Who Lost Fallujah?

Al-Qaeda takes over Iraqi city that cost 100 American lives a decade ago

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Suleyman El Kubeysi / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

Tribesmen block a road during clashes with Iraqi security forces in Anbar, Iraq

The Iraqi government that the U.S. put into power during eight years of war lost the key city of Fallujah over the weekend. While you weren’t paying attention, al-Qaeda has returned to western Iraq with a vengeance, in the guise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Sunni insurgents seem largely in control of Iraq’s Anbar province, where an estimated 1,500 of the nearly 4,500 American troops killed in Iraq perished. Fallujah, the province’s second largest city, is the latest prize in the long-simmering war between the Shi‘ite and Sunni strains of Islam. The conflict has now come to a full boil, two years after the last U.S. troops, whose presence kept a lid on such internecine fighting, left Iraq.

Within hours of the city’s fall, Americans who fought or covered the pair of bloody 2004 campaigns to keep Fallujah out of Sunni militant hands expressed concern via the Internet over whether their fallen comrades had died in vain.

“Is this,” wondered Phillip Carter, an Army veteran of the Iraq War, who also served in a senior civilian role in the Obama Pentagon, “what it felt like for ’nam vets in ’75?”

(MORE: Why Iraq’s Most Violent Province Is a War Zone Again)

“Why did they die?” asked former Marine Paul Szoldra.

“If you think Fallujah’s fall suddenly means your Iraq service was in vain, then you’ve been oblivious for 11 years,” added Brandon Friedman, who also served there as an Army infantry officer and wrote a book about the experience. “It was always pointless.”

“Sick about Fallujah,” tweeted James Garamone, a reporter for the Defense Department’s own press service. “I remember walking through the city when people started returning and believing that now they have a chance.”

Veteran Middle East observer Jeffrey Goldberg summed it up this way: “One war, from Beirut to Baghdad,” suggesting that the latest battle of Fallujah is simply the latest fight across a wide region of the globe between the Sunni and Shi‘ite sects.

Strangely, or perhaps not, the Pentagon was officially silent.

“This is a fight that belongs to the Iraqis,” Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday in Jerusalem. “That is exactly what the President and the world decided some time ago when we left Iraq. So we are not, obviously, contemplating returning. We’re not contemplating putting boots on the ground.” But he pledged unspecified U.S. help in returning stability to western Iraq.

Some Republicans were quick to pin at least some of the blame on the White House. “When President Obama withdrew all U.S. forces from Iraq in 2011, over the objections of our military leaders and commanders on the ground, many of us predicted that the vacuum would be filled by America’s enemies and would emerge as a threat to U.S. national-security interests,” GOP Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said in a joint statement. “The thousands of brave Americans who fought, shed their blood, and lost their friends to bring peace to Fallujah and Iraq are now left to wonder whether these sacrifices were in vain.”

Outsiders, including Saddam Hussein, have always had trouble dealing with the restive city of 200,000, and foreign militaries have done no better. One reason: an errant British bomb during 1991’s Gulf War intended to take out a bridge over the Euphrates took out a market instead, killing about 100 civilians. Tensions spiked in March 2004 when Iraqi militants killed four U.S. contractors and hung their bodies from a bridge. That sparked two 2004 battles for Fallujah, during which about 100 U.S. troops were killed before the U.S. regained control.

(PHOTOS: A Decade of War in Iraq: The Images That Moved Them Most)

The U.S. battles for Fallujah are seared into the memories of the troops who fought there because of their brutality, according to Marine Colonel John Ballard:

The fighting in Fallujah was up close, vicious, unpredictable and very manpower-intensive. Some buildings in the city were cleared multiple times. The tank was used often and with telling effect. Indirect fires from 155-mm artillery positioned less than 5 km away in Camp Fallujah were used on a daily basis before, during and after the heaviest period of fighting. Frequently, small-unit leaders would push ‘stacks’ of Marines or soldiers into buildings while employing laser-guided bombs, artillery and tank main-gun rounds on adjoining structures. The combat bulldozer was used by combat engineers and Seabees on several occasions to push the walls of buildings in on stubborn defenders. Insurgents used armor-piercing bullets and even sewed grenades inside their clothing to kill and maim U.S. troops at any opportunity.

The Iraqi government pledged on Sunday to retake the city in the coming days in a counteroffensive to be led by local tribes instead of the Iraqi military. That’s because Sunni lawmakers see the army — trained at a cost of $25 billion by U.S. taxpayers — as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s cudgel to eliminate Sunni rivals and consolidate power.

