US push on Fallujah comes at a high price

The US military has won a Pyrrhic victory in the battle for Fallujah. Although US and Iraqi forces have taken control of most of the rebel stronghold, it remains a no-go area for the thousands of citizens living in squalid refugee camps on the outskirts.

The US claims it has freed the city from insurgents yet fighting continues, with mortars and heavy artillery pounding parts of the city where militants are still holding out. There are also reports of rebels returning to the city by swimming across the Euphrates. And US estimates of 1,200 militants killed are tempered by Red Cross claims that 800 civilians have also died in the fighting.

But perhaps the most troubling consequence of the offensive has been the rising tide of violence elsewhere. A wave of attacks across Iraq’s predominantly Sunni central region sparked by the Fallujah offensive has turned November into one of the bloodiest months since President Bush declared the end of combat operations in May 2003.

On 17 November alone, 27 people were killed in clashes across Iraq. Fourteen people were killed in the oil city of Baiji, 250 kilometres north of Baghdad, when a suicide car bomber rammed his vehicle into a US convoy. In Ramadi, west of Fallujah, nine Iraqis died when US forces confronted large groups of gunmen firing rockets and mortars. A few days earlier, the US Army was forced to divert 500 troops from the Fallujah offensive to deal with an uprising in Mosul.

In the battle for hearts and minds, the US also scored a disastrous own goal when a marine was caught on film shooting an unarmed prisoner in Fallujah. The military says it is investigating the incident and whether other wounded men were also killed. Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi says he is ‘very concerned’ about the incident.

On 16 November, the Pentagon said the US military death toll had passed 1,200. The total of 1,206 deaths includes 1,202 identified members of the US military, three military civilians and one unidentified soldier.