prevented. Best to press the issue; a bluff can be called and a real threat could possibly be destroyed before developing fully. I’ve previously blogged my thoughts on the possible Sunni clerics’ election boycott.