Would it have turned out differently if U.S. forces were still in Iraq (the last GIs left on Dec. 18, 2011, after Iraq refused to grant legal immunity to any remaining U.S. troops)? Perhaps, at greater loss in U.S. blood and treasure. But Obama decided that, after more than eight years of war there, the U.S. public was ready to toss in the towel. Granted, he could have twisted additional Iraqi arms to try to get such legal protections, but the voters who had put him into office three years earlier weren’t interested.

Todd Bowers was a Marine who served in Fallujah during some of the toughest fighting (that’s his video from the city below). Who lost Fallujah? “We all did,” he said on Sunday. “I guess we all just decided it was easier to forget Fallujah and get on with life. Vets, politicians and the general public.”

As the third battle for Fallujah looms, a passage from a 2011 Pentagon probe into the U.S. effort to build a new sewer system for the city could stand, in miniature, as the key lesson of the entire war:

“Little planning went into the project, and there was minimal understanding of site conditions, no skilled workforce available, and no clear idea about how much the new system would cost,” the investigation concluded. “So many adverse conditions faced this project from the outset; thus, it is hard to understand why it was initiated and continued.”

127 comments
_6161127996811
_6161127996811

McCain predicted this in the 2008 campaign that Obama's strategy was flawed.  Inexperienced and Inept is all we can say

Informed_Dissent
Informed_Dissent

Fallujah. Again. Any reasonable person (Muslim or non-Muslim) in 2014 has to recognize that Islam needs reform and it needs women leaders. Today’s Islam is a shameful abomination of what prophet Mohammad intended when he wrote the Qur’an. So where are all the Muslim women leaders? (Rhetorical question as I know they remain repressed.) Islam need its first female prophet to straighten out this mess:


http://youtu.be/PQ4YpawKoKc


I’m currently reading the 1992 non-fiction book by Jean P. Sasson, “Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia.” It’s sad and shameful that every shocking facet of the life this real House of Sa’ud princess is true. The memoir details the excrutiating misery she has faced since birth and continuing on through adulthood. Everything in this memoir is being shared with the free world because of this brave princess within the Sa’ud royal family who dared to speak with a Western female journalist, Sasson. 


Readers who want a thrilling fictional story about the plight of Muslim women in parts of the Mideast and Southwest Asia may want to check out the 2013 novel "The Prophetess of Islam," by Gary Nelson. Maybe the story line in that novel needs to come to life. Allah/God/Yahweh made women too. Is Islam, or any religion for that matter, ready for a female prophet or reformer?

Tiger-Pi
Tiger-Pi

The US  and its NATO allies should stay out of Iraq and should not rush in to flush out the Al-Qaeda from Falluja. However they could assist the Iraq government in several other ways, including  providing intelligence and weaponry. The  Shia-Sunni sectarian war is  being funded and  directed from Iran and Saudi Arabia as a proxy war.  Hence expending more American lives on bringing peace to these  countries would turn out be  a futile exercise.  We need to put international pressure on Saudi Arabia to ease off their  covert support to  Sunni sectarianism all over the world and  also warn Iran to stop forthwith  its  dubious activities in Syria,Iraq,Lebanon and Turkey. It is unfortunate that the US has not heeded the warning of the Israeli PM on the deviousness of the Iranians. The US must also put  severe pressure on Pakistan government to  dismantle  and destroy all the camps  on its territory that provide worldwide support to  terrorism and anarchy.  The one thing that wonders me is why the US with its NSA and CIA  electronic snooping could not predict the fall of Falluja?

kolagunta
kolagunta

This will repeat in Afghanistan. The whole Muslim world is a Shia- Sunni conflict zone. This conflict has been in existence since the early days of the religion. It was dormant but for a a few localized skirmishes. In the early 20th century it started growing. The main reason was the intervention of the west. The west in order to secure its source of energy (oil) exploited the Arab areas. The area was not a single state. It was a group of states controlled or ruled by Shias or Sunnis. With the exploitation  the area's wealth increased in geometric proportion. The west had a one track policy which was securing the fuel needs. They in this pursuit, unknowingly played one state against another, which was actually one sect against another. This was the main reason to have transformed localized skirmishes into a wider conflict. The easy wealth helped the conflict to grow into a sophisticated war between the groups. Now it has spread into other parts of the world. In some countries like Pakistan it has become an economic activity, while the state has become the epicentre of all such conflicts. This conflict cannot be curbed by force especially from the non-Muslim world. It is more like a family feud where outside intervention is taboo. Hence the only solution is to ostracize the whole Muslim world. This will localize the conflict. The sects will fight it out among themselves and finally make a deal. That is the time they can be again welcomed into the wider world.     

