Nov. 12, 2004 – The consequences for the siege of Fallujah are rapidly mounting. Three relatives of interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi are being held hostage and threatened with execution, Iraqâ€™s Sunni leaders are withdrawing from the political process, and rebels are escalating strikes throughout the country.
US forces moved into the northern Iraqi city of Mosul on Thursday, a day after resistance forces captured at least five police stations and took control of Iraqâ€™s third largest city.
A senior member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) told reporters that Iraqi police handed police stations over to "the terrorists." Saadi Ahmed called internal security forces "a failure" and "ineffective because some of them are cooperating with the terrorists," reports MSNBC.
The partial loss of control in the relatively occupation-friendly Mosul, even briefly, is a particularly alarming development for the interim Iraqi government and foreign occupiers. Autonomous from the rest of Iraq since 1991, the northern Kurdish region supported the latest US invasion and was largely spared the night raids and mass arrests that presently define life in the rest of Iraq.
Despite spates of violence under US occupation, including continuous assassinations, the city and surrounding area were deemed such a low security risk, Prime Minister Allawi excluded Kurdistan from the 60-day state of emergency he announced on Sunday, just before approving the US-led ground offensive into Fallujah.
With approximately seven percent of American military personnel in Iraq devoted to regaining control of one city, rebel groups have taken their fight to central and northern Iraq.
Seven Iraqis were reported killed Monday during 24 hours of fighting between insurgents and US snipers in Ramadi. Agence France Presse reports that after US personnel left the town, masked rebels emerged dancing on the streets Tuesday, and residents unfurled banners supporting the insurgency in Fallujah.
"The residents of Ramadi condemn the attack against Fallujah," one man told AFP, "and we appeal to the inhabitants of Ramadi to wage war against the American occupants who want to eradicate Islam."
Attacks on three police stations Tuesday killed 25 police in the central city of Baqouba, while in northern Kirkuk, three workers were killed when a car bomb was detonated near an Iraqi National Guard base, reports Reuters.
Car bombings also killed over three-dozen people this week in Baghdad. On Tuesday, car bombs detonated in front of two churches killed four people, and thirteen others were killed later that day when a car bomb was detonated in front of one of Baghdadâ€™s main hospitals, according to AFP.
Wednesday, a car bomb targeting a nearby police checkpoint killed ten bystanders and wounded fifteen others. The following day, an estimated seventeen people were killed and 30 others wounded when a car bomb detonated just after a US military convoy passed through a popular commercial district, reports the Associated Press.
Urban battles between insurgents and military forces killed ten civilians and wounded 26 others, including women and children in the northern city of Baiji on Wednesday, while three people were killed in Mosul, AFP reports.
Meanwhile, US officials have admitted that reputed Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, along with his groupâ€™s senior leadership and an unknown number of followers, likely escaped Fallujah before the ground offensive began. Far from acknowledging the development as a hazard to the rest of the countryâ€™s security, General Richard Myers, chair of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, dismissed it as expected:
"That's the nature of an insurgency, you know, where people can fight one minute and then blend into the surroundings the next minute," Gen. Myers told NBCâ€™s Today Show on Thursday. "If anybody thinks that Fallujah's going to be the end of the insurgency in Iraq, that was never the objective, never our intention and even never our hope."
Defense analysts speaking to Reuters also expressed skepticism that merely securing Fallujah was enough.
"For Fallujah to be a success from the U.S. perspective, we would have to achieve something pretty close to total victory -- not just retaking real estate but accomplishing real strategic objectives," Charles Pena of the Cato Institute, a conservative libertarian think tank. "That could be capturing Al-Zarqawi or being able to say we've destroyed his network, and that the net result is a reduction in the violence in Iraq and an increase in security."
Conversely, Pena said, all that the "bad guys" have to do is "not lose."
"And not lose just simply means surviving to fight another day. And that's exactly what they've done," he told Reuters.
"In military terms, Fallujah is not going to be much of a plus at all," retired Lieutenant General Bernard Trainor told MSNBC. "The downside is that weâ€™ve knocked the hell out of this city, and the only insurgents we really got were the nut-cases and zealots the smart ones left behind -- the guys who really want to die for Allah."
In a commentary written for Aljazeeraâ€™s website, former US Marine and senior UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter, who gained notoriety for his outspoken criticism of the Bush administrationâ€™s weapons of mass destruction claims, said, "While the US military leadership struggles to get a grip on a situation in Iraq that deteriorates each and every day, the anti-US occupation fighters continue to execute a game plan that has been in position since day one." Ritter added that the US is "playing right into [the rebels] hands."
While the US and Iraqi governments argue that massive offensives against rebel strongholds are needed to secure the country in time for the national elections slated for January, this latest excursion may end up undermining the US-backed political process, not to mention already-decayed public opinion on the US occupation.
"Certainly the US military can eventually suppress Fallujah," Dr. Wamid Omar Nathmi, a senior Baghdad University political scientist, told Independent journalist Dahr Jamail, who is currently working in Baghdad. "But for how long?" he asked. "Iraq is burning with wrath, anger and sadnessâ€¦the people of Fallujah are dear to us. They are our brothers and sisters and we are so saddened by what is happening in that city."
For Sunni leaders, Allawiâ€™s approval of the assault on Fallujah proved a breaking point, and they followed his announcement with one of their own on Monday. The Iraqi Islamic Party, a moderate Sunni group headed by a returned exile once detained under Saddam Hussein, pulled its sole cabinet member and withdrew from the Iraqi government.
"We are protesting the attack on Fallujah and the injustice that is inflicted on the innocent people of the city," said party leader Mohsen Abdel-Hamid, quoted by the Associated Press. "We cannot be part of this attack."
The following day, an Iraqi Sunni clerics organization, the Association of Muslim Scholars (AMS), called for a boycott of the national elections slated for late January.
AMS also issued a fatwa order prohibiting Iraqi military and police troops from fighting against other Muslims in Iraq, warning, "We will stand against you in the streets, we will enter your houses and we will slaughter you just like sheep."
The stress evidently too much to bear, some 400 Iraqi troops resigned or placed themselves "on leave" rather than engage in Fallujah, the Chicago Tribune reported on Tuesday.
Some people were afraid because they received threats," Iraqi Sergeant Abdul Raheem told the Tribune. "They were afraid of death."
Finally, Prime Minister Allawi awaits word over three family members reported kidnapped on Tuesday night. His cousin, Ghazi, 75, his cousinâ€™s wife, and their pregnant daughter-in-law are reportedly being held by a previously unheard-of Islamist group, which threatened to behead them within 48 hours unless the assault against Fallujah is stopped.