Fallujah during the Iraq War

Fallujah during the Iraq War
Map showing the location of Fallujah in Iraq

The United States occupation of Fallujah began in April 2003, one month following the beginning of the invasion of Iraq. In April 2003 US forces opened fire on a group of demonstrators, claiming they were fired at. Fallujah's mayor, Taha Bedaiwi al-Alwani, said that two people were killed and 14 wounded.[1] Iraqi resistance fighters were able to claim the city a year later, before they were ousted by a siege and two re-invasions by US forces. These events caused widespread destruction and a humanitarian crisis in the city and surrounding areas. As of 2004, The city is largely ruined, with 60% of buildings damaged or destroyed, and the population at 30%-50% of pre-war levels.[2]


2003 Invasion of Iraq

Downtown Fallujah, December 2003

Although the majority of the residents were Sunni and had supported Saddam Hussein's rule, Fallujah was one of the most peaceful areas of the country just after his fall. There was very little looting and the new mayor of the city — Taha Bidaywi Hamed, selected by local tribal leaders — was pro-United States.[3] When the U.S. Army's 1st Battalion / 2nd Brigade 82nd Airborne entered the town on April 23, 2003, they positioned themselves at the vacated Ba'ath Party headquarters, a local school house, and the Ba'ath party resort just outside town (Dreamland)— the US bases inside the town erased some goodwill, especially when many in the city had been hoping the US Army would stay outside of the relatively calm city.

Instability, April 2003 - March 2004

On the evening of April 28, 2003, several hundred residents defied the US curfew and marched down the streets of Fallujah, past the soldiers positioned in the Ba'ath party (which did not exist any more at that point) headquarters, to protest the military presence inside the local school. A US Army Psychological Operations team attempted to make the crowd disperse with announcements, but failed. According to locals, at this point the US soldiers fired upon the unarmed crowd, killing 17 and wounding more than 70 of the protesters, most of them were young children. The US suffered no casualties from the incident.[4] According to the soldiers on the ground, the 82nd Airborne soldiers inside the school responded to "effective fire" from inside the protesting crowd. Two days later, on April 30, the 82d Airborne was replaced in the city by 2nd Troop (Fox) / U.S. 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment. The 3d Cavalry was significantly smaller in number and chose not to occupy the same schoolhouse where the shooting had occurred two days earlier. However, on the same day a daytime protest in front of the Ba'ath party headquarters and mayor's office (which are adjacent to one another) led to the death of three more unarmed protesters. At this point in time the 3d Cavalry was in control of the entire Al Anbar province, and it quickly became evident that a larger force was needed. The now battalion-sized element of the 3d Cavalry (2nd squadron) in Fallujah was replaced by the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division.

During the summer, the US army decided to close down its last remaining base inside the city (the Ba'ath party headquarters; FOB Laurie). At this point the 3d ACR had all of its forces stationed outside Fallujah in the former Baathist resort, Dreamland. After the May 11 surrender of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq, the incoming 3d Infantry Division also began using the large MEK compound adjacent to Dreamland to accommodate its larger troop presence in Fallujah. Under its control, the 3d Infantry Division maintained no bases inside the city of Fallujah.

On 30 June a "huge explosion" occurred in a mosque in which the imam, Sheikh Laith Khalil, and eight other people were killed. Residents of the city claim the army fired a missile at the mosque while the army alleged that a terrorist bomb training class had gone wrong.[5] Just a couple of days earlier things had been much quieter, although US troops had been confiscating motorbikes as a preventive measure against terrorist attacks.[6]

Timeline showing the sequence of units in control of Fallujah in just the first year of the war

Just 2 months after the 3rd Infantry had taken control of Fallujah from the 3rd Cavalry, the entire 3rd Infantry Division was redeployed home. The 3d Cavalry was once again put in control of Fallujah, and again was only able to devote one squadron to Fallujah. Attached to that Squadron was the 115th MP Company from Rhode Island. Unarmored and ill-equipped the 115th MPs kept order with routine patrols and frequent house raids searching for insurgents and weapons caches. In September 2003, the 3rd Brigade of the 82nd Airborne was deployed to replace the 3d Cavalry in Ramadi and Fallujah. The 82nd AD policy was to leave Fallujah alone if possible (which had been the same policy of the 3rd ID and the 3rd ACR before them). The 3rd Cavalry was then left to control all of the al-Anbar province except for these two cities.

