Thursday, December 23, 2004
At least three Marines were killed in Fallujah today, bringing the American death toll to 1325. Just under a thousand Fallujan refugees have been allowed to re-enter the city so far; that leaves another 249,000 still waiting for the chance to return. They will certainly be pleased to know, as they sift through the rubble of their former homes, that America's rout of the insurgency (or a sizable fraction of the insurgency, anyway) qualifies as a "major tactical victory":
U.S. Marines fought with insurgents in Fallujah yesterday as warplanes and tanks bombarded guerrilla positions in the heaviest fighting here in weeks. The clashes raged as nearly 1,000 residents returned to the devastated city for the first time since U.S. troops drove out most of the militants last month . . . .Elsewhere, a jolly stranger dropped in on Mosul, the site of Tuesday's suicide bombing, to spread Christmas cheer and have his photo taken with a few of the (surviving) troops. Was it Santa? We don't think so. Santa doesn't have to go to Mosul. His job is secure.
Many may be in for a shock. Marines have said many people staying in refugee camps near Fallujah did not seem to be aware of the extent of damage. Few buildings were left unscarred in the U.S. offensive, which began Nov. 8.
"This is all that's left of my property," one returnee said yesterday, waving a dusty blanket.
"We want to go back to Fallujah. We want to see whether our houses were looted or not," a man said. "Even if our houses were destroyed, we are ready to set up tents inside Fallujah."
American commanders have hailed the offensive to retake Fallujah as a major tactical victory. But pockets of insurgents remain in the city, and violence elsewhere in Iraq has continued, after many guerrillas apparently slipped out of Fallujah to operate elsewhere in central and northern Iraq.
Yesterday's combat was the heaviest around Fallujah since a surge of fighting Dec. 10 that killed seven Marines, three Iraqi soldiers and about 50 insurgents.
Returning the estimated 250,000 Fallujans is a key step in the attempt to restore the city as the elections approach.