'Phantom Fury' Poised to Become Phantom Victory
Monday's launch of "Operation Phantom Fury" to regain
control of the key insurgent-dominated Sunni city of Fallujah, the
administration of U.S. President George W Bush appears to be moving
toward another "phantom victory" in its broader quest
to achieve a stable, pro-western Iraq.
experts here are united in the conviction that the 10,00015,000
US troops and a reportedly diminishing number of Iraqi auxiliaries
will militarily crush the estimated 1,0004,000 insurgents
who remain in the city, they also believe the eventual outcome will
mark yet another political setback to stabilizing the country.
particular, the operation, especially if bloody and protracted,
will almost certainly further alienate the Sunni population, who
constitute about 20 percent of Iraq's 25 million people, not to
mention the much larger Sunni communities in neighboring countries,
including Saudi Arabia, the Gulf emirates, Jordan, Syria and Turkey.
entire Arab public opinion, which had hoped for Bush's (electoral)
defeat, has been watching developments carefully," noted As'ad
Abukhalil, an Iraq specialist at the University of California at
Berkeley. "But now they will see the scenes of carnage on live
TV contrasted with the celebratory ambiance in Washington, DC."
campaign also threatens to split the interim Iraqi government whose
president, Ghazi al-Yawer, has opposed a major offensive and last
April threatened to resign after hundreds of civilians were reported
killed when US Marines last tried to take Fallujah.
was already a struggle within the (Iraqi) Sunni community between
those open to participation in January's elections and those who
favor a boycott," noted Juan Cole, an Iraq expert at the University
of Michigan. "An 'iron fist' policy is likely to shift the
balance of power in the community toward the rejectionists."
in going forward with the campaign, US forces are really shooting
themselves in the foot," Cole added, noting that while US forces
clearly defeated the ragtag Mehdist militia of Muqtada al-Sadr in
Najaf in August, it also succeeded in boosting the young cleric's
political standing within and even beyond the majority Shiite community
to unprecedented heights, according to surveys taken the following
of course, is not the way the Bush administration sees either Operation
Phantom Fury (soon to be renamed "New Dawn") or last August's
Najaf campaign, which it has depicted as both a military and a political
victory because of Sadr's tentative decision to take part in January's
vote and the militia's partial disarmament in Baghdad's Sadr City.
its view, the persistence of insurgent control of one of the "Sunni
Triangle's" largest towns, its status as a "no-go"
area and its use as a base for attacks all over the country could
not be tolerated given the overriding short-term objective of pulling
off the national elections.
part of the country cannot remain under the rule of assassins ...
and the remnants of (former Iraqi President) Saddam Hussein,"
declared Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld at a press conference Monday.
can't have a country if you have a safe haven for people who chop
people's heads off. These folks are determined. They're killers.
They chop people's heads off. They're getting money from around
the world. They're getting recruits."
was careful to stress that victory in the battle of Fallujah would
not end the insurgency. But he argued that if successful elections
are held in January as a result of defeating the insurgents there,
a "tipping point" in securing Iraq could be reached, similar
to one he said had been reached in Afghanistan, where unexpectedly
smooth polls were carried out last month.
within and outside the Bush administration have been calling for
a major offensive against the Fallujah-based insurgency virtually
since April, when White House policymakers, fearful of the political
costs of what had become a bloodbath, called off a three-week Marine
offensive to retake the city and punish those responsible for the
lynching and mutilation of four US security contractors.
Marines handed over control to a group of military and security
officers from the regime of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein,
many of who were apparently fighting with the insurgency. Since
then, the city has reportedly been run by a coalition of former
Baathists, other nationalists, fundamentalist Iraqi Sunnis and some
foreign fighters who, according to Washington, answer to Abu Musab
al-Zarqawi, who US officials say is linked to the al-Qaeda terrorist
the US election drew to a close last week, the neo-conservative
commentators, in particular, began baying for a no-holds-barred
campaign as a way of "setting an example" to insurgents
elsewhere in Iraq, and indeed in the Arab world as a whole.
if Fallujah has to go the way of Carthage, reduced to shards, the
price will be worth it," wrote one neo-conservative former
military officer, Ralph Peters, in the New York Post, while
the Wall Street Journal's editorial page declared the insurgents
"have to be killed if Iraq is ever going to be able to hold
same editorial railed against United Nations Secretary General Kofi
Annan for sending a letter to Bush, Iraqi Interim Prime Minister
Ayad Allawi and British Prime Minister Tony Blair last week cautioning
against an offensive.
warned, "the threat or actual use of force not only risks deepening
the sense of alienation of certain communities (in Iraq), but would
also reinforce perceptions among the Iraqi population of a continued
military occupation." The Journal called the letter
a "hostile act."
most experts here agreed with Annan's analysis, which they said
has been bolstered by a number of developments, including the reported
desertion over the weekend of more than one-half of a 500-man battalion
of Iraqi National Guard that was supposed to fight alongside the
the Association of Muslim Scholars (AMS), one of the main Sunni
clerical groups, and Sadr's aides have urged their co-religionists
not to take part in the assault.
desertions will make it far more difficult for the Marines to turn
over control of Fallujah, once it is retaken, to local forces, a
conclusion that was also reinforced this weekend when insurgents
who supposedly had been routed from Samarra in a joint U.S.-Iraqi
operation set off multiple coordinated attacks in that city,
killing at least a dozen National Guard and local police.
the tenuousness of the security situation, the attacks prompted
Allawi to declare martial law over the entire country, except Kurdistan,
for the next 60 days, a step that, as pointed out by the Los
Angeles Times Monday, was starkly at odds with his declaration
on a visit here in late September that of Iraq's 18 provinces, "14
to 15 are completely safe."
weekend's desertions reportedly left only one fully intact Iraqi
unit deployed with the Marines on the outskirts of Fallujah
the 36th Battalion, whose troops were recruited mostly from Kurdish
and Shi'a militia. "If the 36th turns out to be the 'Iraqi
face' of the new government in Fallujah," noted one worried
administration official, "it'll be seen as another occupation
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2004 Inter Press Service