[Marxism] The U.S. defeat in Fallujah

Jose G. Perez jg_perez at bellsouth.net
Sat May 1 06:05:18 MDT 2004

With the withdrawal of American marines from their most advanced
positions in the city of Fallujah, the United States is recognizing its
first great defeat of the Iraq War.

Late in March, U.S. Marines, which had recently taken over the Fallujah
area from a withdrawing army unit, staged a provocative raid into the
City, which had been largely left alone for months by the U.S.
commanders due to lack of forces. This was part of an overall escalation
of aggressive actions by the U.S. occupation, including the banning of
an Islamic paper and a kangaroo puppet court indictment of the Shia
cleric that paper represented. 

What the United States forces were attempting to do was to retake the
political-military offensive against the growing insurgency basing
itself on what it imagined was a strengthened political position based
on the agreement of Iraqi collaborationists to the rules for a quisling
"sovereign" government after June 30. This, in turn, would set the stage
for consolidating U.S. domination under "sovereign" control.

At the end of March, in part in reaction to this raid, insurgent forces
ambushed and the population --especially the youth--then lynched four
heavily armed ostensible U.S. soldiers of fortune, who, for some reason
that's not been explained, were driving through what is essentially a
town where Iraqi anti-occupation partisans operated freely.  At least
three of the four American operatives were experienced graduates of the
regular U.S. special forces. This means they were well-trained --and as
likely as not experienced-- in counter-insurgency and operating behind
enemy lines. That they simply decided to take a joy ride through
Fallujah is unthinkable. The explanation that best fits what they were
doing is that they were CIA or other intelligence officers on a
recognizance or operational mission using "security contractor" status
as cover. (The case of the captured Italians appears to be similar.
Supposedly, they were driving to Jordan through no-man's land in the
middle of the night, a "cover" story that doesn't stand the giggle

On April 5, the Marines started an attack on Fallujah, but met very
strong resistance from a well-led, well-trained partisan force.  Even
with reinforcements and including "heavier" units, the Marines were
unable to make much of a dent in the city's defenses despite ferocious
Marine fire that killed hundreds of civilians. 

At the same time, the U.S. faced simultaneous popular uprisings in a
half dozen other major population centers. Both in Fallujah and
elsewhere, the U.S. trained Iraqi police and military collapsed and
dispersed without resisting the popular uprising. The sole exception
that has been named were Kurd forces who have been collaborating with
the CIA for more than a decade.

Anti-U.S. forces were able to consolidate their control in two cities,
Fallujah and Najaf.

Unable to defeat the rebels militarily or to accept the high political
cost of many thousand Iraqi civilian casualties from continuing to try
through direct assault, the marines then laid siege to Fallujah.

In Najaf, which lies to the South, the U.S. faced additional
complications. This part of the country was under the control of U.S.
allies who have no intention of letting their troops go much beyond
traffic-cop duty. To fight the insurgents, the U.S. thus had to deploy
its own forces to Najaf, and they met a well-coordinated campaign of
harassment and sabotage of communications lines, which slowed their

The actual siege of Fallujah lasted for about three weeks. The U.S.
variously described the situation as a suspension of its offensive
military operations or even a cease fire agreement (to which the other
side was not a party!), but it was in fact an attempt at a siege, a well
recognized offensive military operation.

It seems during this siege the U.S. forces also took very significant
casualties. How many U.S. troops were involved it is impossible to know
-- the number that has been mentioned in one or another dispatch by the
better war correspondents is 3,000.

CNN reported yesterday that, of the 130 or so combat deaths the U.S. had
in April, more than half were in Fallujah. This means at least 70 dead.
Assuming the normal wounded-to-killed ratio in Iraq (between 5-to-1 and
7-to-1, depending on whether you include those who supposedly did not
die in combat but accidents, etc.), this would mean total casualties in
the 400-650 range. Anything close to even the lower figure means that
quite likely, a number of platoons and companies were eliminated as
effective military units and had to be replaced or reconstituted.

