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January 10, 2007
The Engagement Of Fallujans

Bill Ardolino files another of his embed reports from Iraq, the second of a series for The Examiner, and this focuses on the challenges of creating a stable society in Fallujah. An IED attack on an Abrams tank demonstrates the challenges for the American effort to engage the civilians of the city in an environment of terrorist attacks:

The political situation is at another key turning point. Insurgents currently maintain the ability to disrupt the government because they are willing and able to pursue aggressively the two respected currencies in Iraq: money and violence.

In contrast, U.S. and Iraqi government forces are limited in their efforts to establish a competing center of power, and many locals are caught in the middle. Americans don’t have the support of — but aren’t necessarily opposed by — many locals, don’t know the language or area and lack the backing from our political leaders to meet insurgent violence with a competitive level of violence.

The Iraqi army in Fallujah is willing and able to use requisite force, but is generally mistrusted and disliked by the locals; being primarily Shiite outsiders in a notoriously insular Sunni enclave hampers their effectiveness and ability to work with the police.

Thus, the best case relies on Fallujans to take the lead in securing their city. And challenges to their effectiveness include a lack of initiative, a scarcity of strong leadership and the omnipresent fear of the insurgents, who target officials and their families with a campaign of murderous intimidation.

It's not the most encouraging of reports, but it shows that the Americans have the potential to succeed in Fallujah and elsewhere, if we can find ways to compete against the terrorists in both money and violence. For too long, we've allowed them to take the initiative on both counts. We should have kept working with smaller and direct funding for native rebuilding projects rather than impose an American bureaucratic (in other words, slow) approach to the effort. In the immediate wake of the Iraqi collapse, the Pentagon made those funds available to commanders in the field, and they were very successful in sparking positive reconstruction efforts and creating jobs for Iraqis with nothing else to do.

Now that the problems of unemployment, violence, and mistrust have gotten deeper, the US seems to be returning to that strategy once again. Part of the speech by President Bush tonight will talk not just about the "surge" strategy but also new funds for a jobs program in Iraq that will help rebuild the infrastructure in a country that has seen precious little investment over the last few decades -- unless presidential palaces qualify. Properly managed and quickly implemented, such a program could accomplish two tasks: get Iraqis off the streets and into jobs, and fulfill the promise of a better life that so many Iraqis believed would come with the American invasion.

Bill also posts an interview with a politically-connected Fallujan at INDC Journal that helps round out his Examiner dispatch. Most significant for our involvement is this passage at the end, in which the Sunni describes his shift in attitude towards the Americans:

Yusef: "Through my [experience as an enemy], the way I look at Americans, I look at them and feel like they are occupiers, occupying my country when the invasion happened. But when other parties showed up - especially the radicals and the Iranian militias, both who are not Iraqis - now I prefer the Americans. I've met [various Americans working for Fallujah]. It is my feeling that [they are] working hard, and (before I knew) you (Americans) I had a different image. Now that I know the Americans, I have a different impression. Now I deal honestly with them and feel they are really working for the benefit of my side."

"I think the Americans are more for Iraq than the Iraqis themselves."

If you can, be sure to contribute a few dollars to Bill's tip jar in order to help support his embed mission in Iraq.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 10, 2007 5:40 AM

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