November 24, 2004

Iraq: After Al-Fallujah, Before the Elections….

The U.S.-Iraqi operation (Operation Fajr) in Al-Fallujah has eliminated one – arguably the major – insurgent stronghold, but there are other trouble spots that must be pacified prior to the run-up to elections scheduled for January 30, 2005. The operation in Al-Fallujah comes on the heels of the October operation to clear insurgents from Samarra’, another trouble spot in the Sunni Triangle. Immediately after the major fighting in the city subsided, American and Iraqi forces had to be dispatched to the northern city of Al-Mawsil (Mosul) to retake a number of police stations that had fallen to insurgents.

In late November, American, British and Iraqi forces began operations (Operation Plymouth Rock) in several cities in what has been named the “Triangle of Death,” the area southwest of Baghdad that borders on the Shi’a-dominated southern section of the country. Other trouble spots exist, most located in the Sunni Triangle. The two most likely venues for future coalition operations are in the two cities of Ar-Ramadi and Ba’qubah.

The immediate concern is the security situation as the country prepares for the upcoming elections. An even more immediate concern is the process by which the Iraqi electorate is defined. Once the locations of the voter registration polls are announced, they will likely become targets for insurgent attacks, just as police stations and other government offices have been. For that reason, the security situation must be dealt with now to allow voters to register.

The major issue is the availability of sufficient numbers of troops to provide that security. For each area that is secured, troops must remain there to prevent the resurgence of violence. Almost immediately after American forces seized the city of Al-Fallujah, insurgents began attempts to re-enter the city. Following each operation, fewer troops are available for future operations. While training Iraqi forces has been suggested as the answer, these forces will not be trained in time. The burden for security will fall primarily on the shoulders of the already stretched American units in the country.

After the elections, the new Iraqi leadership will have to determine how the country will be constituted. Given the long-standing and intense animosities that exist between the three major factions in the country – the Sunni Arabs, the Shi’a Arabs and the Kurds – the best solution might be a confederation of the three regions with a strong central government. That central government will be essential to maintaining the integrity of the country.