A top U.S. military official says insurgent forces holed up in the Iraqi city of Fallujah should surrender but he predicts they will take what he calls a "severe beating" if they refuse.
Major General John Sattler estimates there are some 1,500 anti-coalition insurgents in Fallujah. The Director of Operations for the U.S. military's Central Command, responsible for Iraq, said that these forces are made up of former Baathists, including members of Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard, and extremists, including terrorists and other foreign fighters, along with some others he calls criminals and thugs.
Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon by telephone from his headquarters in Qatar, General Sattler says a surrender of these insurgents would be the best solution to the current stand-off.
But he asserted if it comes to a fight, the insurgents will lose. He said that the primary coalition concern in any eventual showdown will be limiting civilian casualties and collateral damage to civilian property.
If it has to come to fighting, we just want to insure that fighting is as precise as it possibly can be in an urban environment and that we limit to the best of our capability any civilian casualties or collateral damage unlike the thugs that are in the town who seem to find safe haven inside of mosques, inside of schools, in proximity to hospitals, anywhere they can possibly go where they know we will be very cautious and precise in our response," he said.
U.S. military officials are trying to work with city leaders in Fallujah to persuade the insurgents to surrender their weapons and themselves. As a result, American troops have not embarked on a major offensive within the city - only occasional attacks aimed at specific targets, like weapons-laden vehicles moving inside insurgent-controlled parts of Fallujah.
Senior defense officials concede they face a dilemma in dealing with the situation. They say the use of too much force could risk alienating a greater number of Iraqis. On the other hand, if they do not put an end to the stand-off, they could effectively enable the insurgents to claim a kind of victory.
General Sattler did not directly address those concerns in his exchange with reporters at the Pentagon.
But in response to a question, he said the surrender or military defeat of the Fallujah insurgents will send an important message to anti-coalition forces around Iraq. "I believe it would deal a blow to the insurgents if in fact and when we bring these individuals to justice," he said.
General Sattler says any insurgents who believe they can hold out long enough to negotiate any sort of a deal on their own terms is dreaming.
He also says that among the insurgents in Fallujah, there is no single leader but rather what he describes as a loose federation of individuals who have come together in a common cause.