Battle for Baghdad: US and Iraq plan street by street offensive

August 11th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Battle for Baghdad: US and Iraq plan street by street offensive

Media: AFP
Byline: Patrick Fort
Date: 11 August 2006

BAGHDAD, Aug 11, 2006 (AFP) - Faced with a make or break struggle to wrest
control of Baghdad from insurgents and sectarian death squads, US and Iraqi
commanders plan an ambitious strategy to take back the Iraqi capital street
by street, district by district.

Thousands of reinforcements have been drafted in to flashpoint areas like
Dura in the south of the city -- until recently a scene of bloody clashes
and civilian massacres -- and are setting up cordons around entire
neighbourhoods, before proceeding to disarm the gangs through house to house

Analysts warn that the Iraqi government and its US ally face an enormous
challenge to restore their battered authority in an increasingly divided and
radicalised city, the scene of more than 50 murders per day. But commanders
in Dura feel they have made a start and have proved their tactics can work.

"So far, we've had some effect. Obviously during the last three days while
we've had 5,000 soldiers involved in this operation, we have had no murders.
These are the same neighbourhoods where on the worst day we've had over 20
murders," said Colonel Michael Beech, who leads the US 4th Infantry Brigade.

Speaking to reporters this week in Dura alongside his Iraqi colleagues,
Beech explained how one Tuesday morning Iraqi police commandos set up a
blockade around the area, while US and Iraqi army brigades began
house-to-house searches of three districts of between 1,300 and 1,500 homes.

The searches, he said, led to 38 arrests, including those of three "foreign
fighters". More than 20 illegal weapons -- including machine guns and a
rocket launcher -- were seized, along with explosives and CD video disks
extolling the Sunni extremist Osama bin Laden or the Lebanese Shiite militia

Now they are moving on to neighbouring areas, followed by a refuse
collection trucks and officers sent to discuss economic and social
regeneration projects with local sheikhs and imams, in a bid to impose a
lasting peace.

"The most important part is yet to be conducted. Overlaid on top of this
military component is the economic and essential services component," Beech
said, explaining how US army engineers and Iraqi contractors will clear
rubble, repair water mains and rebuild part of Dura's market.

The operation is laborious and painstaking task in a city of between six and
seven million people, but US commanders feel it is a neccessary one, indeed
a vital one if the city and the country is not to slip deeper into chaos and
perhaps open civil war between rival Sunni and Shiite camps.

"This will be the defining battle of this particular campaign. We've got to
take back Baghdad," said Lieutenant General Pete Chiarelli, commander of the
US-led Multinational Corps Iraq, in an interview this week with the
television network ABC.

Some observers see a tough task ahead. In a paper this week entitled
"Winning the Battle of Baghdad", Anthony Cordesman of the Centre for
Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington said US forces are
"essentially experimenting with new kinds of peacemaking and warfare".

Cordesman warned that Baghdad's militias and death squads could hide their
weapons and melt back into the civilian population to wait out the joint
US-Iraqi operation. "They can wait days, weeks or months, lashing out after
the US has claimed to have secured a given area," he wrote.

Above all, observers say, success will depend on the ability of Prime
Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government to build a dialogue both with the
Shiite militias loyal to parties in his government and the Sunni insurgents
inspired by Islamism or nostalgia for the rule of Saddam Hussein.

"If the Maliki government does not make much progress by this fall, the
government will probably lose credibility. Trust and hope will have eroded
too far, and the US-led security operation will be seen as another
occupation -- no matter how well it is run," Cordesman warned.

In this, US policy faces a similar threat as it did in a previous conflict,
one in which is was eventually defeated. "Like Vietnam, the US keeps waiting
for the political climate to decisively change local attitudes and provide
support for the government," he wrote.

One corner of Baghdad is now under control -- an ink spot on the map which
the strategists hope will spread to meet others being set up of planned by
other US and Iraqi units -- but time is tight for the coalition and the
government as they work to regain control.