Bush Dips into Blair’s Advice and Sharon’s Tactics to Fight Iraq Insurgency

Before Black Saturday descended on Iraq on April 24, President George W. Bush had expected to quickly squash the various elements of the Iraqi insurgency and their spring offensive and was banking heavily on a decisive autumn offensive to stamp them out just before the presidential election.
On Saturday, however, not an hour went by without rockets, exploding cars, mortar fire or roadside bombs spreading havoc across Iraq, leaving at least 10 US troops and 35 Iraqis dead, many more injured and a trail of rage. To cap the grim day, three al Qaeda-style seaborne bombs driven by suicide killers attempted to destroy Iraq’s main revenue lifeline, Basra’s offshore oil terminals that have been handling up to 21.6 million barrels a day. Two US sailors were killed and five injured intercepting one of the three lethal speedboats. Two more blew up near the oil rig 7 miles out to sea where two tankers were moored. This was a strategic attack in the direst sense.
debkafile‘s Gulf sources report that in recent weeks, gunrunners and smugglers have carved out dozens of illegal anchorages on the Iraqi and Iranian banks of the Shatt al Arb that opens out into the Persian Gulf opposite Basra. Our terror experts detect clear al Qaeda fingerprints in the first bombing of Basra’s oil installations, launched no doubt from the Iranian bank, on the pattern of previous al Qaeda waterborne strikes against the USS Cole in October 2000 and the French tanker Limburg two years later in the Gulf of Aden.
The official announcement that the Basra terminals will stay shut down for at least two days may be an understatement. Any damage would take much longer to repair, as would the installation of new counter-measures.
Before Saturday and its potential ramifications, the White House had charted a five-point strategy for the run-up to the June 30 transition. It was based on a blend of advice received from British prime minister Tony Blair who visited the White House earlier this month and the tactics Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon and his defense minister Shaul Mofaz have designed for combating Palestinian terrorists in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
It consists of five main steps:
1. Using a US siege force to cage the instigator of this months’ radical Shiite uprising, Moqtada Sadr in the shrine city of Najef. Only last week, mediation initiatives by senior Shiite clerics and top Iranian officials were abandoned. The Iranians returned to Tehran empty-handed. Sadr continues to defy US threats to turn himself in and face an Iraqi court, preferring to risk capture or death in his Najef stronghold.
2. Using a US Marine force to trap in Fallujah the Iraqi Baathists, ex-Saddam military men, Arab fighters from Syria and al Qaeda combatants pouring in additionally from Saudi Arabia, Chechnya and Kuwait. To fortify the siege, the US Marines and 7th and 121st Engineering corps units built a barrier around most of the flashpoint Sunni Triangle city and had it finished by April 15. The barrier concept was borrowed from Israeli thinking behind the fence surrounding the Gaza Strip and the West Bank fence under construction.
For the moment, a general Marine offensive to capture the city is in abeyance, mainly because the army though keen to go forward is overextended. Part of the Fallujah force has been diverted to securing the vital Baghdad-Amman highway supply route. Most military experts believe US troop level should be raised by at least 70,000-100,000 to an optimum of quarter of a million troops.
In both Fallujah and Najef, Bush’s generals are counting on siege tactic forcing the rebels to accept a truce on terms of surrender. That advice came from Blair, who did not count on the enemy coming instead from the rear to hit Iraq’s main oil export terminal off shore of British-controlled Basra. In Fallujah, it was understood, house-to-house battles would be costly in casualties; in Najef, a US troop incursion to capture or kill Sadr would inflame the entire Shiite community. Rather than singeing US military fingers, the Americans in both trouble spots adopted the Israeli tactic of encirclement rather than conquest – as in the Gaza Strip and such West Bank towns as Nablus, Bethlehem and, notably, Yasser Arafat’s Ramallah headquarters, with occasional pinpointed forays.
3. Reversal of the de-Baathisation process instituted by Paul Bremer, which is one reason why Bush is terminating his tour of duty in Iraq in six weeks time. The President is critical of the US administrator’s performance in negotiating with the heads of Iraq’s majority Shiites and the creation of the New Iraq Army. He regards Bremer’s adamant stand against rehiring former Saddam regime members for the military or the civil service as being at the root of the poor showing made by the new Iraqi military and police as well as giving jobless officers an incentive to join the guerrillas. The Bush administration is now recruiting Saddam’s former generals and intelligence chiefs, out of jobs for a year, hoping their long familiarity with the former Iraqi soldiers and their commanders now fighting Americans to help wind down the insurgency that is taking a mounting toll of American and Iraqi lives. In April alone, the US military have so far taken 110 dead and another 900 wounded.
4. On April 16, DEBKA-Net-Weekly 153 named the Mosul-born former Maj.-Gen Mohammed Abdullah Shehwani, 57, recently appointed to head Iraq’s National Intelligence Service, as the man Washington has secretly tipped as Iraq’s future ruler. His Director of Operations will be a Jalal Talabani loyalist, United Kurdish Party intelligence chief, Kosart Rasul, who led the Americans to Saddam Hussein’s hidey hole in December 2003. To further strengthen the hierarchy-in-waiting, the US administration in Baghdad named three new heads for Iraq’s armed forces: Gen. Baker al-Zibari, 56, a Kurd, to be senior defense adviser to the caretaker government and liaison between government and army; Gen. Amer al-Hashemi, 58, a Sunni, as chief of staff and a Shiite, Lt-Gen. Daham al-Assal, 63, as his deputy.
These key appointments representing Iraq’s three main communities are aimed at smoothing the way for the fifth step.
5. Barring unforeseen obstacles, Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani is slated to head the Iraqi caretaker government when it replaces the Iraqi Governing Council ahead of the June 30 handover of sovereignty. This step reflects two important developments: A. US planners have discarded their original power-sharing formula that was based on a top-level Shiite-Kurdish nucleus and switched instead to a Kurdish-Sunni combination. B. Talabani owns an interest in a fairly weak federal government in Baghdad compared with strong Kurdish government in Arbil. This attitude suits Bush planning. As the June 30 deadline nears and havoc continues, the White House feels bound to cut down on the sovereignty to be handed to the Iraqi caretaker government, hemming it in with restraints on its control of the army and legislative powers.
In the meantime, until stable government rules in Baghdad and a trustworthy Iraqi security force is in place, Bush has no army but his own to put in the field against the terrorists and insurgents troubling Iraqi cities. In the four months since Saddam Hussein was captured, the level of violence has not subsided but increased.

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