Charles Clover / Financial Times – 2004-11-04 08:32:50
(November 2, 2004) — A split within the Iraqi interim government over whether to attack the rebel stronghold of Falluja is likely to put US commanders in difficulty, as they have insisted that Baghdad has ultimate authority over the operation.
Brigadier General Dennis Hejlik, deputy commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, based near Falluja, said at the weekend that the decision to attack the Sunni-dominated city rested with the interim government. “They are calling the shots,” he said. He added: “When we go… it’s going to be decisive, and we’re going to go in there and whack them.”
Iraq’s interim president Ghazi al-Yawar has called on US forces not to attack Falluja, as preparations for an offensive against the town face increasing diplomatic pressure from abroad. “I absolutely disagree with those who believe a military attack [on Falluja] is necessary,” Mr. Yawar told the Kuwaiti newspaper Al Qabas in an interview published yesterday.
Shooting at a Fly and Killing a Horse
“The way the coalition is managing the crisis is wrong. It is as if someone shot his horse in the head to kill a fly that landed on it. The fly flies away and the horse dies,” he said. But Mr. Yawar’s comments differ sharply from those of Iyad Allawi, the interim prime minister.
Mr. Allawi said on Sunday that the window for a diplomatic solution in Falluja was closing, and they would soon be forced to take military action to rid the town of militants. “The time is closing down, really,” said Mr. Allawi, “I am not putting a time schedule, but we are approaching the end.”
According to Iraq’s transitional administrative law, a temporary constitution of sorts, Mr. Allawi, a Shia Muslim, is the head of Iraq’s government, while Mr. Yawar, a Sunni, is the head of state.
Bob Callahan, US embassy press spokesman, yesterday drew attention to this distinction, saying: “We regard Mr. Allawi’s statement as being the view of the interim government. No one will go without the explicit approval of the interim government.”
Iraqi Government Split on Policy
But Mr. Yawar’s dissenting voice is likely to put increased pressure on the coalition to find a diplomatic solution. During a previous siege of Falluja in April, members of the former governing council threatened to resign if it was not halted.
In an interview with Fox News on September 29, Donald Rumsfeld, US defense secretary, acknowledged that this was one reason why US troops did not continue their assault on the town, leaving it in the hands of militant groups. Mr. Yawar was reported to have been one of those who threatened to resign.
In his al-Qabas interview, the Iraqi president said another assault on the town, which fell to insurgents in April after the four-week siege, would only serve the interests of radicals who wished to prolong the insurgency. They “want nothing but a military solution, and the continuation of bloodshed among Iraqis,” Mr. Yawar was quoted as saying. US officials doubt that negotiations with Falluja militants will enable the Iraqi government to regain control over the town.
Mr. Allawi has asked several delegations from Falluja to hand over foreign militants, including the Jordanian militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, turn in arms, and allow coalition forces to patrol the town.
Falluja leaders say they have reached an agreement to allow Iraqi security forces into the town, but say they have no control over foreign militants, and deny Mr. Zarqawi is in Falluja.
Foreign diplomatic pressure has also been building on the US to avoid an attack. The United Nations’ special representative in Baghdad, Ashraf Qazi, told journalists last week: “There is a concern with respect primarily to civilian casualties which are taking place and the impact it could have for the political process.”
Several political parties have threatened to boycott elections in January if Falluja is attacked.
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