Iraq: November 6, 2004


What kind of fighting will occur in Fallujah? It will be a game of wits, as well as weapons. The most professional and experienced anti-government gunmen are in Fallujah, and they have developed many countermeasures for the coalition advantages. A major disadvantage is the coalition control of the air, and the constant presence of UAVs, aircraft or helicopters. Too many gunmen have seen their buddies ambushed, or jumped by unexpected coalition troops, to ignore the possibility of a UAV above sending live video of the battlefield to coalition commanders. So the gunmen try to set up movement routes that cannot be seen from the air. Rugs or sheets are spread across alleys to make this possible, and sometimes even short tunnels are dug. The downside of this is that movement is inhibited. In fact, American troops do not always have a vidcam equipped UAV over the battlefield. But Department of Defense public affairs people like to distribute videos of such operations. The implication that American troops can "see everything" is meant to intimidate the enemy. It does, and slows down enemy movements, often fatally so.

In any event, the loose cordon around Fallujah has made it possible for many Sunni Arab gunmen to flee Fallujah. The gang leaders will probably not stay to fight, but with Fallujah gone, a major hiding place for these guys is under government control. The fewer places where the gangs can gather openly, the fewer gangs can operate, and the fewer Sunni suicide bombers and gunmen there are in action. 

But the Sunni Arab fighters have their own forms of intimidation. Saddam's forces had developed the camouflaged roadside bomb in the long before the 2003 invasion. Tactics and construction details continue to evolve, and American troops carefully examine each new enemy development, and quickly let every other trooper know what to watch out for. But someone always runs into a new bomb idea first, and often gets killed doing so. Another advantage is the willingness to use civilians as bait, shields or whatever. The "al Qaeda safe houses" that are constantly bombed in Fallujah were usually family homes forcibly taken over by anti-government forces or terrorists. The gunmen like to keep some of the inhabitants around, especially children. They know that kids playing in the courtyard provides some protection from a smart bomb. But the civilians know that gunmen moving in will be noted by neighbors who may be pro-government, and willing to pass information along that would eventually end up in the guidance system of a smart bomb. So the civilians often flee when the gunmen move in, often at risk to their lives, from angry, and trigger happy people who are as eager to kill Iraqis as Americans. 

Fighting in Fallujah will be a war of surprise and ambush. Whoever first figures out what the other side is up to will have an edge. The smart money is on the Americans. For while the "insurgents" have received lots of positive press for their unequal struggle, they have by far gotten the worst of it. In thousands of little battles, the anti-government forces are almost always defeated. Most of the time they just flee, but all too often they are killed or captured. Coalition intelligence officers know who they are fighting, and how they fight. This information is rapidly passed around and refined. The anti-government forces are a loose coalition of Sunni Arabs who want Saddam, the Baath Party or  Sunni religious leaders running the country. Most of these men are Iraqis, with a minority (less than five percent) of foreigners who came to Iraq with more eagerness than combat experience. Many of the fighters are there for a paycheck, others are caught up in the excitement of it all. Few are professional soldiers. Enthusiasm without discipline and training just gets you killed in combat. Fallujah will see dozens of Americans killed, but the death toll on the other side will be much higher. We know that because this battle has been fought many times before. Not many surprises, although some intrepid reporters will try to invent a few. 


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