The popular insurrections and especially the resistance in Fallujah have
broken the back of the specific forms the U.S. had given its political
project in Iraq. The multi-party coalition supposedly so laboriously
stitched together by Bremer, who answers to Rumsfeld, has been dumped,
and instead the political transition has been seconded lock, stock and
barrel to Kofi Annan's Lakhdar Brahimi.

One indication of the crisis in the U.S. command created by its defeat
in Fallujah were the contradictory reports in the past few days about
the deal to end the Fallujah siege. The Marines officially announced the
agreement late Wednesday or early Thursday through for-attribution
statements by a colonel. But that such a deal had been struck was denied
by the spokespeople for the top of the chain of command both in Baghdad
and in the Pentagon, only to be confirmed 18-24 hours later.

Supposedly, the U.S. Marines are handing over control to an Iraqi force
of about 1,000 composed of what the U.S. normally describes as "regime
remnants." It is led by a former Saddam general who is described as
being in association with several other Saddam generals. In reality, the
U.S. is withdrawing from its most advanced positions within Fallujah,
leaving the entire city in the hands of the rebels, except for a couple
of vehicle checkpoints, because, of course, the most salient thing to
notice about this new Fallujah Brigade or Fallujah Army is that *it does
not exist.*

It *may* exist in the future, for the here and now, the role it plays is
simply a face-saving way for the Marines to disengage, retreat and leave
the town under Iraqi rebel control.

Another thing to note is that it represents a more-or-less open
repudiation of the Rumsfeld-Bremer de-Baathification of Iraq and is of a
piece with taking the political transition out of Bremer's hands and
giving it to Brahimi. The new unit has no connection to the
Bremer-sponsored new Iraqi army/police/civil defense forces, and reports
directly to the head of the Marine Expeditionary Force, not at all
through any Iraqi chain of command. 

A third thing to note is that the agreement with the generals represents
a defeat for Bremer in an additional way. He was the sponsor through his
ventriloquist dummy government council of the talks with the "sheiks"
and political parties and religious figures in Fallujah. The talks with
the Baathist generals were a parallel track pursued by the Marine

Put this together with the fact that Bremer has been fired (he is being
replaced by Negroponte, eminence gris of the contra war against
Nicaragua who reports to Colin Powell, not Rumsfeld).

I think what this all adds up to is that I believe the U.S. is
abandoning the goofy Rumsfeld-Cheney project of creating an Iraq client
regime from nothing, and instead is going to try to turn back the clock
a year and try to put together a state apparatus from pieces of the old
regime. Whether this is now *possible* I can't pretend to know; the U.S.
was quite thorough in smashing the old Iraqi state and in doing so made
a lot of enemies. An early test of whether this is really a new policy
will be to see what the U.S. does in Najaf. 

But of necessity, this also means reaching an accommodation with many
elements of the old Iraqi ruling class. And I would not be surprised to
find that some of the Cheney-Rumsfeld pet "private contractors" suddenly
find themselves in disfavor. Bringing in the U.N. means essentially
dealing cards to the U.S. imperialist rivals/allies. Room has to be made
for them at the table.

The strategic objective of the new policy will be to split the
resistance. It is clear from their operations in April that at least a
large wing of the resistance is under a unified and competent general
staff with extensive intelligence and other military resources. If U.S.
intelligence estimates are right, the force in Fallujah (2000+) was the
partisan equivalent of a brigade. Keeping such a force coherent in
battle requires a significant cadre of officers. This means that people
involved in the old army are probably involved in the resistance. This
highlights the stupidity of the course the U.S. has followed until now. 

But this whole perspective is only realistic to the extent some measure
of control is returned to the Iraqis. That is dangerous to the U.S.,
because a new Iraqi authority may well have no choice but to take a
stance of demanding an end to the occupation if it is to have somewhat
more credibility.  And the resounding U.S. defeat in Fallujah only makes
that more likely.


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