US Troops Pull out of Major Centers as Iraqi Security Forces and Interim Government Buckle

On Friday, April 9 – Day Six of the Shiite radical uprising – the tide turned in the Iraq war. US-led forces in Iraq were thrown back to the point they had reached exactly one year ago when Saddam Hussein’s colossal statue was toppled by joyous Iraqis.
They were faced, according to debkafile‘s exclusive military and intelligence sources, with a row of devastating setbacks: ministers were quitting the provisional Iraqi Governing Council set up to hold the fort of government until the handover of sovereignty on June 30; large parts of the New Iraqi Army, police, border guard, protective units for oil installations and intelligence, trained and financed by Washington, were breaking down. Some Iraqi units were handing their weapons and surrendering to the nearest insurgent militias, whether the rebellions radical Shiite Mehdi Army or other guerrilla groups, including al Qaeda.
The third element of the picture flowed from the first two: US troops were ordered to de-escalate military action and pull back from the major fronts of Baghdad’s sprawling northern Shiite slum known as Sadr City, the northern oil city of Mosul and Ar Ramadi at the western tip of the Sunni Triangle. They were told that further coalition troop advances were bound to cause an unacceptable level of civilian and troop casualties.
This was the real background to the unilateral US suspension of hostilities on April 9 in the hotbed town of Falllujah, scene of the brutal lynching of four American contractors on March 31.
Saturday, April 10, US Brig.Gen Kimmit called on Iraqi insurgents in Fallujahto join the ceasefire declared unilaterally by US forces and negotiate a way out of the crisis. The call went unheeded as guerrillas continued to attack.
Most surprisingly, American and allied forces were stopped in their tracks not by a popular Iraqi revolution or a mighty army, but by the spotty “strike and scoot” tactics of a radical militia, the ragtag Mehdi Army led by a fringe Shiite leader, 31-year old Moqtada Sadr.
His tactics, meticulously plotted by masterminds in Iran and the Hizballah, proved capable of breaking up the military, political and economic edifice the Bush administration had created at great cost on the road to a future democracy.
The impact of the Iraqi reverses on US standing in the world and the Middle East and George W. Bush’s re-election prospects will not be long in coming. America’s allies in the region are aghast. Their leaders are witnessing a stage in the Iraq war in which US-led forces are falling back against the combined strength of terrorists and their sponsors, Iran, Hizballah, Syria, al Qaeda and Iraqi Shiite radicals. The thought has occurred to Jerusalem that this anti-American coalition may well decide to sidestep a direct military confrontation with the American army and follow up its Iraq successes with a newly invigorated military-terrorist offensive against Israel.
This sharpened threat looms at the very moment that Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon is working against all odds to sell President Bush and his own Likud Party a plan for Israel’s unilateral disengagement from the Palestinians and renunciation of all Gaza and a handful of West bank settlements. This plan would render Jewish state extremely vulnerable to enemy action, a fact that will not be lost on the winning coalition in Iraq which also sustains the extremist Hamas, or on the Palestinian terrorist movement as a whole.
Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip would be a gift to Hamas, delivering into the hands of the terrorists threatening to overrun Iraq the further gain of an open enclave, haven and base, on the Mediterranean, that would hem Israel in from the south. They would acquire this asset on top of the Lebanese and Syrian bases on its northern border where the terrorists and their Iranian backers are already poised to strike.
debkafile‘s military sources uncover for the first time the sequence of events unfolding in the last 48 hours that brought the US-led coalition army to its present impasse:
1. Thursday night, April 8, US forces, diverted to regain the southern town of al Kut from Sadr’s militia, rolled into the town center. They rolled out again with all speed once they saw the steady barrage directed against them could be halted only by a heavy bombardment of the streets and residential districts with resultant heavy civilian casualties.