RobertNguyen
RobertNguyen

The US should never invaded Iraq and wasted our national treasure and put the nation at economic financial risk as we are in today. Iraq now can never be in peace until it is carved into 3 separate countries for the Sunni, Shiite and Kurd...

therealdude
therealdude

This is exactly why we should never have invaded Iraq, Afghanistan and why we should hope Assad wins in Syria. As terrible as the dictators are, this is what happens once they're removed from power. Given enough time, the whole country will fall. And as soon as we finally leave Afghanistan, if we ever do, it will fall too. The only way this could have even remotely worked was if we replaced Saddam with another Saddam.

ChrisCapper
ChrisCapper

With Fallujah the American forces helped push back the extremists by supporting the Sahwa, or Awakening Councils, disturbed by al-Qaeda’s extremist policy and brutal methods.

When the Shia minority government came to power they stopped supporting the Sahwa due to them being of Sunni origin and extremism crept back into the region.

Read my blog for more on this issue here: 
bit.ly/1gcojBG

Steve
Steve

The real fault lies with the colonialist British who created the faux country of Iraq in the first place.

bobcn
bobcn

Shouldn't we concentrate on saving Detroit before we worry about saving Fallujah? And Mississippi, and West Virginia, and south Texas, and...

SteelOnTarget1
SteelOnTarget1

How quickly Americans seem to forget their own recent history and TIME has done nothing to help them remember here.  The withdrawal date was set long before the current President was elected.  The failure to secure a SOFA with Iraq had nothing to do with the US administration and everything to do with the Iraqi's unyielding desire to try US soldiers in Iraqi courts for any perceived crimes.  Which was something no one in the Pentagon or in the field would ever accept and for good reason.  


The current situation in western Iraq's Al-Anbar province has more to do with the international communities unwillingness to do anything about Syria then a failed US SOFA agreement.  Even if we still had the same presence in Iraq today it would be some nasty fighting again just because of the cross border activities with Syria.  Which through out the entire Iraq War Syria was aiding the ISI and AQI with smuggling routes via the Al-Qa'im entry points along the Euphrates Syrian border.

BillDonnelly
BillDonnelly

Incidentally, John McNamara, Secretary of "Defense" through the entire Viet Nam war, wrote a book afterward saying he had no idea why they did it.  It was a job he was given so he kept doing it.  He said he was wrong.

"defense" against what ?

BillDonnelly
BillDonnelly

Obama invaded Iraq ?

I think it was sonny boy who didn't listen to his daddy.

We shouldn't be in the middle east at all.

Just air drop our old 45' caliber handguns to the general population and then see who wins.  Fight for themselves or live with the Religious police

firmsoil
firmsoil

Courtesy of Obama Democrats.

lysheen1
lysheen1

"We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq. The coalition would instantly have collapsed, the Arabs deserting it in anger and other allies pulling out as well. Under those circumstances, furthermore, we had been self-consciously trying to set a pattern for handling aggression in the post-cold war world. Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the U.N.'s mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the U.S. could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land. It would have been a dramatically different — and perhaps barren — outcome"

- George H. Bush 1998 on why we SHOULDN'T go into Iraq

To bad his son didn't have his dad's insight.

TomiRoshi
TomiRoshi

So what if Anbar secedes from Iraq maybe they should declare their independence and become autonomous state like the Kurds.  Oh wait, there's nothing out there besides sand and a border with Syria and Jordan.  Good luck with that Fallujahians.  

TomiRoshi
TomiRoshi

How does one lose something that was never theirs to begin with?   

semfi1979
semfi1979

Who lost Fallujah?

Simple

Obama! Obama! Obama!

Won with American lives, blood, and effort.

Thrown away by embarrassing, incompetent, misguided foreign policy.

The disastrous crumbling of our foreign interests is accelerating.

What will we have to pay in the future for these mistakes?

