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April 23, 2004
Notes from the Pentagon

Leadership split
Despite the outward appearance of tranquility, China is in the midst of a power struggle between the old and new regimes. The leadership, we are told, is divided between a faction led by President Hu Jintao and a faction led by former President Jiang Zemin, who still controls the Chinese military as chairman of the Central Military Commission.

Mr. Jiang is viewed as a hard-liner, especially on the Republic of China (Taiwan), and is continuing to pull strings within Mr. Hu's regime through Vice President Zeng Qinghong, who is considered a Jiang loyalist. Mr. Zeng wields vast authority within the ruling Communist Party dictatorship and is thought to covet Mr. Hu's posts of party chairman and president. Both men have been in power since March 2003.

The leadership split has worried U.S. defense and intelligence officials because of growing tensions over Taiwan. China's government has stepped up rhetoric against Taiwan in recent months after the re-election of Taiwanese leader Chen Shui-bian.

A major danger is the period leading up to the May 20 inauguration of Mr. Chen, when U.S. officials think that China might engage in some kind of provocation, such as large-scale military exercises or missile tests.

The fear is that with rivals vying for power in Beijing, Chinese leaders might lack flexibility within the inner councils of the Communist Party. That, in turn, could lead to miscalculation that could lead to military action.

Power shift
Rep. C.W. Bill Young, the patient and cordial chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, is term-limited after the 2004 election. But that does not mean that party rules which limit chairmen to six-year terms will keep him from wielding the gavel.

Republican sources say Mr. Young, Florida Republican, intends to resume the chairmanship of the Appropriations subcommittee on defense, a post he held before becoming committee chief. Defense issues are close to Mr. Young's heart. He has served on the defense panel for nearly 25 years.

The subcommittee chairman, Rep. Jerry Lewis, California Republican, is term-limited, too. He is expected to make a bid to succeed Mr. Young.

No show
Some wondered why Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld did not testify this week on Iraq during twin hearings by Congress' Armed Services committees. Mr. Rumsfeld has made no secret of his dislike for congressional micromanaging and demands on his people's time.

But in this case, it was protocol that dictated the witnesses. The committees wanted to hear from the State Department, as well as the Pentagon. The State Department wanted to send an undersecretary, thus protocol called for sending a more senior defense official but not the most senior to sit before the committees with jurisdiction over the Pentagon. So Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was the pick.

Zarqawi in Fallujah
U.S. officials said one reason fighting has been so fierce in the central Iraqi city of Fallujah is that al Qaeda associate Abu Musab Zarqawi might be hiding there, protected by Islamist fighters.

U.S. Marines have the city cordoned off and are poised to carry out a major offensive.

Zarqawi is one of the most-wanted terrorists in Iraq right now.

U.S. intelligence officials said Zarqawi was planning to conduct attacks on Shi'ite pilgrims in Iraq. The strikes, fortunately, failed to materialize.

Zarqawi was the author of the recently intercepted letter outlining the Islamist strategy of killing Iraqi Shi'ites in order to trigger a civil war. The letter also lamented that the will of the United States and coalition forces appeared strong despite terrorist bombings.

One official said Fallujah was found to be "a rat's nest" of Islamist terrorists and that surrounding the city has cornered hundreds of terrorists. The hope is that Zarqawi is among them.

Marine dispatch
A dispatch from a Marine Corps officer on fighting in Fallujah.

"Early in the morning we exchanged gunfire with a group of insurgents without significant loss. As morning progressed, the enemy fed more men into the fight and we responded with stronger force. Unfortunately, this led to injuries as our Marines and sailors started clearing the city block by block.

"The enemy did not run; they fought us like soldiers. And we destroyed the enemy like only Marines can. By the end of the evening the local hospital was so full of their dead and wounded that they ran out of space to put them. Your [Marines] were awesome all night. They stayed at the job of securing the streets, and nobody challenged them as the hours wore on. They did not surrender an inch nor did flinch from the next potential threat. Previous to yesterday, the terrorists thought that we were soft enough to challenge. As of tonight, the message is loud and clear that the Marines will not be beaten.

"The news looks grim from back in the States. We did take losses that, in our hearts, we will always live with ... Yesterday made everyone here stronger and wiser. It will be a cold day ... before we are taken for granted again."

Chaplain's view
An Army chaplain gives his view from the front:

"Saddam could not and did not control Fallujah. He bought off those he could, killed those he couldn't, and played all leaders against one another. It was and is a 'difficult' town. Nothing new about that. What is new is that outside people have come in to stir up unrest. How many are there? That's classified, but let me tell you this: There are more people in the northeast Minneapolis gangs than there are causing havoc in Fallujah."

  • Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough are Pentagon reporters. Gertz can be reached at 202/636-3274 or by e-mail at Scarborough can be reached at 202/636-3208 or by e-mail at

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