There can be little doubt that campaign politics played a role in the planning and timing of the invasion of Fallujah now being carried out by U.S. and interim Iraqi government forces. Why the Bush administration would have wanted to avoid reports of heavy casualties and further instability ahead of the U.S. presidential election is obvious. But what is far more difficult to make sense of is why they would announce, for weeks on end, that they were preparing for a major offensive against the insurgent citadel -- and then have the U.S. military show up right on schedule the week after Bush gets voted back into office.
If this report from the New York Times is any indication, the pre-invasion P.R. campaign looks like just the latest in a series of Bush administration blunders that have set back the already Herculean task of reconstruction.
"Insurgent leaders in Falluja probably fled before the American-led offensive and may be coordinating attacks in Iraq that have left scores dead over the past few days, according to American military officials here. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian militant who is the most wanted man in Iraq, has almost certainly fled, military officials believe. Americans say his group is responsible for attacks, kidnappings and beheadings that have killed hundreds in more than a year. ...
"'The important idea to consider is that this is not an operation against Zarqawi or his network,' said a senior military official in Washington who has been monitoring the battle. 'It is just one of many steps that need to be taken in order to defeat a complex and diverse insurgency in which the Zarqawi network is but one element.'
"But other military officials in Baghdad and Washington are expressing concern that the operation could end up being both a public relations disaster and strategic setback if some top leaders are not captured. 'This is causing some concern because if Falluja comes up a "dry hole," after all the operations, we will have to explain it,' said a military official in Baghdad. 'We will have to address it if this happens. If we don't retain any senior leadership, it may cause backlash.'"
"An insurgent who gave his nom de guerre as Abu Khalid and identified himself as a mid-level commander said in a telephone interview that leaders had decided two days before the offensive to flee the city and leave only half of the insurgents behind to fight. ...
"[Abu Khalid] said insurgent leaders had debated how many men to leave in the city. 'There were different views about that,' he said. 'They discussed percentages like 20 percent inside the city and 80 percent outside, to save as many fighters as possible for future operations. In the end, they settled on a 50-50 split.'"
There may be no negotiating with terrorists, but apparently the Bush administration doesn't mind giving them fair warning and plenty of opportunity to negotiate among themselves about how to best keep Iraq's insurgent war raging.