Darkness falls on Iraq

By Mark Follman
Published November 8, 2004 7:22PM (EST)

It's a long, long way from mission accomplished: Iraqi interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi has declared martial law for the next 60 days, and the anticipated invasion of the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah is now well under way. From the New York Times:

"Between 10,000 and 15,000 American soldiers and marines backed by newly trained Iraqi forces besieged the city for what American commanders said was likely to be a brutal, block-by-block battle to retake control and capture, kill or disperse an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 hard-core insurgent fighters. The battle could prove the most important since the American invasion of Iraq 19 months ago."

It's noteworthy that one of the U.S. military's first moves ahead of a full assault on the city was to seize a main hospital -- an effort, apparently, to gain a quick upper hand in the propaganda war that undermined U.S. operations earlier this year.

"In April, American troops were closing in on the city center when popular uprisings broke out in cities across Iraq. The outrage, fed by mostly unconfirmed reports of large civilian casualties, forced the Americans to withdraw. American commanders regarded the reports as inflated, but it was impossible to determine independently how many civilians had been killed. The hospital was selected as an early target because the American military believed that it was the source of rumors about heavy casualties."

On NPR's "Morning Edition" today, retired U.S. Army Major Gen. Robert Scales discussed massive desertions by Iraqi soldiers on the eve of the invasion, as reported by NPR's Anne Garrels: With one Iraqi unit of 500 soldiers, 255 deserted over this past weekend alone, leaving only about 170 soldiers on Monday. Scales said that the readiness and dependability of the new Iraqi forces -- a critical component of the Bush administration's strategy for securing the country and withdrawing U.S. forces as soon as possible -- remains a matter of great uncertainty.

And Middle East watcher Juan Cole notes that the Bush administration's professed timetable for recasting the Iraqi political system looks plenty far-fetched. "Allawi declares Martial Law for 2 months," says Cole. "Maybe it is just me, but is it really possible to have democratic elections coming off 2 months of martial law?"

Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

MORE FROM Mark Follman

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

War Room