This time we’re for real. Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld said Monday that we wouldn’t have started this latest fight for Fallujah unless we were going to finish it.
The administration made one of the biggest mistakes of the war in April, when it pulled back Marines who may have been days away from taking Fallujah. The decision was understandable, given the political circumstances (outrage at the alleged slaughter in the city). But it turned out to be a disaster, emboldening our enemies and giving them a sanctuary. Conditions are different now. There is an Iraqi government in power and it, rather than an American occupation authority, has taken the decision to seize the city. Iraq has sent emissaries to surrounding Arab capitals, to try to tamp down the outrage–feigned and otherwise–against the assault. Iraqi government officials are also aggressively mounting a public-relations campaign within Iraq to defend and explain the action. Finally, Iraqi military units will be part of the offensive, in a key test of their readiness.
“Fallujah will be part of a
larger operation to establish
order in the Sunni triangle,
in an attempt to create decent
conditions for a January election.”
There are two broad objectives in Fallujah. The first is to deny the insurgents their sanctuary. When we were pressing Fallujah in April, suicide bombings declined throughout the country. Since then, the city has become an incubator of murder. Fallujah will be part of a larger operation to establish order in the Sunni triangle, in an attempt to create decent conditions for a January election. Securing that political process is the second, and arguably paramount, objective. Despite simplistic accounts in the media, Sunni opinion in Iraq is not a monolith. Crushing the Fallujah rebellion will, the administration and Allawi hope, allow moderate Sunnis to be able to participate in the political process without intimidation.
That process is in better shape than is widely acknowledged. The Shia and the Kurds are 80 percent of the population and broadly on-board the new Iraq. Elections will be crucial to providing legitimacy to the new order and creating a measure of political stability. But elections have powerful enemies. The word is that the U.N. bureaucracy in New York is doing all it can to delay or derail them, although the U.N. official on the ground in Iraq, Carlos Valenzuela, is doing heroic work.
When Allawi addressed some of the Iraqi troops, telling them they need to liberate a city held “hostage” by radicals and terrorists, they yelled in response “may they go to hell!” “To hell they will go,” replied Allawi. Victory in Iraq depends on that kind of national will prevailing in a battle for the country’s, and the region’s, soul.