Approximately one year after the invasion, the city's Iraqi police and Iraqi Civil Defense Corps were unable to establish law and order. Insurgents launched attacks on police stations in the city, killing 20 police officers. Beginning in early March 2004, the Army's 82nd Airborne Division commanded by Major-General Charles H. Swannack Jr. gave a transfer of authority of the al-Anbar province to the I Marine Expeditionary Force commanded by Lt. General Conway. The 3rd Cavalry and the 3rd Brigade of the 82nd Airborne were then sent home.

Attack on contractors

On March 31, 2004 - Iraqi insurgents in Fallujah ambushed a convoy containing four American private military contractors employed by Blackwater USA, who were at the time guarding a convoy carrying kitchen supplies to a military base, for the catering company Eurest Support Services[7]

The four contractors, Scott Helvenston, Jerko Zovko, Wesley Batalona and Michael Teague, were dragged from their cars, beaten, and set ablaze. Their burned corpses were then dragged through the streets before being hung over a bridge crossing the Euphrates.[8]

Siege, April 2004

In response to the killing of the four US citizens, and intense political pressure, the US Marines commenced Operation Vigilant Resolve. They surrounded the city and attempted to capture the individuals responsible as well as others in the region who might have been involved in insurgencies. One out of every two mosques in Fallujah were used to hide fighters or weapons.[9] The Iraqi National Guard was supposed to work alongside with the US Marines in the operation, but on the dawn of the invasion they discarded their uniforms and deserted.[10] Under pressure from the Iraqi Governing Council, the US aborted its attempt to regain control of Fallujah. The US Marines suffered 40 deaths in the siege. Estimates of the number of Iraqi deaths (both fighters and civilians) in the attack range from 271 (according to Iraqi Ministry of Health officials[11][12]) to 731 (according to Rafie al-Issawi, the head of the local hospital[13]).

The occupying force on April 9 allowed more than 70,000 women, children and elderly residents to leave the besieged city. On April 10, the US military declared a unilateral truce to allow for humanitarian supplies to enter Fallujah. US troops pulled back to the outskirts of the city. An Iraqi mediation team entered the city in an attempt to set up negotiations between US forces and local leaders, but as of April 12 had not been successful. At least one US battalion had orders to shoot any male of military age on the streets after dark, armed or not.[14] Some press reports contained anecdotal accounts from Iraqi residents of US snipers allegedly firing on unarmed civilians.[15][16] In violation of the Geneva Convention, the city's main hospital was closed by Marines, negating its use, and a US sniper was placed on top of the hospital's water tower.[17]

There were also reports of the use of cluster bombs by US forces in Fallujah during this time, including reports from Al Jazeera on April 9 and 15, which US State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher later described as "totally false."[18][unreliable source?] Similar reports came from several other sources who reported on 26 April 2004: "A spokesman for an Iraqi delegation from the violence-gripped city of Fallujah on Monday accused U.S. troops of using internationally banned cluster bombs against the city and said they had asked the United Nations to mediate the conflict.[citation needed] Mohammed Tareq, a spokesman for the governing council of Fallujah and a member of the four-person delegation, said U.S. military snipers were also responsible for the deaths of many children, women and elderly people." And the Economic Press Review reported on 17 April 2004: "American F-16 warplanes are blitzing the Al-Julan residential area in Al Fallujah 50 kilometers west from Baghdad with cluster bombs."[citation needed]

The ceasefire followed a wave of insurgency activity across southern Iraq, which included the capture of two US soldiers, seven employees of US military contractor Kellogg, Brown and Root, and more than 50 other workers in Iraq. Several of the prisoners were released within days of their capture, while the majority were executed.[citation needed]

The US forces ostensibly sought to negotiate a settlement but promised to restart its offensive to retake the city if one was not reached. Military commanders said their goal in the siege was to capture those responsible for the numerous deaths of US and Iraqi security personnel. As the siege continued, insurgents conducted hit-and-run attacks on US Marine positions. The Marines had announced a unilateral ceasefire.[citation needed]

