The Magazine

Two, Three, Many Fallujas

From the December 6, 2004 issue: The allies are uprooting insurgents throughout Iraq.

Dec 6, 2004, Vol. 10, No. 12 • By MACKUBIN THOMAS OWENS
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Here's what a senior U.S. diplomat recently told the Seattle Times: "There will be horrific events outside Falluja. . . . I would never tell you that violence in Sunni areas won't get worse when you open up a battle." That period, he added, is not expected to last long. "You will have a shortish period when everybody will say the whole country's falling apart but they [the insurgents] will not be able to maintain that tempo." In other words, the rebels can attack on a broad front for a while, but they will not be able to keep it up for long. What is going on in the Sunni Triangle is not so much a "rebel counteroffensive" as it is the last desperate gasp of a group running out of time and space.

The coalition must now go after the rest of the rebel infrastructure, which consists of a series of towns that coincide with two infiltration routes: The first runs from the Syrian border to the Euphrates, and then on to Baghdad and Falluja; the second, from Iran and Kurdistan along the Tigris.

All wars hinge on logistics. No force, conventional or guerrilla, can continue to fight if it is not resupplied. Storming Falluja was absolutely essential to the destruction of the rebel logistics infrastructure. The city was the terminus of what the Belmont Club calls "the conveyor belt of destruction that flow[s] from the Syrian border toward Baghdad." Just as the capture of Caen and St. Lô by the Allies in 1944 was a necessary prelude to the breakout from the bocage and the use of Cherbourg and Le Havre to support the drive across France, so the takedown of Falluja is necessary to the security of Baghdad.

The rebels can expect no respite. American, British, and Iraqi forces will maintain a high operational tempo to prevent them from regrouping in the cities along their lines of communications and supply. If logistics are the sinews of war, we can expect that the next steps in the campaign will involve further interdiction of the rebels' lines of communication, perhaps at both ends of the Syria-Euphrates line: in Ramadi, closer to Baghdad; and in Arah and Qusabayah, near the Syrian border.

There will almost certainly be more heavy fighting in the near future. But it will be necessary to achieve the overall goal of the campaign. And if we are to achieve our political goal in Iraq, this campaign must succeed.

Mackubin Thomas Owens is professor of national security at the Naval War College.