2. Later that morning, Shiite and Sunni militias turned their guns on Al Ghraib the hub northwest of Baghdad of American supply routes from the capital to Fallujah, Ramadi and on to the Jordanian capital of Amman. Their gunmen blew up and set fire to an American fuel and food truck, causing casualties, and went on to seize the Al Ghraib semi-military airfield.
3. Conflicting statements issuing from US authorities on the state of play in Fallujah created hours of confusion on Thursday. Administrator Paul Bremer announced a unilateral suspension of military action for humanitarian aid to enter the besieged city and for Iraqi mediators to begin talks with Iraqi guerrilla chiefs; Deputy Director of Operations Brig.-Gen Mark Kimmit countered by stating fighting was continuing, while the US command ordered the troops to hold their fire. Hostilities were halted in Falluja for the same reason US forces redeployed outside al Kut and, as we shall see below, Ar Ramadi: The only way to forcibly seize control of the town centers was to mow down entire civilian populations. Already, the six-day Falluja battle had reportedly claimed 478 Iraqi lives and a civilian exodus had begun, threatening further disorder. US casualties were also climbing too fast – 45 in a week.
4. The same deadly cause-and-effect spiral caused the US command to check its military advance in Ar Ramadi, a key point on strategic route known as The Corridor between the Tharthar and Habbaniyah Lakes. Held in place, American troops had to forego their planned offensive against the mixed Shiite-Sunni forces overrunning large areas between Ar Ramadi and the southern outskirts of Kirkuk.
debkafile‘s military sources reveal that, several weeks ago, Mehdi Army commanders struck a deal with local Sunni and Turkomen tribal chiefs to allow several hundred secretly trained Shiite fighters to cross their lands en route from Baghdad and Samarra to points north. The militiamen have joined up with the Sunni guerrillas and al Qaeda bands. The have fetched up together outside Kirkuk. The American non-advance leaves this dangerous enclave in northern Iraq free to build up its strength – but for another factor:
5. To meet the encroaching peril, the Kurds of the north have moved military units out of Suleimaniyah and Kirkuk and redeployed them further south at the Turkoman town of Tuz Khumato. The two Kurdish leaders Jalal Talabani and Massoud Barzani have warned Washington that if Shiite and Sunni militias move any further north towards Kirkuk, the Kurdish armies will push southward and smash them – a threat that raises the dread specter of an ethnic bloodbath.
6. Friday afternoon, intelligence reached the US command that a combined Shiite-Sunni-al Qaeda attack on Mosul was in the offing. US forces were ordered to evacuate bases in the city area and barricade themselves in camps outside. The immediate result was the breakdown of Iraqi administrative and police authority in this part of northwestern Iraq. Iraqi police and security officers began surrendering to the various militias including al Qaeda and handing over the weapons distributed by the Americans. The breakdown touched off the flight of tens of thousands from the Sunni suburbs of Mosul. This exodus together with the refugees heading out of Fallujah adds up to a swelling stream of more 100,000 Iraqis moving on the highways of northern and western Iraq to escape hostilities and find safe havens.
7. US forces withdrew from Baghdad’s Sadr City suburb at the same time as they left Mosul. By Friday nightfall, the last US patrol had left the hostile suburb to the control of Sadr’s militia in the hope of stemming further bloodshed on both sides. Saturday morning, however, the Shiite militia turned their guns again on US troops in Baghdad.
8. The breakdown of the US-designed Iraqi security apparatuses in Mosul and Baghdad is catching on fast in other apparently stable parts of the country. According to debkafile‘s military sources, a wave of desertions is sweeping the 150,000-strong command and rank-and-file levels of the Iraqi army, border guard and police.
9. Faced with these desertions, the Iraqi Governing Council is beginning to fall apart as one minister after another abandons the government and security ship painstakingly built by Bremer. Turning on its maker, the IGC demands that the US halt its military offensive in Iraq without delay.
10. The hostage-taking campaign waged by the lawless militias is part of a campaign of terror to drive America’s allies into withdrawing their troops from Iraq, so stripping the United States of its international allied support.

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