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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 68/No. 44November 30, 2004

lead article
U.S. troops wage war to destroy Baathists
After taking over Fallujah, occupation forces
battle in Mosul, Ramadi, other Iraqi cities
Getty Images/Marco DiLauro
U.S. tank in war-torn center of Fallujah November 15, after U.S and Iraqi troops routed organized units of Baathists and took control of city in Iraq’s “Sunni Triangle.”

U.S. troops overran Fallujah November 15, after a week-long ground offensive against organized units of Baathists, remnants of the best forces of the former regime of Saddam Hussein. About 15,000 Marines were involved in the assault, advancing section by section and calling in air strikes as they encountered resistance. The U.S. forces destroyed large parts of the city in the process, damaged its infrastructure, and didn’t spare the minarets of a number of mosques.

As fighting in Fallujah subsided, the U.S. military sent a second battalion of Marines to nearby Ramadi for similar operations and waged battles against Baathists in Baquba and Suwaira in the area, as well as Mosul and Kirkuk in the north.

This represents a full-scale war by U.S. forces to wipe out the units of the Baathist army that dissolved last year but hid weapons and ammunition and have used the Sunni-dominated cities in central Iraq as bases to attack the U.S.-led occupation forces. It’s the unfinished war from last year’s invasion, when the government of Turkey did not allow U.S. troops to use its soil for a simultaneous invasion from the north.

A day after the takeover of Fallujah, 1,200 U.S. troops along with forces of the Iraqi interim government had sealed off the five bridges over the Tigris river in Mosul, northern Iraq. They blocked off the western sections of the city, largely inhabited by Sunni Arabs who had dominated the government under Hussein. The assault in Mosul came after Baathists attacked police stations there to aid their brothers who had been besieged in Fallujah. U.S. troops are carrying out similar operations in the northern city of Kirkuk.

“It’s ongoing offensive operations to eliminate all the pockets of resistance that are out there,” Lt. Col. Paul Hastings, told the press. “Now we are trying to catch a wider swath of targeted areas.” Hastings is the spokesman for Task Force Olympia, the U.S. units charged with controlling northern Iraq.  
The assault on Fallujah
The U.S. assault on Fallujah had been prepared for weeks. It was not launched, however, until five days after the November 2 U.S. elections. Preparations included dropping of flyers from planes urging civilians to leave and a three-week bombardment campaign prior to the ground attack. According to press reports, most of the city’s population of 250,000 had fled by November 7.

Some 25,000 troops, mostly U.S. Marines, along with 2,000 Iraqi troops, sealed off Fallujah and Ramadi just days before the assault began.

The formal pretext for the attack was the refusal by Sunni clerics and other Baathists in Fallujah and Ramadi to turn over to the interim government of Iraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi leaders of groups entrenched there that had carried out bombings of civilian and military targets and kidnappings and beheadings of hostages. Officials of Allawi’s administration said that two on the wanted list, Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Abdullah al-Janabi, had not been found in Fallujah. Al-Zarqawi is the leader of Tawhid and Jihad, a group that has taken responsibility for beheadings of hostages and bombing attacks.

Baghdad had also said that Fallujah was a haven for “foreign fighters” crossing the border from Syria to fight against the U.S. occupation.

U.S. Col. Michael Regner, operations officer for the First Marine Expeditionary Force in Fallujah, said, however, that of the 1,052 individuals captured during the fighting there, all but 20 were Iraqis. Much of what has been reported, points to those resisting being well-trained former members of elite units of the Republican Guard that was the core of the Hussein regime’s military.

The fighting in the Sunni Triangle sharply contrasts with what U.S. troops faced against militias in the Shia-populated cities of Najaf, Kufa, and Karbarla in April. “Very few of them are giving up,” Col. Regner said, according to the Associated Press. “They’re fighting to the death.”

In numerous press reports U.S. commanders noted that they have faced a more determined, better equipped and trained opponent in Fallujah, Ramadi, and Mosul and that former officers of Hussein’s army are involved in leading them. On November 15, the Allawi administration said that Moayed Ahmed Yassin, the leader of the Army of Mohammed—a group accused of the beheadings of several Iraqi and foreign hostages—was among those captured. Iraq’s interior minister said that Yassin was a member of Hussein’s Republican Guard.

After driving Baathist forces from their positions in a section of Fallujah, Marines found a bunker complete with a network of steel-reinforced tunnels and connecting rooms. One of them contained an anti-aircraft gun, bunk beds, trucks, and a cache of weapons, according to the Bloomberg news service.  
How Marines fought
Various press reports indicated that the forces resisting the U.S. offensive in Fallujah included highly trained snipers and others who knew how to deploy tactically in battle and survive under intense enemy fire. An article by a New York Times reporter on the scene, for example, described how a small group of snipers held down 150 Marines for an entire day. The snipers reportedly escaped, even though they had been targeted with two air strikes of 500-pound bombs, 35 artillery shells, 10 tank rounds, and some 30,000 rounds of rifle fire.

U.S. forces waged the ground offensive in this fashion throughout the city. After taking over a section and drawing fire as they tried to advance to the next block they would take cover. Then they would call in air strikes and artillery bombardments.

Staff Sgt. Shawn Zawistowski, of the First Infantry’s Task Force 2-2, said eight artillery guns from his group had fired over 100 rounds each against Baathist positions in Fallujah in the first three days of the battle, according to the Washington Post. The guns fire rocket assisted shells up to a range of 22 miles. Each shell has a kill radius of 55 yards.

