Breathing hard and leading with their rifles, a cluster of US
marines takes cover behind a mountain of rubble. Another team dashes
across a field, concealing themselves behind a large metal wheel.
"Rat-a-tat-tat!" shouts one, like a comic-book warrior. "You're
dead!" declares another, at pretend insurgents.
If training is key to battlefield success, the marines of the 1st
Marine Expeditionary Force are trying to maximize their skills as
they prepare for the type of urban offensive in Fallujah that most
military experts anticipated 18 months ago, when US forces first
Senior US and Iraqi officials say an invasion of the city could
begin within days, in a bid to decapitate the insurgency that has
spread across Iraq. The challenge for these troops will be to stay
one step ahead of a resistance that is constantly evolving, has
become adept at using the Internet to share tactics, is fighting on
its home turf, and has had months to prepare.
"They are changing all the time - it's cat and mouse, and we're
trying to stay the cat," says Capt. Gill Juarez, an armored company
commander from San Diego.
Some 52 Marines died in Fallujah and elsewhere in Iraq last
April, when a US invasion force entered the city, igniting
resistance across a string of cities.
"Their only advantage is they can use the asymmetric threat, and
we can't go there, nor should we," says Captain Juarez, referring to
guerrilla tactics that include roadside and suicide car bomb
attacks, which killed eight marines near Abu Ghraib last Saturday.
On Juarez's desk in a Spartan makeshift operations center, is a
worn book called "Russia's Chechnya Wars 1994-2000: Lessons from
Urban Combat." The light armor commander has asked all his officers
to read it, to understand how Russia's superior firepower - brought
to bear destroying the Chechen capital, Grozny - did not bring
"It's no secret for mechanized units: you're vulnerable [in urban
warfare]," says Juarez. "You have to have dismounted security. I
tell my scouts [marines on the ground] that they need to have
eyeballs 'one feature over.' They need to know what's going on the
other side of the wall or the berm."
Despite the mustering of US Marine and Army forces for any
Fallujah invasion, and thousands of newly trained Iraqi troops to
control the city afterward, not all in Iraq's interim government are
convinced about the tough approach.
Ghazi al-Yawar, Iraq's interim president, criticized the effort,
saying in an interview with a Kuwait newspaper that the standoff
called for "continued dialogue." And Mohammed Bashar al-Faidhi,
spokesman of the Association of Muslim Scholars, warned Tuesday that
an assault on Fallujah would spur his Sunni clerical group to use
"mosques, the media, and professional associations" to proclaim a
civil disobedience campaign and a boycott of the January elections.
Two Iraqi cities also saw fresh violence Tuesday as a car bomb in
Baghdad killed at least six people, while in Mosul, a car bomb
exploded near a military convoy, killing four civilians and wounding
at least seven soldiers.
A further challenge in Fallujah, US commanders say, is the
apparent ease and speed with which insurgents have adapted their
tactics. And this offensive will be no surprise to Fallujah - the
showdown has been telegraphed for weeks; more than 80 percent of the
population of about 300,000 are believed to have left the city to
avoid the invasion. …