Fallujah, Al Anbar Province
“I come in peace. I didn’t bring artillery. But I’m pleading with you, with tears in my eyes; If you fuck with me I will kill you all.” – General “Mad Dog” Mattis USMC (Spoken to Iraqi tribal leaders)
Leading up to 2007, the overall situation in Iraq was bad and rapidly deteriorating. The Sunnis and Shia were locked in a vicious ethno-sectarian war of epic proportions. It was tit for tat violence with no end in sight. Ramadi and Fallujah became insurgent sanctuaries that bred more and more insurgents to the call of jihad by the Sunni imams.
The insurgency consisted of a loose confederation of Baathists looking for a return to power, former military and intel officers from Saddam’s regime, Islamic extremists, radical Sunni imams and young men motivated by revenge and/or a desire to fight against the infidel invaders.
AQI (Al Qaeda in Iraq) was the hardcore “Varsity” Sunni insurgent group in Fallujah. They were led by Jordanian-born, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Zarqawi combined to terrible effect the dark, sadistic, medieval vision of beheadings and 21st century suicide bombs. Zarqawi’s campaign of blowing up Shiite targets was intended to provoke retaliation against the Sunnis leading to a larger scale civil war.
AQI were experts in psychological warfare. One of their primary goals was to terrify the local population and demonstrate that their government could no longer protect them. The tactic appeared to be working marvelously until 2004.
In April 2004, four American contractors were ambushed and killed in the city of Fallujah. Their bodies were mutilated and strung up from the Fallujah bridge that crosses the Euphrates. This affront would lead to the first of two ferocious battles for the city.
The Marine battles fought in Fallujah and Ramadi were fought in the same fashion as battles fought at Stalingrad in 1942 and Hue City in 1968. It was a street by street, house to house, room to room, with no prize for second place brawl. Pitting Marines against battle hardened fighters in an urban environment, a war weary population, a shitload of weapons and ordnance and some Murphy’s Law, witness the worst combat conditions imaginable.
The Marine’s strategy was to combine with the Iraqi army to lock down the city, implement systematic, aggressive offensive patrols . They owned the streets. Every Iraqi male of military age was fingerprinted, given retina scans, and issued ID cards. The few vehicles allowed in were rigorously searched. Concrete barriers literally isolated entire neighborhoods. During the estimated 21 month struggle for Fallujah, the Marines squeezed the extremists out of the city. 151 American were killed with more than a thousand wounded.
In 2006 Zarqawi was killed with a 500 lb JDAM ( a GPS guided Joint Direct Attack Munition) and a 500lb LGB (Laser Guided Bomb) while attending a meeting in a safe house in Hibhib. Some thought the violence would die down after the death of Zarqawi. It did not. He was just replaced with another asshole and the violence escalated.
The insurgents would have to be cleared with a new strategy. Commanders had to re-position their combat units, to move off their bases and into the cities to live with the people. Iraqi units also had to be taken off line, re-trained and re-equipped. The strategy of primarily targeting leaders of the insurgency was also not accomplishing much at all.
In January 2007, President Bush announced on television that he would be ordering the deployment of 20,000 troops for combat in Iraq. It would be termed, “The Surge“. This wouldn’t be an immediate fix, it would get worse before it got better. By the end of the 2007 there would be 899 US troops killed implementing this new strategy. It was the deadliest year of the Iraq War.
I was a part of the massive wave of Marines that ‘surged’ into Al Anbar Province in August of 2008. That year saw a significant decrease in violence as a result of the new strategy being implemented. I deployed for seven months with II MEF (Marine Expeditionary Forces), Intelligence Battalion and later attached to Battalion 1/4. Our team primarily worked with 1/4 Scout Snipers, a group of professional, dedicated young Marines men. Our primary mission was Counter-IED (Improvised Explosive Device).