As smoke clears, next battles are political
As the military stabilizes Fallujah, fresh violence erupts in other Sunni-dominated areas.
The siege of Fallujah began with an expectation of weeks, if not months, of heavy fighting and worries about how that would influence Iraqis' willingness to cooperate with the interim government.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
A week later, the US military has wrested control of a city that had become a stronghold of Iraq's insurgency and a stumbling block to elections slated for January.
But the value of the military success is already being sharply tested. Fallujah is occupied but not subdued, and the US faces a daunting task in repairing damage done from bombing insurgents' tunnels and blowing up weapons caches. Violence is also erupting in other cities across Sunni-dominated Anbar Province as well as in ethnically mixed Mosul, a major northern city.
Even as US forces move to consolidate their gains in Fallujah, say analysts, the real benchmark for progress will be political. If the Fallujah campaign isn't followed up by large numbers of Sunni leaders coming in from the cold and participating in Iraq's transitional arrangements, particularly elections, more violence is likely.
Now, "the interim government needs to be seizing the political initiative [and] stirring the hearts of the large Iraqi population that's sitting on the fence toward lending their support,'' says Mario Mancuso, a retired Special Forces captain who spent a year in Iraq and is back in the US in private legal practice. "It's important to recognize that military force is just one arrow in the quiver."
The challenge is to forge a political alliance that will see insurgents isolated from the civilian populations who have supported them and draw the country's powerful Sunni minority into arrangements for Iraq's political transition that they have viewed with suspicion until now.
Steps need to be taken to assuage Sunni fears and "get some buy-in from the nationalist Sunni middle into the idea of the new Iraq,'' says Mr. Mancuso.
Trouble in Mosul - a city of 1 million once so at peace that its management by the 101st Airborne Division was seen as a model for undercutting violence with targeted good works - could pose a particular problem for the US and Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.
The violence there - which has involved car bombs, looting, insurgent attacks on police stations, and the deaths of at least six Iraqi soldiers - is a reminder that today's successes come against a benchmark of deepening insurgency and lawlessness across Iraq over the past year.
"Mosul is warming up - people I talk to say that the next explosion is going to be there and that will make Fallujah look like a Sunday School picnic,'' says Whitley Bruner, a former CIA field officer who spent 25 years in the Middle East and now directs government relations for Diligence, a security and analysis firm in Washington.
Mr. Bruner says that while the focus has been on Sunni insurgents in Iraq's center, the chances of ethnic and sectarian problems remain high in other communities. "Mosul is teeming with people ... and there are seething hatreds between the Sunnis, Kurds, (and) Turkmen, including Shia Turkmen. It's a mess."