A principal objective of the U.S. military's effort to retake Fallujah in November was the belief that successful national elections could not be held with a central Iraqi city openly under the control of insurgents. Pacify Fallujah, the thinking went, and loosen the insurgents' grip enough to permit an orderly political referendum. Although the operation cost the lives of dozens of Americans and hundreds of Iraqis, the White House and the Pentagon declared the operation a success. "We saw what was accomplished in Fallujah," Scott McClellan told reporters on December 21. "Security has been brought to the city of Fallujah, great progress made there."
In recent days, however, the news coming out of Fallujah has suggested that although we may have had to destroy the village, we didn't save it. "The offensive in Fallujah, touted as a prerequisite to a safe election, is now a potent symbol for those Iraqis calling for a nationwide boycott of the election scheduled for Jan. 30," USA Today reports.
Perhaps the most obvious shortfall of the effort to bring an orderly vote to Fallujah is that the city doesn't really exist anymore. According to a Bloomberg article published today, "Only about 10 percent of Fallujah residents who inspected their homes after last November's military operation in the Iraqi city have returned to stay, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said." Incredibly, that statistic is even worse than it originally appears: the "10 percent" is just of the minority who have even dared come back to assess the damage.
Considering that the city's initial population was greater than 200,000, that means that around 4 percent, or 1 in 25, of the city's residents still live there. A city substantially larger than Des Moines, Iowa has, at least for the moment, been effectively wiped off the map.
That makes preparing for the election in Fallujah far more quixotic than in other former insurgent strongholds such as Sadr City in Baghdad, where political campaigning is widespread. "One obvious difference between Fallujah and Sadr City today," USA Today observes in a comparison of their electoral prospects, "is that one was invaded and largely destroyed, while the other was not."