Truce, May 2004

At the beginning of May 2004, the US Marine Corps announced a ceasefire due to intense political pressure, many believe it was due to intense resistance from the population. Most of the fighting was limited to the southern industrial district, which, had the lowest population density inside the city limits and the northwest corner of the city in the Jolan district. There were also Marine battalions in the northeast and southern portion of the city. While both sides began preparations to resume offensives, General Conway took a risk and handed control of the city to a former Iraqi general with roughly 1,000 men who then formed the Fallujah Brigade, while acknowledging that many of the people under control of the general were probably insurgents themselves (no verification was provided). The general, Major General Muhammed Latif, replaced a US choice, Jasim Mohammed Saleh, who was alleged to have been involved in the earlier atrocities against Kurds during the Iran-Iraq war.[19] The ceasefire terms were to give control of Fallujah to General Latif on condition that Fallujah becomes a secure region for coalition forces and halt incoming mortar and rocket attacks on the nearby US bases. Latif's militia wore Iraqi military uniforms from the Hussein era. Another tenet of the cease-fire was the establishment of a Traffic Control Point (TCP) on the eastern side of the city just west of the "cloverleaf". This TCP was constantly manned by a platoon of Marines and a platoon from the Iraqi National Guard and saw almost daily firefights for the rest of the summer.

Inside the city, mosques proclaimed the victory of the insurgents over the United States.[citation needed] Celebratory banners appeared around the city, and the fighters paraded through the town on trucks. Iraqi governing council member Ahmed Chalabi, after a bombing that killed fellow IGC member Izzadine Saleem, blamed the US military's decisions in Fallujah for the attack, stating "The garage is open and car bombs are coming repeatedly."[20]

Fallujah, according to reporters who have visited in mid-summer, had since become a sort of Islamist mini-state, with Sharia law enforced by mujahedin.[citation needed] Owners of shops that sold US-style magazine and barbers who offered "Western-style" haircuts were beaten and publicly humiliated. Inter-faction fighting was also rampant.[21] The Fallujah Brigade was soon marginalized and ceased to be more than another faction in what had effectively become a no-go area for coalition troops.

Counter-insurgency, May - November 2004

Throughout the summer and fall of 2004, the U.S. military conducted sporadic airstrikes on Fallujah. U.S. forces claimed that these were targeted, intelligence-based strikes against houses used by the group of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an insurgency leader linked to al-Qaida.

In October and early November, 2004, the U.S. military prepared for a major offensive against the rebel stronghold with stepped up daily aerial attacks using precision-guided munitions[22] against alleged militant "safe houses," restaurants and meeting places in the city. U.S. Marines also engaged in firefights on a daily and nightly basis along the perimeter of the city. There were again conflicting reports of civilian casualties.[23]:256-267

CNN incorrectly reported on October 14, 2004, that the US offensive assault on Fallujah had begun and broadcast a report from a young Marine outside Fallujah, 1st Lt. Lyle Gilbert, who announced that "troops have crossed the line of departure." Hours later, CNN reported their Pentagon reporters had determined that the assault had not, in fact, begun. The Los Angeles Times reported on December 1, 2004, that, according to several unnamed Pentagon officials, the Marine's announcement was a feint—part of an elaborate "psychological operation" (PSYOP) to determine the Fallujah rebels' reactions if they believed attack was imminent.

On November 7, 2004, the U.S.-appointed Iraq interim government declared a 60 day state of emergency in preparation for the assault, as insurgents carried out several car bomb attacks in the Fallujah area which killed Iraqi army and police, U.S. Marines and Iraqi civilians. The next day Prime Minister Iyad Allawi publicly authorized an offensive in Fallujah and Ramadi to "liberate the people" and "clean Fallujah from the terrorists". Marines, U.S. Army soldiers and allied Iraqi soldiers stormed into Fallujah's western outskirts, secured two bridges across the Euphrates, seized a hospital on the outskirts of the city and arrested about 50 men in the hospital. About half the arrested men were later released. A hospital doctor reported that 15 Iraqis were killed and 20 wounded during the overnight incursions. The US armed forces have designated the offensive as Operation Phantom Fury.

In the first week of Operation Phantom Fury, government spokesman Thair al-Naqeeb said that many of the remaining fighters have asked to surrender and that Iraqi authorities "will extend amnesty" to those who have not committed major crimes.[24] At the same time, US forces prevented male refugees from leaving the combat zone, and the city was placed under a strict night-time shoot-to-kill curfew with anyone spotted in the Marines' night vision sights shot.[25][26] Witnesses from the city reported large numbers of civilians, including children, were killed by American snipers after being told to leave the city. The US military investigated the claims of abuse, accepting responsibility and offering compensation for some victims.[27]

U.S.-Iraqi offensive of November 7, 2004

See Operation Phantom Fury

Journalists embedded with U.S. military units, although limited in what they may report, have reported the following:

