A U.S. Marine commander in Fallujah is warning it may be some time before it is safe for residents to return to the Iraqi city, after nearly two weeks of fighting there to flush out insurgents. And U.S. forces may have to remain in the city if Iraqi forces prove unable to keep it from falling back into rebel hands.
Fallujah, until this month a no-go area for American and Iraqi forces, is now considered secure, although not yet safe enough for it's estimated 200,000 residents to return.
Lieutenant General John Sattler is commander of the First Marine Expeditionary Force. "The town of Fallujah is secure but we're in that search and clear phase which will make it safe and relatively safe is the best word. We will then turn that relatively safe town over, over a period of time, to the Iraqi security forces," he said.
How well those Iraqi forces perform will determine whether U.S. forces have to go back in. "Until they are completely prepared and they ask us to leave in total, we will stay at arms length so that if in fact we have to come into town with a quick reaction force or shore up any force anywhere in the town, we will be prepared to do that," he said.
But an intelligence analysis prepared by General Sattler's unit warns Fallujah will likely again become a bastion of radical insurgents when U.S. forces pull out. Here at the Pentagon, a Marine spokesman calls that a plausible prediction, and one that could be made about other towns in Iraq's Sunni triangle where insurgent violence has raged.
At this point though, the Marines say Fallujah has become secure enough to begin allowing in humanitarian aid and for coalition forces to begin rebuilding a city devastated by heavy urban combat that has killed at least 51 Americans, eight of their Iraqi allies and 1,200 insurgents.