US tips toward restraint in Fallujah
Over the weekend, US forces around the insurgent city held off from assault in favor of more pinpointed security measures.
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Marines in this theater - from the top ranks to truck drivers - declare confidently that they could "take down" Fallujah in 24 hours, with "bone crushing" force. But a sense of moderation - and that the solution is somewhere in between - has been growing in recent days.Skip to next paragraph
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Delay of any offensive also appears to be paying off. Though insurgents have been able to dig in deeper during the shaky ceasefire, and hone their defenses, US Marines are also taking a toll.
Beside the early Saturday operation that US officers say killed 30 at a farmhouse south of Fallujah - when the 105mm Howitzer and 40mm cannons of the AC-130 Specter gunship engaged the hideout - another battle in the early hours Sunday killed another 11.
Marines spotted a handful of men leaving a mosque with shoulder-held rockets, and engaged them on the northwest edge of the city. More came out of the brush, firing. When the battle was over, according to two American journalists embedded with the unit, the dead guerrillas were lined up and left there - a stark message. A weak rebel counter-attack later fizzled.
"We're doing a great job singling out these insurgents," says Lance Corporal Justin Lapree from Houston, Texas. "Each day, it's baby steps. You've got to crawl before you can walk, and right now we're crawling."
"We came out here to do peacekeeping, but along the way we've been tasked for some war-fighting," says Lapree, of the 2nd Battalion 1st Marine Regiment. "I'm definitely ready to get this over with in a peaceful way, if it can be done. But we're not [the ones] bringing the fight."
The usual gung-ho of some marines is giving way to a recognition of political costs - and that they are chipping away at the guerrillas anyway. "I think what we're doing is the right way to do it - we're creating a rapport. We're not here to occupy," says Staff Sgt. Jason Valez, from New York City. "At the same time, we're not going to be pushed over or bullied. It's definitely going to work, it just takes time.
"Marines have been doing a good job with precise fire," says Sergeant Valez. "We're not just going to roll in."
Coleman says that it will be important that Iraqis are on board with the solution, since the occupation is meant to end: "I don't want to own Fallujah with a bunch of marines down there, who are getting potshots everyday because we didn't take any Iraqis with us."
Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations envoy who is helping draft an Iraqi interim government urged the Bush administration Sunday to "tread carefully" in besieged Fallujah and avoid alienating an already angry populace.
Before leaving Iraq he described the siege as unacceptable collective punishment. Asked about that Sunday, Brahimi said: "When you surround a city, you bomb the city, when people cannot go to hospital, what name do you have for that? And you, if you have enemies there, this is exactly what they want you to do, to alienate more people so that more people support them rather than you.
• Material from the wire services was used in this report.