The Mudville Gazette
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Wednesday, November 10, 2004

A round-up of political posturing (and other preparartions) in and around Fallujah on the eve of battle.
Kofi Annan sounds very... John Kerryish on Iraq:
UNITED NATIONS — Despite accusations of interference, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Friday that it was his duty to speak up about how an assault on Fallouja might increase insecurity and disrupt elections slated for January, though he recognized that the final decision belonged to Iraq.
"We know that obviously the Iraqi government is responsible for running its affairs. But we have the responsibility to assist and work with them on the elections, and so to express concern was our business," he told the Los Angeles Times. "It's not something that one should take as amiss."
Annan warned in a private letter sent this week to President Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi that a full-scale attack on Fallouja would fuel further divisions and instability in Iraq and undermine participation in the elections. He also expressed concern that an attack would cause more civilian casualties and short-circuit negotiations to get nationalists to join the political process.
British and American spokesmen said the decision to use force in Fallouja was in the hands of the Iraqi government. In Brussels, Allawi said he found that in the letter, Annan seemed "confused."
"I don't know what he means by 'not to attack,' or 'to attack,' " he told BBC radio. "What are the substitutes? I don't know what pressure he has to bear on the insurgents. If he can stop the insurgents from inflicting damage and killing Iraqis, then he is welcome."
The letter underlined a fundamental difference in philosophy between the U.N. and the U.S.-led coalition on how best to neutralize the insurgents and "win the hearts and minds" of Iraqis.
"This is a very difficult situation, and difficult choices have to be made," Annan said. "We have extremist terrorists who have created an impossible situation for the average Iraqi…. So I can understand the desire and concern to want to deal with these people. We are in a process where one wants to pacify these hotspots, but at the same time one also wants to woo all Iraqis to participate in the process to make it as inclusive as possible."
At the same time, Allawi and other Iraqi leaders are critical of the U.N. for sending only a few dozen staffers to Iraq and then second-guessing the government's decisions from afar.
"The Iraqi sovereign government is dealing with a situation on the ground. They are probably the best judge of what is likely to work and what is not likely to work," said Iraq's ambassador to the U.N., Samir Shakir Mahmoud Sumaidy, who will meet with Annan on Monday to protest the letter.

Meanwhile, as if on que, {"a number of Sunni Muslim leaders" proposed a peaceful solution} [] at the exact moment the bullets begin to fly:
As Marines step up preparations for military offensives on two major Iraqi cities, a number of Sunni Muslim leaders are forwarding a plan to establish the rule of law in those areas through peaceful means, with the promise of reducing the insurgency across a large swath of the country.
Some of the groups leading the bid have encouraged violent resistance in central, western and northern Iraq. The groups say they will withdraw their support for violence if Iraq's interim government can reassure Sunni leaders wary of national elections, which are scheduled for the end of January.
The Sunnis have proposed six measures, including a demand that U.S. forces remain confined to bases in the month before balloting. Such an ambitious demand, which some advocates acknowledge is not likely to be met and may be open to negotiation, represents a dramatic shift by Sunni groups opposed to the U.S. operation in Iraq.
The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad offered no reaction to the proposal, which it received this week. A Western diplomat emphasized that any decision lay with Iraq's interim government.
In separate interviews, senior U.S. and Iraqi officials were privately skeptical of the overture and indicated it was unlikely to avert a military offensive on Fallujah and Ramadi, which commanders say could begin at any time.
"They don't seem to get it. The monopoly of power is over," said a senior Iraqi government official, referring to former President Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated government. "One wonders how representative these elements are of the mainstream Sunni population. They may represent nostalgia for the past, but for sure no realistic vision for the future."

To bring the election story "fool circle" here's {this from the NY Times} []
The chief United Nations electoral expert gave an upbeat report on Friday on the elections scheduled for the end of January in Iraq, saying that despite the difficulties of working in such conflicted conditions, procedures were advancing on schedule.
Carina Perelli, director of the electoral assistance division, said the registration process had begun in Iraq, with 542 centers open and 6,000 trained registration clerks at work.

To complete the loop on the Fallujah preparations we must {check in with the Marines}: []
Friends, Romans, Marines: Blow Off Pre-Battle Steam
For U.S. Marines awaiting orders to attack rebel-held Fallujah, the bags are packed, trucks are loaded and letters have been sent home, leaving one final, pre-assault diversion: “Ben-Hur.”
Blowing off steam, hundreds of Marines took their cue from the 1959 Charlton Heston classic and gathered Saturday at a base near Fallujah for a slapstick chariot race featuring cobbled-together carts and confiscated Iraqi horses.
“These men are about to face the greatest personal and professional tests of their lifetimes,” said the Marine commander. “We wanted to lighten things up, take the tension off what we’re about to do.”
The charioteers, wearing togas over their body armor, waved baseball bats done up as spiked maces and jumped into carts forged from cast-off vehicle parts. The makeshift chariots were pulled by Iraqi horses commandeered from looters in the area.

But in case you imagine the action a bit too vicious, there's this important note:
Instead of chariot-to-chariot races, the Marines held timed heats. A weapons team duo eventually prevailed in the final heat.

Not enough to deter PETA, I'm sure.