  • On November 7, 2004, a force of around 2,000 U.S. and 600 Iraqi troops began a concentrated assault on Fallujah with air strikes, artillery, armor, and infantry. They seized the rail yards North of the city, and pushed into the city simultaneously from the North and West taking control of the volatile Jolan and Askari districts. Rebel resistance was as strong as expected[citation needed], rebels fought very hard as they fell back. By nightfall on November 9, 2004, the U.S. troops had almost reached the heart of the city. U.S. military officials stated that 1,000 to 6,000 insurgents were believed to be in the city, they appear to be organized, and fought in small groups, of three to 25. Many insurgents were believed to have slipped away amid widespread reports that the U.S. offensive was coming. During the assault, Marines and Iraqi soldiers endured sniper fire and destroyed booby traps, much more than anticipated. Ten U.S. troops were killed in the fighting and 22 wounded in the first two days of fighting. Insurgent casualty numbers were estimated at 85 to 90 killed or wounded. Several more days of fighting were anticipated as U.S. and Iraqi troops conducted house-to-house searches for weapons, booby traps, and insurgents.
  • On 9 November, CNN Correspondent Karl Penhaul reported the use of cluster bombs in the offensive: "The sky over Falluja seems to explode as U.S. Marines launch their much-trumpeted ground assault. War planes drop cluster bombs on insurgent positions and artillery batteries fire smoke rounds to conceal a Marine advance."[28]
  • November 10, 2004 reports by the Washington Post suggest that U.S. armed forces used white phosphorus grenades and/or artillery shells, creating walls of fire in the city. Doctors working inside Fallujah report seeing melted corpses of suspected insurgents.[29] The use of WP ammunition was confirmed from various independent sources, including U.S. troops who had suffered WP burns due to friendly fire. On November 16, 2005 The Independent reported that Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Barry Venable "disclosed that (white phosphorus) had been used to dislodge enemy fighters from entrenched positions in the city"..."We use them primarily as obscurants, for smokescreens or target marking in some cases. However, it is an incendiary weapon and may be used against enemy combatants."[30] But a day before, Robert Tuttle, the U.S. ambassador to London, denied that white phosphorus was deployed as a weapon: "US forces do not use napalm or white phosphorus as weapons."[31][32]
  • On November 13, 2004 a Red Crescent convoy containing humanitarian aid was delayed from entering Fallujah by the U.S. army, under the suspicion that the convoy was carrying weapons to the insurgents, as other humanitarian convoys had attempted earlier.[33][34]
  • On November 13, 2004, a U.S. Marine with 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines was videotaped killing a wounded and unarmed prisoner in a mosque. The incident, which came under investigation, created controversy throughout the world. The man was shot at close range after he and several other badly wounded Iraqi prisoners had previously been left behind overnight in the mosque by the U.S. Marines. The Marine shooting the man had been mildly injured by insurgents in the same mosque the day before, and was later acquitted of the charge of manslaughter in May 2005 on grounds that he had reason to believe the man was armed.[35][36]
  • On November 16, 2004, a Red Cross official told Inter Press Service that "at least 800 civilians" had been killed in Fallujah and indicated that "they had received several reports from refugees that the military had dropped cluster bombs in Fallujah, and used a phosphorus weapon that caused severe burns."[37]
  • As of November 18, 2004, the U.S. military reported 1200 insurgents killed and 1000 captured. U.S. casualties were 51 killed and 425 wounded, and the Iraqi forces lost 8 killed and 43 wounded.[38]
  • On December 2, 2004, the U.S. death toll in Fallujah operation reached 71 killed.[39]
  • Some of the tactics said to be used by the insurgents included playing dead and attacking, surrendering and attacking, and rigging dead or wounded with bombs. In the November 13th incident mentioned above, the U.S. Marine alleged the insurgent was playing dead.[40]
  • Of the 100 mosques in the city, about 60 were used as fighting positions by the insurgents.[citation needed] The U.S. and Iraqi military swept through all mosques used as fighting positions, destroying them, leading to great resentment from local residents.
  • In 2005, the U.S. military admitted that it used white phosphorus as an anti-personnel weapon in Fallujah.[41]

On 17 May 2011, AFP reported that 21 bodies, in black body-bags marked with letters and numbers in Roman script had been recovered from a mass grave in al-Maadhidi cemetery in the centre of the city. Fallujah police chief Brigadier General Mahmud al-Essawi said that they had been blindfolded, their legs had been tied and they had suffered gunshot wounds. The Mayor, Adnan Husseini said that the manner of their killing, as well as the body bags, indicated that US forces had been responsible. Both al-Essawi and Husseini agreed that the dead had been killed in 2004. The US Military declined to comment.[42]


