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11/12/2004

Mosul Not Alone

It reads like all of Iraq is burning. Alissa Rubin and Tyler Marshall in the LAT pinpoint the cause:

There is little doubt that American-led forces will recapture Fallouja within days, the analysts say. But U.S. officials who are planning for the election face another challenge: a law and order vacuum in many Sunni Muslim areas where there are no American or Iraqi forces and insurgents can operate with impunity.

Masked gunmen patrol these places, particularly at night, assassinating government officials, carrying out kidnappings and intimidating the people.

"There are large areas of countryside that are controlled 24 hours a day by the mujahedin, where people do not see U.S. forces," said Charles Heyman, a senior defense analyst for the London-based Jane's Defence Weekly.

With voting scheduled to take place in less than three months, there has been no let-up in insurgent attacks nor any sign that the government can curb them.

"You need to be able to replicate the density of troops now in Fallouja right across the Sunni Triangle, at least, and in Baghdad, and we don't have enough soldiers to do that. And it's hopeless to pretend Iraqis have the ability to do that," Heyman said.

Pentagon officials Wednesday denied that a security vacuum had developed in some areas, stating that Iraqi security forces were growing in strength and that patrols by U.S.-led forces were conducted routinely throughout the Sunni Triangle — the heavily populated Sunni areas of central Iraq north and west of Baghdad where guerrilla attacks have been most prevalent.

"Every day we're gaining more control over the Sunni Triangle region, and the Fallouja operation is an example of that," said a senior defense official who declined to be identified.

President Bush said this week that he would consider any request for additional forces, but that U.S. military leaders "have yet to say, 'We need a substantial number of troops.' "

Nevertheless, insurgents continue to carry out attacks sowing widespread fear. In recent violence, insurgents have assassinated police officers and left their bodies in the road; they have hung the empty uniforms of slain Iraqi national guardsmen like scarecrows to warn off anyone thinking of joining the security forces; have set up checkpoints at which they robbed and threatened people. They have staged mortar and rocket attacks and vanished down back alleys and country roads. They are increasingly demonstrating an ability to shut down civic life even in many urban areas.

 

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