08/13/04 — Safe havens? Mosque complexes are really fortresses

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Safe havens? Mosque complexes are really fortresses

U.S. forces are engaging in an offensive against Iraqi insurgents in Najaf. The announced goal is to “defeat and destroy” the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

The American people must hope that is not just a hollow echo of the pledge earlier to “bring to justice” the insurgents who kidnapped, murdered and mutilated four U.S. civilian contractors in Fallujah.

In that campaign, U.S. forces virtually surrounded the insurgents before backing off in observance of a one-sided “cease-fire.”

The murderers were never captured.

The backing away while clearly being in control of the fighting is a tactic far too reminiscent of the war in Vietnam. Far too many U.S. soldiers gave their lives and limbs to win ground that was abandoned a few days later.

The Iraqi insurgents are taking refuge in cemeteries and in mosque compounds which they insist are “holy places.”

At this juncture, one large cemetery reportedly has been cleared of insurgents by U.S. and Iraqi troops. The mosque complex where some 1,000 members of the Mahdi Army are holed up apparently remains “off limits” to U.S. soldiers.

The option is to let Iraqi forces supporting the coalition flush out the militants holed up there.

The United States should have learned from Korea and Vietnam that limited wars are winless wars.

Mosque compounds used by insurgents firing rifles, mortars and rocket grenades are not “holy places,” they are fortresses. And that transformation is made not by coalition forces but by the insurgents themselves.

They should be dealt with accordingly and with the most effective means available.

Published in Editorials on August 13, 2004 12:42 PM