Up to 6000 civilians were killed throughout the operation.[43] Residents were allowed to return to the city in mid-December after undergoing biometric identification, provided they carry their ID cards all the time. US officials report that "more than half of Fallujah's 39,000 homes were damaged, and about 10,000 of those were destroyed." Compensation amounts to 20 percent of the value of damaged houses, with an estimated 32,000 homeowners eligible, according to Marine Lt. Col. William Brown.[44] According to the NBC,[45] 9,000 homes were destroyed, thousands more were damaged and of the 32,000 compensation claims only 2,500 had been paid as of April 14, 2005. According to Mike Marqusee of Iraq Occupation Focus writing in The Guardian,[46] "Falluja's compensation commissioner has reported that 36,000 of the city's 50,000 homes were destroyed, along with 60 schools and 65 mosques and shrines". Reconstruction is only progressing slowly and mainly consists of clearing rubble from heavily-damaged areas and reestablishing basic utility services. This is also due to the fact that only 10% of the pre-offensive inhabitants had returned as of mid-January, and only 30% as of the end of March 2005.[47]

Health Effects

In July 2010, BBC reported a study by Dr. Chris Busby, detailing increases in infant mortality, such as a 12 fold increase in childhood cancer reported in Fallujah since the attack.[48] It alleges that in 2004, Iraq had the world's highest rate of leukaemia, in which significant increased are also reported. The report also noted that the sex ratio had declined from normal to 86 boys to 100 girls, together with a spread of diseases indicative of genetic damage similar to but far greater than Hiroshima. The study concludes however that the evidence is anecdotal and that the identity of the agents causing the increases in illness were not determined.[49] There is also evidence that the report suffers from bias, and that its methods fail to meet the standards of a legitimate, peer-reviewed, scientific study.[50]

See also

U.S. Operations in Fallujah

United States Army led operations in Fallujah
U.S. Marine led operations in Fallujah
  • Operation Vigilant Resolve April 04–April 09, 2004
  • Operation Phantom Fury November 07–December 23, 2004



  • No True Glory : A Frontline Account of the Battle for Fallujah by Bing West (2005).
  • We Were One : Shoulder to Shoulder with the Marines Who Took Fallujah by Patrick O'Donnell (2006) (ISBN 9780306814693)
  • Fighting for Fallujah : A New Dawn for Iraq by John R. Ballard (2006) (ISBN 0-275-99055-9)
  • Among Warriors in Iraq: True Grit, Special Ops, and Raiding in Mosul and Fallujah by Mike Tucker (2005) (ISBN 1-59228-732-8)
  • Fallujah, with Honor; First Battalion, Eighth Marine's Role in Operation Phantom Fury by Gary Livingston (2006)
  • House to House by David Bellavia and John Bruning (2007) (ISBN 978-1416574712)


  • Lions of Fallujah (Asad Al-Fallujah; Idrib ya Asad Al-Fallujah) is a Jihadi nasheed glorifying the opposition to the U.S. in Fallujah.



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  45. ^ 7:47 p.m. ET (2005-04-14). "Still locked down, Fallujah slow to rebuild - Nightly News- msnbc.com". MSNBC. http://msnbc.msn.com/id/7503610/. Retrieved 2010-03-16. 
  46. ^ Mike Marqusee (2005-11-09). "Mike Marqusee: The destruction of Falluja was an act of barbarism that ranks alongside My Lai, Guernica and Halabja | World news". London: The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,1638785,00.html. Retrieved 2010-03-16. 
  47. ^ "Fallujah Four Months Later | News | English". Voanews.com. 2005-03-31. http://www.voanews.com/english/2005-03-31-voa6.cfm. Retrieved 2010-03-16. 
  48. ^ "Fallujah children's 'genetic damage'". bbc.co.uk. 2010-07-21. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-10721562. Retrieved 2010-07-22. 
  49. ^ "Cancer, Infant Mortality, and Birth-Sex Ratio in Fallujah, Iraq 2005-2009". International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2010-07-06. http://www.ufppc.org/us-a-world-news-mainmenu-35/9836/. Retrieved 2011-09-15. 
  50. ^ "Chris Busby Exposed". WorldPress.com. 2008-03-11. http://junksciencewatch.wordpress.com/. Retrieved 2011-09-15. 
  51. ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0443439/
  52. ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0452659/

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