Iraq: April 2, 2004


The original plan was to let the Iraqi police "clean up" places like  Fallujah, and do it gradually. But this is a Sunni Arab town full of people with blood on their hands, and eager to remind the world just how nasty they are.  Fallujah was long a prime recruiting ground for the secret police and Republican Guard. Saddam was good to  Fallujah, and  the thugs of Fallujah were merciless against Saddam's enemies. However, Saddam's enemies are the majority of the Iraqi population and soon that majority will be electing a government. This government would send as many police and soldiers to  Fallujah as is needed to round up and punish all the guilty. Unfortunately, the way things work in the Middle East, this could easily leave  Fallujah a pile of smoking rubble, and most of the population dead or fled. The Arab world would have had to deal with it. Arabs killing Arabs is nothing new, in fact it's quite normal in the Middle East, a land of tyrants, torture chambers and secret police. 

However, coalition trainers hoped to have convinced the new Iraqi police to go in  Fallujah and smoke out the guilty hordes more precisely and with less bloodshed. Flood  Fallujah with Iraqi police and soldiers and go house to house looking for weapons and known, and suspected,  criminals. Most of Saddam's thugs operated quite openly. People knew the names. They still know the names. Next year, the Iraqi police could arrest the names, put them on trial, convict them for crimes against humanity and imprison or execute them. This is why the people of  Fallujah are so eager to kill outsiders. It's not just a habit they can't shake, it's a defensive mechanism. Eventually, someone is going to come to  Fallujah to look for Saddam's thugs, and the thugs know it.

But killing four Americans, and mutilating and displaying the bodies, and doing it joyfully in front of cameras, would have pleased Saddam, and brought rewards to  Fallujah. But now it will bring the marines, and the marines are not as good as Iraqi police at telling the good from the bad in  Fallujah. Any Iraqi civilian with a gun will be quickly killed. The most likely plan is to assemble a force of Iraqi police to go in with the marines and  quickly interrogate the people of  Fallujah and try and find the gunmen before marine bullets do. The police will also spread the word that the marines will keep fighting, and killings Iraqis, until the Iraqi police are told where the killers are and can arrest the bad guys.

All this could get ugly, especially if most of the police brought in are not Sunni Arabs. Using Shia and Kurdish police means you have Iraqi cops with guns, and mental images of much worse atrocities than four dead Americans. But one way or another,  Fallujah will "get cleaned up." Actually, most people in  Fallujah want it that way. Not everyone in  Fallujah supported Saddam, but a large minority did. The rest went along. You don't argue with guys who have short tempers and large guns. The majority is also more likely to identify the guilty if there is some assurance that all, or most of the thugs, are going down quickly. The thugs of  Fallujah are still intimidating Iraqis, but for the past year they have only been doing it to the good people of  Fallujah. Talk to the Americans and you die. The Sunni Arab police died by the dozens at the hands of these thugs. But if enough police and  marines come in and stay long enough, people will talk. What is uncertain at the moment is how much and how long is enough. We're going to find out in the next few weeks.


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