Truly the Neville Chamberlain of our time.

vinny515
vinny515

why won't anyone learn from history.I'm 62 and I've seen this crap over and over. Short term thinking to gain riches and collapse. It's using our young people as sacrificial lambs to line the pockets of old men. Greed corrupts absolutely!!!!!!



dougjmiller
dougjmiller

Here we go again. This is certainly an escalation of the radical Sunni Islamic war against radical Shia Islam. And this is the first and only time I've ever agreed with John Kerry on anything. We should support the government of Iraq against the al-Qaeda terrorists attempting to overthrow it and imposing a radical Sunni-Islamic dictatorship on the people of Iraq. But we should not risk the lives of any more of our men and women.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@_6161127996811McCain also wanted to invade Libya, Syria and Iran. How many troops exactly did this fool think we have to lose?

SteelOnTarget1
SteelOnTarget1

@_6161127996811 The withdrawal strategy was set by Bush not Obama.  Either way, neither one of them have anything to do with the failure to secure a SOFA agreement to keep US troops in Iraq.  The current situation in Iraq is not the US's fault but the international communities fault in not dealing with Syria.

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

@Informed_DissentJust leave other people alone to their beliefs. Respect them. Just because we think we gave women the right to vote we are better off. Look at Obama Elected and reelected again helped by women voters. Bill Clinton in spite of his adulterous affairs are still held in admiration by women. Women who really struggled through life and succeeded through hard work and determination, if they are conservative like Sarah Palin and Susana Martinez are not acceptable to many of these harridans. Hillary Clinton with nary an achievement of her own are admired and placed in a pedestal. In fact women leaders who are really to be admired for their courage and determination are conservatives. Who in the world would prefer abortion as a woman`s right over the economic side and the raising of children ? Only American liberals.

SteelOnTarget1
SteelOnTarget1

@ChrisCapper  I read your blog and see you repeated this same mistake.  The Shia are the majority in power and in population of the country.  It is why Iran has had so much influence in the east and southern regions of Iraq.  You've made a few other errors as well.  The first and foremost reason why/how AQI's influence in Fallujah was due to Operation Phantom Fury.  Which was a result of us stumbling ourselves to the clear, build, hold strategy.   Once we cleared AQI out of the city it became a matter of preventing re infestation which the berm building program and subsequent COIN strategies assisted with.  Which The Awakening program was but one aspect of.


I think you are misunderstanding the role and nature of the Sons of Iraq.  The "awakenings" organizations were rightfully feared by the central government.  The formulation of the councils was really more or less us Americans taking a page from Roman history.   We chose to pay off these local sheiks to ensure bombs didn't go off on our troops.  There was always a shady side to their presence and Baghdad government more than anything feared the potential empowering of local warlords.  I think you are making the same mistake most folks make in trying to understand the Iraq conflict by simply using the Sunni/Shia religious divide as the explanations.  The truth is its significantly more complicated then just who the successor to Muhammad is believed to be.  In the end its all about power and old blood feuds.  Iraq and Syria are nothing more then modern day feudal states but instead of knights in shinning armor we have RPG wielding men in dusty thawbs. 

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

@SteveDo you honestly think if the British did not carve up Iraq it will be more peaceful today ? Or do you think if the State of Israel was not carved from Palestine the Arabs will live in peace ?

shihku7
shihku7

@SteelOnTarget1  "Which through out the entire Iraq War Syria was aiding the ISI and AQI with smuggling routes via the Al-Qa'im entry points along the Euphrates Syrian border." 

What's your source on this? Seems odd that al-Assad would back ISI/AQI

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

@BillDonnellyIt was Sonny Boy, through the recommendation  of Hillary Clinton and the rest of the Democratic Senators after reading the report of George Tenet Bill Clinton CIA Director reporting that the presence of WMDs in Iraq was a slam dunk approved the invasion. Be more thorough. It is not good reporting only on one facet of the argument.
Some people also read you know.

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

@lysheen1Too bad Bill Clinton was not around to advise his father that the Iraqis have WMDs. Please remember that. George Tenet submitted a report that it was a slam dunk. It is easy to second guess when you are not there to make decision which could affect everybody.

SteelOnTarget1
SteelOnTarget1

@TomiRoshi Please look at a map.  Al-Anbar province contains the river Euphrates all the way from Syria to the border with the outer Baghdad area.  Its a strategically significant province and Fallujah is a very short drive to Baghdad from there.  A so called "autonomous state" lead by the ISI would be disastrous for the rest of the country.  These Sunni extremists would never stop there and goals are to establish a caliphate Islamic state based on strict sharia law.

therealdude
therealdude

@semfi1979 It was Obama who lost Fallujah because he pulled out of Iraq. But the root of the mistake lays with Bush because it was a war that never should have been fought in the first place for the simple reason Iraq wasn't a serious threat to the US and once you get involved in these messes in the middle east, you can never leave. It's like if someone at the grocery store decided to pull something off the bottom of a stack of goods only to have the whole thing come tumbling down....OR stand there for infinity and try to hold the stack in place themselves.

