American Enterprise Online | 10.20.04
By Alan W. Dowd

Generals are loathe to send their men to fight twice for the same piece of real estate. But as war clouds gather over Fallujah, and the long-promised assault to retake the restive city rolls in, we should remember that this isn’t the first time Americans have been asked to re-fight a battle.  

After all, Confederate and Union soldiers fought two battles over Bull Run. During the Great War, there were at least two battles of the Somme, two battles of the Marne and five battles over Arras, a strategic town in northern France. Most historians call World War II an extension of World War I, an effort to finish what was left undone at Versailles (or if you prefer, avenge it). At the onset of World War II, Churchill offered advice that we would do well to apply in Iraq: “One of the ways to bring this war to a speedy end,” he intoned, “is to convince the enemy, not by words, but by deeds, that we have both the will and the means not only to go on indefinitely but to strike heavy and unexpected blows.”

Korea was nicknamed the “Yo-Yo War” because the two sides fought their way up and down the peninsula, trading the same bloody real estate for three years. Likewise, U.S. troops fought and re-fought over several nameless battlefields in Vietnam.

Some called the Iraq War of 2003 “Gulf War II.” Others saw it as just a long-delayed continuation of the war that began when Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990.

In a sense, Fallujah is metaphor for America’s mishandling of Iraq from 1991 forward. Consider how Saddam’s Republican Guard was defeated and on the verge of collapse in February 1991, as were the terrorists in Fallujah in April 2003. But in both cases, Washington pulled the troops back for political reasons. What followed in Iraq foreshadowed the Fallujah stalemate: a small group of bad people holding their countrymen hostage, a Sisyphusian effort to keep tabs on what was coming in and flowing out, half-measures rather than solutions, and air strikes that did more to anger the innocent than punish the guilty.

In both cases, American troops were going to have to finish what had been left undone. And in Fallujah, much was left undone: Launched in response to the gruesome murder of four American civilians, the abortive April assault on Fallujah left the situation worse than if nothing had been done at all. First and foremost, it left the enemy with the impression that he could defeat or at least outlast the U.S.-led coalition. It also left scores of civilians and Marines dead. And it left the city as a key base for terrorist activity. Today, some 2,000 foreign jihadists and Baathist leftovers are controlling the festering city of Fallujah, which pumps its bombers and butchers into other parts of Iraq.

Military author and Army veteran Douglas MacGregor says that once the Coalition has isolated the sectors of the city where insurgents are hiding, “It should be over in 96 hours.” But the key is overwhelming firepower, which, according to MacGregor, would include perhaps as many as 7,000 troops and 130 tanks.[1]     

That explains why hundreds of British troops are preparing to redeploy from southern Iraq to Baghdad. But they won’t be fighting for Fallujah; instead, they are filling in for the Americans and their Iraqi allies who will fight for Fallujah. Indeed, one major difference between the first and second battle of Fallujah is the role of Iraqi units. Six months after the first battle, Iraqi troops are more disciplined, better trained and battle-tested: Recall the key role Iraqi forces played in Najaf and Samarra.

As the allies reposition, so too is the enemy: Reports from Washington Post and Los Angeles Times correspondents indicate that hundreds of insurgents are streaming to the city to kill Americans and chop away at the nascent Iraqi government. Hence, last weekend’s early skirmishes of the Second Battle of Fallujah, when a joint U.S.-Iraqi unit pounded insurgents in a nine-hour battle just outside the city. Doubtless, the insurgents want to fight now, while the U.S. and Iraqi governments would rather fight sometime after the U.S. elections in November and before the Iraqi elections in January.

Fallujah is not the end, of course. U.S. and Iraqi forces will clean up another 20 towns ahead of the elections, including SadrCity, Ramadi and Baquba. Samarra and Najaf have already been subdued.

By arresting or killing the terrorist imports and Baathist leftovers who have taken control of these towns, the Coalition could achieve four important goals: First, it will extend and underscore the authority and legitimacy of the central government in Baghdad. Second, it will remove some of the major sources of terrorist activity throughout Iraq. Third, it will instill more confidence into Iraq’s new security forces, which have been performing increasingly well since the debacles last April. 

Finally, it will reinforce the notion that the Coalition has the will to win. The allies may not be able to strike unexpected blows in Fallujah, to paraphrase Churchill, but they can show the enemy that they have the will and the means to fight on indefinitely.

[1] Rowan Scarborough, US eyes all-out offensive to subdue Fallujah rebels, Washington Times, September 30, 2004.