Arm Chair Generals

It seems like the whole world will be watching this one.

The battle for control of Fallujah — seen by U.S. and Iraqi authorities as crucial for the pacification of Iraq — has begun with air strikes and a major buildup of force outside the Sunni city.

The next stage — a potentially very violent, street-to-street struggle to take the city itself — could begin at any time. It is likely to produce major casualties on both sides, a prospect that prompted the United States to abort a Marine assault on the city in April.

I think that history will judge this coming battle as the most decisive event during the Iraq conflict. I say that because unlike the rapid conclusion of the ‘combat’ phase in 2003 and the numerous, but scattered bombs and battles of the insurgency, the battle that will happen very soon in Fallujah is going to be HUGE. 10,000 Marines have encircled the city, along with several thousand Iraqi Guardsmen. An estimated 8000 insurgents are fortified within. Reinforced by foreign fighters, it is unlikely that these guys are going to pack it in and come to an agreement with US forces like Sadr’s Mahdi Army did in Sammara.

Fallujah will be the epitome of modern urban combat. How the United States handles this will define their future presence in Iraq. If they level the city like they did the city of Hue in Vietnam, then what little remaining capital credibility with the Iraqi people will be lost. Elections will fail, and true civil war will erupt. The Marines intend to make extensive use of sniper teams, supported by UAV’s in an effort to make precision kills. Like Stalingrad, it would appear that in Fallujah, the sniper will be king.

The wild card is how far the insurgents are willing to go. Because of the foreign fighter element, the probability of surrender is low. The result could be a wasteland, where once a city stood.

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