(Note: I am assisting with Winds of Change Fallujah briefing. Joe Katzman has assembled an incredible briefing on the battle. Some of the information in this post is derived from entries I submitted for Sunday’s posting. As the battle of Fallujah is winding down, I expect the news from the city to dry up soon.)
The Adventures of Chester reports that Phase II of Operation Al-Fajr is complete and outlines the actions of Coalition forces in the city. Sporadic fighting, humanitarian and reconstruction assistance, intelligence gathering, and a redeployment of forces are on the agenda for the next several weeks. In Fallujah, Marines discovered the mutilated body of a Caucasian woman as well as the bodies of 8 murdered Arab men. More torture chambers and bomb factories are found in the city. Finds such as these will continue to be unearthed as Fallujah is inspected house-by-house, block-by-block.
American casualty numbers are 38 dead and 275 wounded. When compared with modern urban battles these numbers are remarkably low. The fighting is by no means over but the brunt of the casualties would have been expected during the initial assault. According to Marine Lt. Gen. John Sattler, the enemy has taken it on the chin in Fallujah, and not everyone is eager to become a martyr for the cause.
“The enemy right now is broken into very small groups. … They don’t have the means to communicate, so they’re isolated into small pockets,” Sattler said. “If they want to surrender, we are more than happy to accommodate them. We have close to 1,000 military-age males who have surrendered, and who are under our control right now.” In addition to captives, Sattler said that a “conservative” estimate would be that 1,000 to 1,200 enemy fighters have been killed during the battle.
Gen. Sattler also believes terror master Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and some of his fighters have escaped, but explains that Zarqawi’s network has suffered from the Coalition’s actions over the past several months.
“This battle has been shaped for months. Each and every time we had someone from Zarqawi’s leadership identified very precisely, we either … captured him with a direct attack or killed him with a precision-guided munition,” Sattler said. “We really had an impact and an effect on Zarqawi’s command and control structure.”
Because of this preparatory work, most of the terrorist’s top leaders were already gone by the time the operation began. Though Zarqawi and his network were certainly targets, though, Sattler emphasized that they weren’t the only objective. “Our focus was on breaking the backbone of the insurgents and restoring the rule of law in Fallujah,” Sattler said. “We want to give Fallujah back to Fallujah’s people.”
The citizens of Fallujah have grown disenchanted with Zarqwai’s terror. Hannah Allam documents the buyer’s remorse of the residents of Fallujah and the indigenous Iraqi insurgents. Zarqawi attempted to instill Taliban-like atmosphere in Fallujah, much to the dismay of the residents. It seems their zeal in murdering innocents and their brand of Islam was too much for the locals to countenance.
Last week, with U.S. troops battling their way through the Sunni Muslim stronghold, several Fallujah residents said trusting the foreigners who turned the locals’ humble stand against foreign occupation into a sophisticated terror campaign had been a grave mistake.
Once admired as comrades in an anti-American struggle, foreign fighters now draw blamed for U.S. missiles flattening homes and turning Iraq’s City of Mosques into a killing field. The foreigners’ promises of protection went unfulfilled, angry residents said, as they moved on to other outposts and left residents to face a superpower alone.
Fallujah residents, most of them now displaced by the fighting, said hundreds of non-Iraqi Arabs had been in the city before the U.S. offensive began Monday. But, they added, the ties of brotherhood had mostly unraveled and the remaining foreign fighters had tried to intimidate residents into staying as human shields.
A rebel-allied cleric who goes by the name Sheik Rafaa said Iraqi rebels were so infuriated by the disappearance of their foreign allies that one cell had “executed 20 Arab fighters because they left an area they promised to defend.”
Other residents said foreign militants wore out their welcome months ago, when they imposed a Taliban-like interpretation of Islamic law that included public floggings for residents accused of drinking alcohol or refusing to grow beards. Women who failed to cover their hair or remove their makeup were subjected to public humiliation. Those accused of spying for Americans were executed on the spot, residents said.
When they swept into Fallujah from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and North Africa, the Arab fighters told wary residents that God favors believers who give up their homes and travel to defend Islam.
But then came the wave of foreign hostage-takings, many ending with gruesome beheadings broadcast for the world to see. Al-Zarqawi also claimed responsibility for massive bombings that spilled the blood of hundreds of innocent Iraqis.
Aghast, Fallujah residents began drawing distinctions between their own fighters, who favored mainly military and police targets, and foreigners encouraged by the fear they inspired through spectacular attacks.
Zarqawi’s brutality towards civilians and his flight from the battlefield have not earned him the respect of the indigenous Iraqi insurgents (Zarqawi may even have flip-flopped on his vow to “Fight to the Death”). It will be interesting to see if the citizens of other Iraqi towns and cities are eager to host his network after the tyranny and abject failure in Fallujah. Zarqawi’s al Qaeda in Iraq is looking like a weak horse at the moment, and as the residents of Fallujah have learned, cooperating with this loser comes at a great cost.
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