In October 2004, in an effort to weed out the Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an air strike in Fallujah, Iraq, which killed 11 and wounded 17, simultaneously also smashed a house where a joyous wedding occasion had just been held. It is another smear on the US that will be exploited by anti-US elements. The insurgency situation in Iraq is not going well. Indeed, in September 2004, Secretary of State, Colin L Powell, admitted that the it was worsening as Iraqi election polls in January 2005 near. This month, the tactics of the US military have not changed at all, even as US and Iraqi ground troops readied themselves for a major offensive on the city, in conjunction with Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's intention of trying to seize back Fallujah from the rebels' grasp before the elections.
For months, the US military has been adopting air strike operations against Sunni insurgents in Fallujah. Although it may seem like a sensible strategy militarily, for the reason of minimizing ground casualties, air-strikes are certainly no solution to bringing an end or resolution to essentially a ground and urban-based insurgency. The function of air-power is to bring an edge over formidable military or naval formations. It is true that since the Korean War, air-power allowed US troops to sustain proportionally much lower casualties as compared to their adversaries. However, in Iraq, the US is no longer fighting a war against a powerful conventional enemy with clear targets for striking, such as installations or military camps. US and Iraqi security forces do not just battle armed insurgents only. There is the undeniably gray area of the majority of unarmed Iraqi residents present in the zones of conflict. And, as representing law and order, the reigning state authorities must be careful not to incur unnecessary casualties or collateral damage among the civil population.
Claiming to use precision strikes as the means of providing controlled bombing is a naÃƒÂ¯ve point of view. Entire buildings and homes are virtually razed to the ground. The average Iraqi citizen will understandably have the impression that the US is slowly destroying his or her country. Women and children's lives were inevitably lost during such air-strikes, overturning the myth of accuracy of precision bombing. And these two facts are played up by terrorists providing the perfect excuse for them in justifying their own campaign of terror.
It is not effective for the US military to fall back on the Vietnam 'body count' strategy, when it recently announced publicly its successes in that a hundred Islamic militants loyal to Jordanian terrorist Abu had since been eliminated through military operations. To the Iraqi population, it would not matter even if a thousand militants were claimed to be killed by US forces. Homes were destroyed and unarmed civilians killed in the counter insurgency operations, and that is simply regrettable.
What is to be done?
Unlike Vietnam, the Iraq insurgency has its roots in urban areas. The harsh Iraqi desert offers poor conditions to establishing guerilla bases, and moreover, no state sponsor is present in Iraq to provide for sanctuary and unlimited arms and food supplies to the insurgents. Militant hide-outs, therefore, are concentrated in the cities. Cities with strongest presence of local resistance and terrorist activities, such as Fallujah or Najaf are mostly termed as Sunni or Shi'a strongholds by the media. The media should drop the Sunni or Shi'a labelling as it has religious implications that imply involvement of that entire particular religious group in Iraqi society. It is actually not the case. Insurgents and terrorists are merely a minority fringe group in Iraq that possesses arms, who refuse to come to terms with the reign of the Iraqi interim government. They wage an indiscriminate campaign of violence in the cities against government forces, unarmed civilians and the US military alike, striking whenever there are weaknesses.
It is necessary that the US and its Iraqi government ensure that such fringe radical groups do not gain an increasing popular foothold with the Iraqi population of 25.3 million.
Instead of spending money on more missiles, bombs and aircraft sorties, the US could divert resources to building subsidized new housing for the Iraqi people, in a similar manner to resettled government secured villages in the Malayan Insurgency during the 1950s, and patrolled by Home Guards. Similarly, blocks of housing flats could be built with strategic town planning in Fallujah, Najaf, and Baghdad, thus lessening the security perimeters for patrolling by US or Iraqi security forces. After resettlement, a policy of small arms confiscation can then be strictly enforced on the population. In this way, armed insurgents can thus be separated from the sea of population and be gradually isolated.
As long as Iraqi militias can have the freedom to tote assault rifles or hand held rockets on the streets without impunity, security in Iraq is non existent. Air strikes only serve to compound problems in the Iraq insurgency, not solve them. Denying otherwise will be seen as empty rhetoric to the Iraqis that brings only derision.