From Tet to Fallujah and Back Again

The latest from Iraq is mostly chaos:

The Iraqi army is letting local police and tribes lead the fight against al-Qaeda in Fallujah and Ramadi, a strategy that reflects concerns that a large influx of government forces could provoke a backlash from the mainly Sunni cities.

The tactic also raises fears that al-Qaeda militants will establish a foothold in the Iraqi cities and score a major propaganda victory before they are expelled.

“The army is just sitting in their camps,” said Qasim Abed, a former governor of Anbar province, where the fighting is taking place. “We asked them to support the tribes.”


The tribal fighters are usually best at conducting raids. Sustained actions like digging fortified enemy troops out of major cities might be beyond their capabilities.

I’m thinking now of North Vietnam, the Viet Cong, and the Tet Offensive. Real students of history know that the Viet Cong were thoroughly routed during Tet, but that the North Vietnamese scored a major propaganda victory. American politicians and generals had made many reassurances that the enemy was nearly defeated when — boom! — they mounted a major, countrywide attack. The fact that the VC were beaten on the ground did little to detract from the profound shock of the attacks, amplified by Walter Cronkite et al.

But to Hanoi, the real victory wasn’t the propaganda war (although that was certainly nice). Their real victory was that we defeated the Viet Cong for them.

Looking ahead to reunification, the North Vietnamese were going to have a real problem on their hands. The VC was a large, veteran guerrilla force — and not necessarily wanting to be ruled from Hanoi. Left undefeated, the VC might have proven as big a headache to Hanoi as they were to Saigon and Washington. But the Tet Offensive brought them out of hiding and into the cities, where superior American and South Vietnamese firepower could smash them. While the “general uprising” of Tet was Hanoi’s design, the NVA didn’t actually do a whole lot while the VC took it on the chin.


The Viet Cong was never a threat again after Tet. Not to us, and not to the North Vietnamese, either.

Now watch in Iraq as the tribal fighters march into cauldron called Fallujah, while the Iraqi Army stays in its barracks. Yes, things could get complicated sending Shi’ite troops into Sunni cities. But from Baghdad’s point of view, getting al Qaeda to kill Sunni tribal fighters might be the biggest win of all.


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