Did the Fallujah offensive shatter the Iraqi insurgency?

Your war questions answered

That depends who you ask.

If you ask Lt. Gen. John Sattler, the Marine who commanded the operation to recapture Fallujah from insurgents, he’ll say yes. In his words, the U.S. offensive in Fallujah has “broken the back of the insurgency” and has made it “very hard” for insurgents to operate.

Ask someone who’s telling the truth, however, and you’ll get an entirely different answer.

Since the Fallujah offensive, the daily number of insurgent attacks has doubled. Just two days after the Fallujah offensive started, insurgents staged a large uprising in Mosul, Iraq’s third-largest city. Iraqi police in Mosul responded to the uprising by doing what they always seem to do when they’re attacked: They fled.

Mosul was just one of the cities in the so-called Sunni Triangle that experienced a rise in insurgent violence after the attack on Fallujah. Small and medium-sized Iraqi cities like Baquba, Samarra and Ramadi have also seen an increase in insurgent violence since the Fallujah offensive.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise. We announced the Fallujah operation well ahead of time so civilians could get out of the way. We had to do it that way. Not giving civilians a chance to leave would have resulted in a bloodbath. The offensive also was delayed so that the heaviest U.S. urban combat since the Vietnam War wasn’t taking place during President Bush’s re-election campaign. As a result, plenty of insurgents got out of the way as well. They left Fallujah for other cities before we attacked.

Depending on whom you ask, there are between 10,000 and 20,000 active participants in the insurgency. The Marines estimate that they’ve killed 1,200 insurgents in Fallujah. Even if you discount the likelihood that “1,200 insurgents” is an exaggerated number that counts innocent civilians who were trapped in Fallujah (note: we didn’t allow Fallujan men age 15 to 50 to flee the city before the offensive), killing 1,200 out of an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 insurgents can hardly be called “breaking the back” of the insurgency.

One of the Fallujah offensive escapees, and I mean “offensive escapee” in both senses of the phrase, was its No. 1 target, Mr. Abu Musab Zarqawi. Uncooperative bastard that he is, he failed to sit and wait in Fallujah for Marines to capture or kill him. We did capture what we believe was Zarqawi’s headquarters. Describing the headquarters, the Nov. 19 issue of The Times of London reported, “In their search of the badly damaged building, American soldiers made some gruesome discoveries, including those of several bodies and a ski mask.” Unfortunately, the story does not explain why, in a bombed-out, corpse-strewn city, the discovery of a ski mask would be considered gruesome.

If that doesn’t convince you the insurgency’s back is anything but broken, consider that the U.S. just announced it’s increasing troop strength in Iraq from 138,000 to an all-time high of 150,000. I’m no Patton, but I’m confident when I assert that a weakened, broken-backed insurgency wouldn’t require an increase in the number of U.S. soldiers in Iraq.

Many analysts believe that the war in Iraq is slowly but steadily morphing from an insurgency into a civil war. They note the increasing intensity and scale of the insurgent attacks. The Mosul uprising that followed the Fallujah offensive sent a city of nearly 2 million people into chaos almost instantly. And the level of casualties that the insurgents are inflicting on American soldiers is frightening. Seventy-one American soldiers were killed retaking Fallujah, and another 300 were severely injured. Overall, November was the second deadliest month for the U.S. in Iraq; at least 134 U.S. soldiers were killed. That’s more U.S. soldiers than were killed during the so-called “major combat operations” that President Bush declared ceased when he top gunned onto that aircraft carrier last year.