In these past few days, I have let my reading for class slide as I become more and more engrossed by current events. For the first time in months, the situation in Iraq is looking up. The insurgent stronghold of Fallujah looks like it will fall shortly, placing a strategic city into the hands of the United States and the Iraqi army.
This news sounds quite promising, but I am still left with feelings of doubt and fear about the situation in Iraq. My initial doubts arise from the very nature of urban warfare itself. U.S. and Iraqi soldiers are placed in a difficult situation as they are told to drive the insurgents out of buildings and homes without physically destroying the city. This is next to impossible. The U.S.-Iraqi army can either drive the insurgents out of Fallujah or preserve the city, but not both. As the news stories attest, the United States has chosen to drive the rebels out of the Fallujah at the cost of destroying the city. Was this the right decision? What kind of Iraq will we be leaving behind at the end of the war if many major cities have been destroyed? Iraq will certainly be stronger and healthier if it can rid itself of Islamist factions who wish to bring death and disorder to the country, but it will have lost much of its cultural legacy in the destruction of its cities.
My other concern arises out of the possible length of the war. Fallujah has been one of the strongest bases for the insurgents in the past few months, but I think its capture will not ensure an easy end of the war. In order to benefit from the capture of Fallujah, the United States will have to maintain an occupation of the city and its surrounding territories. James A. Marks, a retired Army major general and senior intelligence officer for the coalition land forces during last year’s invasion of Iraq, admitted on Nov. 10 in a New York Times column that the insurgents are “like water — they will flow back into any void.” While the storming of Fallujah will hopefully threaten the insurgents’ position and weaken their unity, they have proven to be a fairly flexible group and will not easily give up.
Even after capturing valuable territory, the United States will have to maintain constant vigilance so as to make sure Fallujah does not fall back into the hands of insurgents. Such responsibilities will prolong U.S. involvement in Iraq. The United States may continue to wage successful strategic battles, but it will ultimately be unsuccessful if it does not carefully guard territory captured from the insurgents. This does not mean that the situation in Iraq is impossible to resolve, but it certainly makes it much more difficult to decisively end the conflict and our involvement.
There are a few actions we could take in order to ensure Iraqi stability and decrease the length of U.S. involvement. The first is to effectively recruit and train Iraqi soldiers to occupy territories captured from the insurgents. Of course, this plan is supposedly already in place, but it has been met with many setbacks. Bloody attacks on Iraqi recruits by the insurgents have frightened the Iraqis and discouraged them from joining the army and siding with the United States. We must ensure the initial safety of Iraqi troops and make sure they are provided with the necessary equipment so that they can guard themselves well. If this requires an increase in American troops, advisers and funding, we must find a way to provide them. Iraq will never be run successfully without its own effective armed forces.
It would be preferable to find a way to increase the number of troops, advisers, and funding without placing additional pressure on American armed forces and the American economy. The easiest way to do this would be to engage in diplomacy and build a convincing broad-based coalition to help us fight the war. We need to admit that it is highly unlikely that we can achieve victory on our own. We need the rest of the free world behind us, to provide us with the funds and troops necessary to help us build a strong, self-sufficient Iraqi army.
Unfortunately, I think we’re in it for the long haul in Iraq. Our current president is stubborn and believes that the United States has the capability to win stability in Iraq with little international support. He believes that by reaching out to Europe for support, he is displaying weakness. Little does he know, in stubbornly refusing to ask for help, he is making the job much more difficult for us. I am keeping my fingers crossed that the situation in Iraq is resolved quickly and decisively, but realistically I know that many more lives will be lost and many more cities will be destroyed before the Iraqis are a truly free, independent people.
Emma VanGenderen is a junior in Branford College.