FALLUJAH….Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Fred Barbash of the Washington Post seem to have the best account of the decision to withdraw U.S. Marines from the siege of Fallujah and replace them with a newly created all-Iraqi army:

The former general who would likely be supervising Iraqi security forces in Fallujah, Salah Aboud, was the army’s deputy chief of staff following the 1991 Gulf War and had close ties to Hussein. He participated in the cease-fire talks with U.S. officers that ended that war.

Before the U.S. invasion in March 2003, Hussein named Aboud military adviser to Ali Hassan Majeed, better known as “Chemical Ali” for his use of poison gas against Iraqi Kurds in the late 1980s. Majeed was the commander responsible for all forces in southern Iraq during the most recent war.

….The generals said they would assemble and command a force of 900 to 1,000 trained Iraqi soldiers, Sunni Muslims, so that it could replace the Americans on the front lines of the fighting.

This new “Fallujah Protection Army,” Byrne said, would be a subordinate command reporting to Lt. Gen. James P. Conway, the commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, which is in charge of Western Iraq, including Fallujah.

….Some U.S. commanders had previously believed such proposals to be dicey propositions in part because the Iraqi troops have been inactive for more than a year and might not be a fit fighting force. In addition, some of them have been battling U.S. troops.

A Marine officer familiar with the arrangement said the force would be made up largely of Iraqis with prior military experience. But it was not clear how much vetting, if any, would be done, given the pressure to form the force within days. The officer acknowledged that some former insurgents may well be part of it, creating the potential situation of U.S. troops having to work with people who have very recently been shooting at them.

I suppose there’s no choice but to trust the commanders on the ground to take this risk, especially since a full-scale assault seems like the only alternative, but it still fills me with foreboding. There are at least 2,000 heavily armed insurgents in Fallujah, and this new army will be poorly trained, half the size of the forces they’re fighting against, commanded by a former Saddam loyalist, and possibly infiltrated by insurgents.

I sure hope they know what they’re doing. It seems a rather desperate gamble.

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