Unlike the restraint they had exhibited in the largely Shiite areas in the south earlier this year in not attacking mosques, U.S. commanders in Fallujah did not hesitate much to order the bombing of minarets used by snipers to pin down U.S. units. The November 13 shooting in the head of a wounded Iraqi laying on the ground in a mosque, which was recorded on TV and broadcast by NBC News, was characteristic of the leeway the U.S. military gave its forces. After the publicity, the Marine caught on TV was removed from his unit and the incident is reportedly under investigation.

As a result, many of the city’s buildings were destroyed, numerous roads were torn up, and good parts of Fallujah’s electric grid and water and sewer systems were damaged. U.S. and Iraqi authorities have not released any figures on civilian casualties. U.S. commanders told the press their initial estimates is that they killed more than 1,200 insurgents in the assault.

The U.S. military is apparently poised to wage this phase of the war taking whatever casualties are necessary. Among the 15,000 U.S. troops involved in the attack on Fallujah, 38 were killed and 320 wounded, of whom 134 have returned to duty. In addition, six Iraqi national guardsmen were killed and 28 wounded, according to the U.S. military. These are casualties proportionately higher than those the U.S. military took during the March 2003 invasion. When the Bush administration declared combat operations over in May of that year, 138 U.S. troops had died of a total force of 250,000. In addition, 34 allied troops fell in battle then, among the 45,000 British, 2,000 Australian, and 200 Polish troops that took part in last year’s invasion.  
Absence of protests
There were no protests from leading Shia clerics and political parties to the assault on Fallujah. A statement by a spokesperson for Shia leader Ali al-Sistani condemned the violence by both U.S. forces and antigovernment Baathists but proposed no action. Muqtada al-Sadr, who headed armed revolts against U.S. troops in April, threatened not to participate in elections scheduled for next year while “Iraqi cities are under attack,” said a senior aide, according to the New Zealand Herald.

So far, earlier threats by Sunni clerics to issue a fatwa, or religious decree, ordering Muslims to conduct protests and a campaign of civil disobedience in response to the attack on Fallujah has not materialized. Those who would dare to take such a step would be considered a target of the new U.S. offensive.

The U.S. military arrested Nasir Ayif, a deputy head of the interim parliament, according to a November 15 Al-Jazeera TV report. Ayif is a leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party, the country’s largest Sunni political group. The party withdrew from the interim government in protest against the assault on Fallujah.

The reason for the absence of protests in Iraq is that the Sunni minority enjoyed extensive privileges under the Hussein regime. Sunnis dominated the military and thug police forces that carried out brutal repression, including arbitrary arrests, beatings, and murders, against the majority Shia in central and southern Iraq and the Kurdish minority in the north.

No significant protests have been reported either in Saudi Arabia—a majority Sunni Muslim country—or other countries in the region.

Sporadic protests in U.S. cities—from Chicago to New York and Los Angeles—called on the eve of the assault on Fallujah were small. They ranged from a few dozen to a couple of hundred.

U.S. warplanes also carried out raids using 500-pound bombs against Baathist positions in Baquba, killing 20, according to November 15 reports by the Washington Post and the Associated Press.U.S. troops have been joined in the fighting in Mosul by thousands of former members of the Kurdish peshmerga guerillas, according to the New York Times. The Kurdish troops have been incorporated into the regular Iraqi army, reported the Boston Globe. Leaders of the main Kurdish political parties seek to obtain the widest range of autonomy in a federated Iraq. They enjoyed autonomy under the Hussein regime following the 1991 U.S.-led war against Iraq under the protection of a no-fly zone enforced by U.S. and British warplanes.

Kurds are an oppressed minority living in northern Iraq and parts of neighboring Turkey, Iran, Syria, and Armenia. Support for independence in Iraqi Kurdistan, as the northern region of Iraq is known, is widespread. In April, about 1.7 million Kurds of the estimated 4-7 million Kurds in Iraq signed a petition demanding a popular referendum on secession. The Kurdish flag is flown over most government buildings in the Kurdish regions.  
The war wasn’t finished in 2003
The current offensive is the unfinished war the U.S. military did not fight last year. After the invasion, views of U.S. officials like Secretary of State Colin Powell and former U.S. civilian administrator of Iraq Paul Bremmer prevailed, delaying the installation of an Iraqi interim government, the launching of the new Iraqi armed forces, and the final assault on the Baathist remnants in central and northern Iraq.

Fierce battles took place in Fallujah in March and April of this year, when U.S. forces laid siege to the city following the killings of four U.S. military “contractors.” Their burned and charred remains were strung from a bridge over the Euphrates river as many residents cheered. U.S. Marines were ordered to prepare an assault on the city ostensibly to capture those responsible.

A showdown with the Baathists was again postponed when the siege ended on April 30 with the announcement that the occupation authority headed by Bremer had negotiated an agreement to replace the Marines by establishing a Fallujah Brigade headed by former Iraqi military officers from Hussein’s army. The brigade never engaged the Baathist forces and was dissolved in September.

Powell resigned from his cabinet post in Washington November 15, as U.S. forces took over Fallujah. He was replaced by national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, a more reliable supporter of the Bush administration’s course.
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