[Media-watch] Assualts on Iraq on hold until after US vote - LATimes - 11/10/2004

Julie-ann Davies jadavies2004 at yahoo.co.uk
Wed Oct 13 07:56:42 BST 2004

October 11, 2004


Major Assaults on Hold Until After U.S. Vote
 Attacks on Iraq's rebel-held cities will be delayed, officials say. But 
that could make it harder to allow wider, and more legitimate, Iraqi voting 
in January.

By Mark Mazzetti, Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration plans to delay major assaults on 
rebel-held cities in Iraq until after U.S. elections in November, say 
administration officials, mindful that large-scale military offensives could 
affect the U.S. presidential race.

Although American commanders in Iraq have been buoyed by recent successes in 
insurgent-held towns such as Samarra and Tall Afar, administration and 
Pentagon officials say they will not try to retake cities such as Fallouja 
and Ramadi - where the insurgents' grip is strongest and U.S. military 
casualties could be the highest - until after Americans vote in what is 
likely to be an extremely close election.

"When this election's over, you'll see us move very vigorously," said one 
senior administration official involved in strategic planning, speaking on 
condition of anonymity.

"Once you're past the election, it changes the political ramifications" of a 
large-scale offensive, the official said. "We're not on hold right now. 
We're just not as aggressive."

Any delay in pacifying Iraq's most troublesome cities, however, could alter 
the dynamics of a different election - the one in January, when Iraqis are 
to elect members of a national assembly.

With less than four months remaining, U.S. commanders are scrambling to 
enable voting in as many Iraqi cities as possible to shore up the poll's 

U.S. officials point out that there have been no direct orders to commanders 
to halt operations in the weeks before the November 2 U.S. election. Top 
administration officials in Washington are simply reluctant to sign off on a 
major offensive in Iraq at the height of the political season.

Asked for comment, White House spokesman Taylor Gross said, "The commanders 
in the field will continue to make the decisions regarding military 
operations, and will continue to assist the Iraqi people in the pursuit of a 
more peaceful and safer Iraq."

Pentagon officials said they see a benefit to waiting before an offensive in 
the so-called Sunni Triangle, the insurgent-dominated region north and west 
of Baghdad. That would allow more time for political negotiations and 
targeted airstrikes in Fallouja.

"We're having more impact with our airstrikes than we had expected," said a 
senior Defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "We see no need 
to rush headlong with hundreds of tanks into Fallouja right now."

Because U.S. commanders no longer have carte blanche to run military 
operations inside Iraq, they must seek approval from interim Iraqi Prime 
Minister Iyad Allawi, who has his own political future to consider - even 
though he owes his position to the U.S.

U.S. officials said Allawi had backed a broad plan to retake 
insurgent-controlled cities in Iraq before the January election. Allawi 
approved the recent successful U.S. offensive in Samarra, which U.S. 
commanders considered necessary only after a local government installed by 
Allawi buckled under constant attack by insurgents.

Yet there has been occasional friction between U.S. commanders in Baghdad 
and the Iraqi government that took power after the U.S.-led coalition handed 
over sovereignty June 28.

In August, top U.S. officers in Iraq and Pentagon officials were angry when 
Allawi ordered a halt to a day-old, U.S.-led offensive against Shiite Muslim 
cleric Muqtada Sadr's militia as it holed up inside the sacred Imam Ali 
Mosque in Najaf.

Allawi called the cease-fire to allow time for negotiations with Sadr, which 
ultimately broke down. U.S. officials in Baghdad and Washington argued that 
such frictions were just part of a gradual process of reducing Iraq's 
dependence on the U.S. military.

"We made a deal, and that's what you get when you set up an interim 
government," a senior military official at the Pentagon said. "But the 
alternative is not recognizing them."

U.S. officials said the recent offensive operation in Samarra went more 
smoothly than they had expected, and has boosted optimism that more cities 
can be wrested from insurgent hands before January's election.

"People looked at Samarra and said, 'Wow, this works.' It wasn't nearly as 
difficult an operation as we had anticipated," the senior Defense official 
said. "After Samarra, we now believe we can do more."

Just weeks ago, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Army Gen. John P. 
Abizaid of U.S. Central Command began lowering expectations about how 
comprehensive the January vote would be, suggesting that some rebellious 
cities such as Fallouja might have to be left out of the balloting.

U.S. officers in Baghdad said that the biggest difference between the 
Samarra operation and the failed U.S. offensive in Fallouja in April was 
that select units of the Iraqi national guard held their ground under enemy 
fire. In April, the U.S.-trained Iraqi security forces in Fallouja 
capitulated soon after the U.S. offensive began.

"You've got to have a credible Iraqi security force that the local populace 
has confidence in," said Army Col. Bob Pricone, chief of operations at the 
U.S.-led coalition forces' headquarters in Baghdad. "Four or five months 
ago, the populace didn't have a lot of confidence in the Iraqi national 

Still, Pentagon officials say that it may not be militarily feasible to 
bring every Iraqi city in the Sunni Triangle under the control of U.S. 
forces and the Iraqi government in time for the January election. The 
military view was contradicted by senior State Department officials who 
declared in recent congressional testimony that there were no plans to 
exclude any Iraqi city from voting.

"The State Department can talk about people voting everywhere. But securing 
Iraq in time for the election can't happen without the U.S. military," the 
Defense official said.

During a recent trip to Washington, Allawi expressed his interest in 
reclaiming insurgent-controlled cities in the Sunni Triangle in time for the 
January election, even in light of the potentially negative political impact 
in Iraq that a bloody military operation could have.

Yet officials say that the man who owes his job to President Bush - and 
might not have such a warm relationship with a President John F. Kerry - 
does not want to press his case too hard before the U.S. election.

"A lot of his political future depends on our election," said the senior 
administration official.

Conversely, much of the future of the U.S. in Iraq may depend on Allawi and 
his ability to emerge from the shadow of the occupation and ensure that Iraq 
reaches its own political milestone in January.

For 138,000 U.S. troops in Iraq trying to break the will of a deadly 
insurgency, that means understanding - and sometimes bending to - the needs 
of U.S. politics and the demands of their Iraqi hosts.

Said Pricone, the operations chief: "We'll work through as many cities as 
the Iraqi government wants us to." 
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