On the way into work this morning, NPR was reporting a "deal" to solve the Fallujah standoff. According to NPR, US Marines will withdraw to be replaced by "Fallujah Protective Army" (or something like that) that doesn't even exist yet but which will be constructed from former military units. This so-called Army will be far less militarily capable than US units and its loyalty questionable, at best. Even if they make a good faith effort, the Neo-Baath militia will be less effective at stopping insurgents and will likely cause more damage in the process..
This deal seems like the worst possible thing the coalition could do. It would simultaneously:
Reinforce the impression that the US lacks the political will to follow through when the going gets rough. This will cause terrorists both inside and outside Iraq to redouble their efforts. The dictionary entry for Fallujah will read "See: Mogadishu"
Reinforce Iraqi fear that the US will cut and run, leaving them to the tender mercies of a new strongman. Moderate Iraqis will be even more reluctant to work on reconstruction, due to fear that they'll be persecuted for collaboration once the coalition bails.
Legitimize what amounts to a private militia.
I arrived at work both furious and depressed, where I found a report on MSNBC that the Pentagon denies that any such deal has been struck. Wretchard also has another of his typically excellent analyses of the likely military situation in Fallujah.
Between the two, I'm a bit less worried. If Wretchard is correct (and his track record on Fallujah is very, very good) the military situation is close enough to a tipping point that the political manuvering won't matter.
In my most optimistic moments, I can imagine that the announcement of a deal is actually an elaborate psy-op. Actually building a New Baath Army is a really bad idea, but as a threat it seems pretty effective ("work with us, or we'll hand the keys over to the UN and a cadre of ex-Baathists"). I can't say that I genuinely believe that right now, though. We'll see how things play out over the next few days.
Update: MSNBC is now also reporting the possibility of a New Baath Army (also now in the article linked above).
In a written statement the group released with the tape, it demanded Italian citizens organize demonstrations against the presence of Italian troops in Iraq.
The group gave Italians five days to organize the demonstrations. Otherwise, the statement said, the hostages would be killed.
Notice that they aren't calling for the removal of Italian troops or any action by the Italian government, just for street protests in Italy. This is interesting and a good sign in a number of ways.
First off, I get the feeling that world reaction to Fabrizio Quattrocchi's heroic defiance has them a bit reluctant to execute any more Italians. More importantly, it means that whoever is holding the Italian hostages has decided that they're not going to get what they want from the politicians, so now they're trying to undermine them with a direct appeal to the electorate (while looking for a face-saving way to declare victory).
Does anyone know if the usual suspects are organizing a puppet show demonstration?
I think (and hope) the hostages will come home safely regardless, but this move becomes a significant tactical setback for the kidnappers if they end up completely empty-handed. Right now Al Qaeda, et al are trying to train the European public to appease (or, more properly, reinforce their training to appease) and any example of Europeans successfully standing up to terrorist pressure will undermine the appeasement reflex that has been developing so nicely.
:: Erik | 4/26/2004 03:05:00 PM | | ::