Thursday, November 11, 2004


The battle for Fallujah, long awaited, long dreaded, is underway. U.S. and coalition forces are engaged in a street-by-street, block-by-block ballistic canvass of the holy city of Iraq. The casualties for Americans are mounting; estimates from the U.S. military say 10 Americans were killed Tuesday, the worst single day for American forces in the country in about six months.

What, of course, emerges from the American military spokesman is the boilerplate retreat to the powers of the American armed forces and our resolve to see it through. More than one news report of the day crows that U.S. forces have contained “70 per cent” of Fallujah. Implicit in the statistic is the John Wayne aspect of American might. It suggests a redux of the annihilation of the first Gulf War, an easy dispatch of an enemy whose challenge was the mother of all follies.

But it may be, probably is, a deception. You can’t escape the unsettling fact that the long interregnum between announcement and action has put a lot of people in motion. For weeks the coalition and the interim prime minister Ayad Allawi had issued ominous warnings about the then-impending attack. Every day, it seems, there was talk of Allawi losing his patience, threats of the closing of the window of opportunity. And in that time, mercifully, many of the ordinary people of Fallujah got the hell out. But not so mercifully, so did many of the insurgents that American forces are pouring into Fallujah just dying to find.

The problem with being the world’s sole military leviathan is mainly an inability to conceal your intentions. When you’re that big, you’re not real subtle. You can’t be. You are subject to your own mass and power, you can’t get out of your own way. So your enemy knows what to do to avoid you, and when to do it. That begins to explain the relative ease with which the U.S.-led coalition has taken so much of the city. Analysts have begun to offer dire scenarios, perfectly plausible, of how the bulk of the insurgents had already made good their escape days, if not weeks, before the United States forces got there. It would be, the reasoning goes, like trying to contain a blob of mercury in a bathroom sink basin on a moving train.

This should be no surprise when you engage in the second longest telegraphed punch in the history of American warfare — the first being the eternity of time between the “axis of evil” State of the Union and the beginning of the shock & awe days. If we’d given the Nazis this much advance warning before the D-Day invasion, we’d never have gotten ashore, or if or when we did, the cost, already horrific, would have increased by orders of magnitude.

That 70 percent containment in Fallujah could be 90 percent by the weekend. The unaddressed question, or at least the underaddressed question, is a good one: Where have all the insurgents gone?

To Samarra, maybe, or Mosul, or Baiji, the site of a major refinery. There’s been new violence in all of them, and others, in recent days.

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