In the New York Times today the first crack appeared in the armor of the "victory in Falluja" faÃ§ade maintained by the major media since the battle began. Eric Schmitt and Robert Worth discuss a secret Marine report that reveals the major bind the U.S. has gotten itself into by sweeping through Falluja and attempting to pacify it. This U.S. strategy has created exactly the dilemma that many critics of the war had been predicting: in order to hold Falluja the U.S. has to keep large numbers of troops there, and then the U.S. will not have sufficient troops to handle the uprising elsewhere in the Sunni areas.
The problem is summarized thusly in the New York Times article:
"Senior Marine intelligence officers in Iraq are warning that if American troop levels in the Falluja area are significantly reduced during reconstruction there, as has been planned, insurgents in the region will rebound from their defeat. The rebels could thwart the retraining of Iraqi security forces, intimidate the local population and derail elections set for January, the officers say."
Beneath this general problem lies three key problems that made the attack on Falluja a desperation measure in the first place and now is creating a new and deeper crisis for the American military in its aftermath.
First, and most important, the people of Falluja hate the Americans and support the guerrillas (even if they may have complaints about much of what they do). This means that as soon as the people return, so will the resistance, hidden from U.S. view because virtually all the guerrillas are residents of Falluja with supporters in the community. They will not be turned over to the U.S. or to Iraqi police, and they will therefore begin to mount attacks on whoever is left to guard the American-installed local government.
Second, the U.S. cannot depend upon Iraqi police or military to fight this next phase of the "battle of Falluja." Here's how this problem was reported by the Times:
"Senior officers have said that they would keep a sizable American military presence in and around Falluja in the long reconstruction phase that has just begun, until sufficiently trained and equipped Iraqi forces could take the lead in providing security.
"'It will take a security presence for a while until a well-trained Iraqi security force can take over the presence in Falluja and maintain security so that the insurgents don't come back, as they have tried to do in every one of the cities that we have thrown them out of,' Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top American commander in Iraq, said on Nov. 8.
"American commanders have expressed disappointment in some of the Iraqis they have been training, especially members of the Iraqi police force. Other troops have performed well, the officers have said."
The key thing here is that when the U.S. entered the Falluja battle they believed that the Iraqi forces would be ready to take over immediately after the city was cleared. But the mass defections and unwillingness to fight exhibited by the Iraqis has forced a drastic revision in these estimates, so that now American military leaders are forced to keep a U.S. presence during the "long reconstruction phase" (read -- "until the guerrilla attacks stop") while they wait (probably in vain) for a new cycle of training to produce an Iraqi force that is capable of resisting the guerrillas (the first three efforts to produce such a force have already failed -- there is no reason to believe that the next will succeed).
The third problem is that the U.S. simply does not have enough troops to hold Falluja and also do all the other fighting that is now necessary. The Times reporters expressed it thusly: "if many American troops and the better-trained specialized Iraqi forces, like the commando and special police units, are committed to Falluja for a long time, they will not be available to go elsewhere in Iraq, possibly creating critical shortfalls." In other words, when the resistance drives the police and local government out of other cities (as they did recently in Samarra, Tal Afar, and Mosul) the U.S. will not have sufficient troops to recapture the cities, and they will have to allow them to remain in rebel hands, just as Falluja remained in rebel hands for six months.
This is the ultimate denouement of the attack on Falluja. The U.S. is now faced with the choice of leaving Falluja and allowing the Shura government which has ruled it since April to return to power, or allow the resistance to take power in many other cities. Either option will leave the U.S. in a significantly worse position than it was in before the attack. As so many predicted, the attack on Falluja has strengthened the resistance and weakened the American occupation.
And one final note: the only remedy for the third problem is a vast increase in the number of U.S. troops in Iraq. And that means a draft in the U.S.
Michael Schwartz, Professor of Sociology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook has written extensively on popular protest and insurgency, and on American business and government dynamics. His work on Iraq has appeared on ZNet and TomDispatch, and in Z Magazine. His books include Radical Politics and Social Structure, The Power Structure of American Business (with Beth Mintz), and Social Policy and the Conservative Agenda (edited, with Clarence Lo). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.