As the US-Iraqi Fallujah offensive goes into its eleventh day, some hard facts glint through the pile of chaff obscuring the operation. For one, the immediate impression of several secondary fronts springing up out of the Fallujah offensive – and fought by small groups of rebels, foreign Arab and al Qaeda combatants – is misleading. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources, those groups were allowed to retreat from Fallujah and “guided” towards Baqouba, Mosul and Ramadi. There, US and Kurdish forces were lying in wait to trap them and are now wiping them out. (See attached DEBKA strategic map)
The offensive’s strategic goals are also becoming clearer.
Its primary objective was to snap the last operational links binding the Shiite rebel underground in Baghdad and Najef, and the Sunni Fallujah stronghold. This collaboration exacerbated the rebellious turmoil last April and caught US war planners unawares.
In August and September, the Shiite end of the connection was severed when the Moqtada Sadr revolt was smashed in Najef then aborted in Baghdad’s Sadr City.
This week, the Sunni end was terminated in Fallujah.
The success of the prior US campaign against Shiite militancy was proven this week when no Shiite fighters rose up in southern Iraq, Baghdad or along the highway linking the capital and the beleaguered Sunni bastion. No Shiites staged a diversionary tactic that might have taken the heat off the rebels. The Baathist guerrillas and their Arab allies were left to stand alone in Fallujah against the overwhelming odds of a superior American force and a tiny Iraqi-Kurdish contingent.
Another misleading report from the Fallujah battle zone suggested that US forces were out to pin down Iraqi guerrilla and al Qaeda positions in the city and either take them prisoner or kill them. The American tactic was in fact to push the insurgents out of Fallujah in any of four directions: south to Latafiya and Iskandariya; west to Ramadi; east to Baqouba or north to Mosul.
The Marines made sure of an open corridor or two in all the battle sectors they encircled. Their purpose was to siphon the enemy out of the city for two reasons:
A. To accomplish their mission with greater speed and minimum casualties.
B. To cut down on difficult urban, door-to-door combat by emptying the city. The enemy was expected to be easier to pick off outside Fallujah while they were in flight and in disarray.
Insurgents in flight are bottled up in refuges
Baqouba and Mosul have mixed ethnic and religious populations.
Most of Baqouba, 35 miles (55 km) northeast of Baghdad, is Shiite. Therefore, Sunni fugitives from Fallujah could go no farther than the Sunni-dominated township of Buhritz abutting on Baqouba in their search for a haven for setting up base and continuing the fight. During this week, the US 1st Infantry Division was quietly deployed nearby. The troops let the rebels concentrate in Buhritz, then sealed it off and moved in for the kill.
In Mosul, 225 miles (360 km) north of Baghdad, the US military employed the same tactic.
The third largest town in Iraq, Mosul has a population of two million and very extensive Kurdish, Turkmen and Assyrian neighborhoods. Guerrillas fleeing Fallujah, some sailing up the Tigris River, could expect refuge only in the Sunni-dominated southern district. There, several hundred American troops and about 4,000 Kurdish peshmerga bottled them up by blocking their access across five bridges and two over the Tigris to the northern Kurdish and Turkmen quarters.
For almost a week, the Fallujah fugitives were allowed to rampage through the Sunni neighborhood. With the help of local sympathizers, they overran nine police stations and various government buildings, blowing some of them up.
Tuesday, November 16, US and Kurdish troops drove into the Sunni district, again leaving the insurgents open escape routes: west toward the town of Tel Afar and the Syrian border or south in the direction of the town of al Hadhr.
The plan was to catch the enemy at its most vulnerable in the bare, open terrain outside Mosul and destroy them with Striker assault vehicles, helicopters and warplanes.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly military sources, the “bolt holes” from Fallujah to Mosul and Baqouba are still open, but not for much longer.
To the south of Fallujah, fleeing rebels reaching Latafiya and Iskandariya are suffering the same fate as those who headed north and east. US special forces and the Scottish Black Watch infantry regiment are waylaying and destroying them in their southward flight.
Netting some Sunnis for the vote
After the insurgents fleeing Fallujah are liquidated by the waiting American, British and Kurdish troops, the US military plans to redeploy along the two blades of the scissors.
One blade will lie between Fallujah and Baqouba; the second from Fallujah to Latafiya. (See attached map)
In the weeks to come, the two blades will come together, sweeping up the pockets of resistance in their path – foreign Arab, Iraqi and al Qaeda insurgents. American planners hope this action will clean out the area bounded by Latafiya and Iskandariya in the south and Baqouba and Ramadi in the northeast and west – right up to Baghdad.
According to our military experts, American strategists have their sights on two goals:
1. Baghdad’s virtually insulation against terrorist attack, a pre-condition for stable government, especially after the January 27 general election.
2. The division of Iraq’s heartland and Sunni region into two sectors: In one, the southern environs of Mosul, Haditha, al Qaim and other parts of Anbar province and Tikrit, insurgent warfare is not expected to disappear although its pitch will be reduced. The second – from Fallujah to Latafiya and including Baqouba and the Diyala province, southeast of Baghdad – will be rid of rebel violence. Cleaning it out is a vital element of the Fallujah offensive and intended to make sure that the Sunnis of Diyala Province turn out for the vote.
The Bush administration attaches great importance to Sunni participation in the national ballot, however partial. Officials in Washington and Baghdad are pinning their hopes on the electorate of Diyala, who may be the only Sunni Muslims to cast their votes. In other Sunni districts, citizens are expected either to heed their spiritual leaders’ injunction to boycott the election or be deterred by terrorist attacks. The conclusion of the US operations in Fallujah, Latafiya and Baqouba is expected to leave Diyala isolated from the rest of the Sunni triangle and calm enough to produce a voter turnout.
US 2005 Guidelines
The American military command and diplomatic corps in Iraq have been issued with government guidelines and assessments for 2005.
1. It is accepted that the January general election cannot be held in all of Iraq’s 18 provinces. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources list the exceptions as being Mosul, al Qaim and the rest of al Anbar Province and such cities as Nineveh. They believe the list will grow longer by voting day.
2. US troops will remain in Iraq through 2005. Their total number will not be reduced. The order of unit rotation has been fixed for the whole year.
3. American units will maintain a lower profile after the January ballot and an elected government takes office in Baghdad. In one or two regions – and perhaps more – where the US troop presence has been highly visible, servicemen will hunker down in closed US bases after handing over security responsibilities to the Iraqi army and police. US special forces will be on call in those bases in case the Iraqi army needs urgent support. But regular troops at base will observe a similar regimen of exercises and activities as American installations in Japan and South Korea. US intervention outside base will be held down to a minimum.
These guidelines for the 2005 troop redeployment and operational planning in Iraq were established by Lieutenant-General David Patraeus.