Zarqawi Headquarters Captured
American military officials said Thursday that they had discovered a house in the devastated city of Falluja that appeared to have been a headquarters for guerrillas of the Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. An American commander also said the weeklong offensive to take the city had “broken the back of the insurgency.” Despite that assessment, gun battles and mortar fire continued to shake the city, and the commander, Lt. Gen. John Sattler of the First Marine Expeditionary Force, said it would be “some time” before it was safe enough to allow many of Falluja’s 300,000 residents to return. A wave of assaults continued across areas of central and northern Iraq dominated by Sunni Arabs, who controlled the country under Saddam Hussein.
The Shiite regions have remained relatively quiet. During the aborted American assault on Falluja last April, fighters loyal to the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr launched attacks in southern Iraq and in Baghdad. The Shiites are looking to seize majority rule through elections in January, while hard-line Sunnis keep up the guerrilla war to prevent that.
The building that seemed to be a Zarqawi command center was taken by Americans on Sunday after a fierce gun battle with up to 25 well-trained insurgents, said Maj. David Johnson of the First Infantry Division, who accompanied the Army unit that searched the house on Thursday after being alerted by Iraqi soldiers. The Iraqi soldiers had discovered letters they believe were exchanged between Mr. Zarqawi and his lieutenants, the major said, along with computers, materials for car bombs, identification papers (including a Sudanese passport) and medical supplies from the International Red Cross and the United States Agency for International Development. A classroom had a blackboard with drawings of American fighter jets.
Obviously, since Zarqawi himself hasn’t been captured, he can start another headquarters elsewhere. And I think the idea that the Fallujah campaign has “broken the back of the insurgency” is a bit of an oversell. Still, the mission would appear to be an overwhelming success, with nearly 2000 insurgents killed and a major city now able to function.
I find it amusing that Iraqi soldiers are always given credit for these discoveries. It’s highly unlikely, given that their participation in the mission is still token, at best. It’s smart public relations for internal Iraqi consumption, although it takes rightful credit away from soldiers and Marines who are doing the real fighting.
Picture of insurgency gets clearer (USAT)
U.S. troops found a videotape in an insurgent safe house Thursday that shows how the fighters of Fallujah prayed, lived and died as U.S. and Iraqi troops moved in. The videocassette in a Sony Handycam was part of a trove that adds to the intelligence information shedding light on the insurgency in Iraq. The tape was found along with a laptop computer, stacks of CD-ROMs and some telephones. CNN footage released Thursday showed a suspected command center used by followers of Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. His group, al-Qaeda in Iraq, has been blamed for car bombings, kidnappings and beheadings of hostages, including three Americans.
Those finds followed the discovery Wednesday of a vast weapons cache and safe house operating under the cover of an Islamic medical charity.
Premature optimism? (Newsday)
Still, other senior defense officials and outside experts said they believed Sattler had overstated the effect on the insurgency of the attack on Fallujah. Insurgence has continued across Iraq in recent days, including in Mosul, where U.S. forces had to be diverted to try to restore order. One key, said a senior defense official in Washington, was that al-Zarqawi apparently fled Fallujah well ahead of the American attack, meaning that a key strategic and symbolic leader of the resistance remains free to continue the anti-American campaign. “The serpent’s head is still attached; we’ve chopped a lot of the tail off and bruised the insides, but the head is still attached, and that means Zarqawi,” said one senior defense official in Washington. “Until we can sever the head, we’re a ways from declaring any kind of victory.”
Amid a spike in violence in Iraqi cities coinciding with the Fallujah offensive, the US military is now planning to boost combat forces to secure the country for elections in January. The US is likely to expand the force by thousands of GIs in coming weeks by delaying the departure of more experienced units from Iraq as fresh troops rotate in, military officials say. The overlap would create a temporary surge in American forces – which now number 141,000 in Iraq – to cope with an expected wave of insurgent attacks aimed at disrupting the polling. More US troops are required as Iraqi security forces remain highly vulnerable to attacks and intimidation. This was underscored by a rash of insurgent strikes on police stations in Mosul, Baqubah, and other cities in the past week, when attacks nationwide rose to 50 percent higher than the average in recent months.
It makes sense, so long as the move is indeed very short-term.