BillDonnelly
BillDonnelly

@semfi1979 does this mean you think we should keep fighting in Iraq? Afghanistan ?

Not with my money and American youth.  You go

lysheen1
lysheen1

@semfi1979So you would have kept 150,000 troops in Iraq, racked up Trillion $$ more in debt, and thousands more of America's young lives lost. Glad to know that.


Just curious though, after all the above ^, what would you end game be?


This war was unwinnable, one of America's darkest and worst mistakes ever. And I'm quite confident that the men responsible for it, are men you voted for.

JonusGrumby
JonusGrumby

@semfi1979 While you are correct about Obama losing Fallujah, let's not forget that Al Quada's presence in Iraq was virtually nonexistent before the US led invasion of Iraq courtesy of Bush.

jackdariver
jackdariver

@vinny515 Spot on Vinny; spot on! There will be a "come to Jesus" one of these days when the "lambs" wake up and realize how used they have been by people in power and the banks.. wait.. the banks own the people in power so I guess it's one and the same.. today's crop of leaders would make this country's founders roll over in their graves. Selfish and self centered; it's all about I, I, I, and me, me, me...

jmac
jmac

@dougjmiller  We're playing the blame game here.   Reporters love it.   

SteelOnTarget1
SteelOnTarget1

@shihku7 @SteelOnTarget1  Yes it seems odd today in retrospect for sure.  I speak mostly from first hand experience during my time in Iraq but if you google around on Iraq/Syria relations you can find some open source reporting on the history of this during the Iraq war.  Here was a recent one in context of the current Syrian insurgency.  Remember both countries have a long history together.  They are/were Bathists and are similar in their dissimilarity as well.  Iraq was ruled by a Sunni minority with a Shia population majority.  Syria is ruled by a Shia minority with Sunni population majority.  The Syria/Iraq border region was the largest source of foreign national fighters and weapons smuggling into Iraq.


http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/09/syria-iraq-geography-mythology-conflict.html#

jason024
jason024

@ReneDemonteverde@lysheen1 Based on bad intelligence that became politicized by the administration.....

Let alone the fact that our "post invasion plan" was to be welcomed with open arms and....yeah that is were it all went to crap.

jmac
jmac

@ReneDemonteverde @lysheen1 George Tenet is on record saying he wishes he could take that comment back!


Rene, read a book,  read a newspaper.   It does a body good.  

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

@JonusGrumby@semfi1979You are wrong. There were already some members of al Qaeda operating in Iraq. That is what Bill Clinton told Dubya and the danger of the WMDs falling into their hands.

jmac
jmac

@ReneDemonteverde @lysheen1  Tenet refused to confirm his slam dunk, and finally indicated it was made "pursuant to a decussion about how to convince the American people to support invading Iraq."  I believe Tenet, Rene.   It wasn't about WMD's - it was a PR to go to war.  


After the Senate Intelligence Committee meeting with Tenet,  Lindsey Graham admitted that the intelligence community wasn't using intelligence to inform their judgement; they were using intelligence as part of a public relations campaign to justify their judgement. 

jmac
jmac

@ReneDemonteverde @jmac @lysheen1 Geroge Tenet said "slam dunk" in an official report?   You're confusing an official report with Woodward's book.  


The cheery-picked info Bush had senators read was beyond misleading.  That's okay - Bush got what he wanted and he gets to take the consequences forever.   Just like Colin Powell, who knew he was not telling the truth in that UN briefing.  (Fortunately, the UN didn't buy it).    Condi gets to take it too, with her yellow cake comment in the State of the Union that she later let an aide take the blame for.  

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

@jmac@ReneDemonteverde@lysheen1Good lord Jmac. 

What kind of reasoning is that. Maybe you are just used to arguing in street corners where you could just keep on prattling on. It was not a comment.
He made an official report which was submitted to the Senate for the decision. Bush would not have invaded Iraq if the Democrat senators led by Hillary approved his request. Quit reading those tabloids that you are used to. Quit following the Kardashians on TV.