(Originally published on November 22)
Days ago, I was speaking with a security consultant freshly back from a trip to Iraq, and I asked for his prognosis. It’s terrible, he said. We’re not winning. “What about Fallujah?” I inquired. “Hasn’t the city been retaken?” “Forget Falluja,” this former military officer said. “All you have to know is the road to BIAP cannot be traveled safely.”
BIAP–that’s the Baghdad International Airport. And since the invasion this six mile stretch of road has been insecure, a hair-raising and dangerous strip of territory. When my friend was making arrangements to travel to Baghdad–he’s in search of small-scale reconstruction contracts that can be fulfilled using Iraqi workers–he jokingly told his partners in Iraq that when they pick him up at the airport they should bring an AK-47 he could use. Well, upon his arrival at BIAP (pronounced BYE-APP), he was met by two cars packed with armed bodyguards, and someone did toss him a gun. Then off they went, practically flying down the BIAP road–which he says bears an uncanny resemblance to the Dulles airport road, which meanders through rolling hills of suburbia–at 80 miles per hour. A ride to the airport these days, he was told, can cost up to $6000. (That’s not a typo.)
He encountered no trouble. But he had in his mind an ambush that happened a few months back on the BIAP road. Two SUVs were carrying private security contractors who work for Blackwater Security Consulting. (In April, four Blackwater employees were killed in Fallujah; the bodies of two of them were burnt by mobs and hung from a bridge.) A van came flying down an access road and pulled alongside the lead SUV. The door to van opened and machine-gun fire blasted the SUV, which came to a halt. The rear SUV was forced to a stop. A pitched battle ensued, with the Blackwater employees firing back until the fuel tanks of their vehicles exploded. At least three Blackwater employees were killed. My source says he was told four were killed. (There was little media coverage of this incident.) And all the insurgents escaped. “This was in the afternoon!” my friend exclaimed. “Nothing stops them from attacking. Nothing stops them from getting away. Imagine this on the road to Dulles. There must have been at least fifteen of them, pulling off a classic L-ambush. Now what does this tell the Iraqi people? That the Americans cannot secure a small stretch of highway. It runs straight from the airport to the entrance of the Green Zone. And it’s not secure. That says it all.”
It does–to be polite about it–raise questions. In the aftermath of the Fallujah offensive, military commanders have told reporters that the United States has the insurgents on the run. But the “win” in Fallujah has sparked fighting elsewhere: Mosul, Ramadi, Samarra, Baghdad, and Baqubah. And this “win” has prompted talk that the US military may need an extra 3000 to 5000 troops because securing Fallujah and overseeing reconstruction there will tie up a large number of American soldiers. As The Washington Post reports, senior military officials have predicted a gap in desired troop strength over the next two to three months–which is, of course, the period leading up to and including the scheduled January 30 national assembly elections.