The headlines about Fallujah spell gloom and doom for the Iraqi city recently taken over by al-Qaeda affiliates, raising tough questions about Iraq’s overall stability, whether the same will happen in Afghanistan after the U.S. leaves and, well, what the heck was it all for?
In a case of curious timing, the homepage of the Combat Studies Institute calls to mind a triumphant time in Fallujah: November 2004. CSI offers a four-hour virtual tour about the one-time, ahem, two-time insurgent stronghold that examines the U.S.-led coalition operation to take the city. (The tour is available by request because perhaps it contains classified material.)
ABC News describes the efforts of Marines who who fought al Qaeda-backed insurgents in two battles in 2004. “They finally eliminated the al Qaeda forces in a house by house, alleyway by alleyway battle in which Marines had to contend with booby traps, roadside bombs and insurgents who fought with near suicidal determination.”
Dozens of Marines died in the effort. In 2004, insurgents in Fallujah killed four American security contractors, hanging their burned bodies from a bridge.
“It was all for naught,” Ross Ducati, a former Marine who fought in the second battle for the city told ABC News. “Americans fought and died there — my friends died there — for the purposes of regime change and furthering business interests friendly to the Bush administration… [Now] Iraqis will die there to further the interests of [Prime Minister Nouri] al-Maliki’s government.”
“If you think Fallujah’s fall suddenly means your Iraq service was in vain, then you’ve been oblivious for 11 years,” Brandon Friedman, who served there as an infantry officer and wrote a book about the experience, was quoted by Time. “It was always pointless.”
Maj. Charleston Malkemus, a member of the Marines’ First Battalion, the first division deployed to the city, told ABC that then, as now, al-Qaeda fighters “flocked to the city and inserted themselves to take control.”
“We can’t sustain fighting from 3,000 miles away forever,” Malkemus said. “At some point we had to turn things over to the Iraqis. Unfortunately, the Iraqi Army is struggling and needs to engage with the terrorists again in Fallujah.
The current violence evolved from a year-long, largely peaceful Sunni revolt against Maliki’s Shiite-dominated government that drew inspiration from the Arab Spring demonstrations elsewhere in the region, the Washington Post reports. But it was rooted in the sectarian disputes left unresolved when U.S. troops withdrew and inflamed by the escalating conflict in neighboring Syria.
Elsewhere in the western province of Anbar, al-Qaeda fighters have taken control of most parts of the provincial capital of Ramadi.
Unlike 2004, there will be no American boots on the ground. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday that the United States will support Iraq’s fight against al-Qaeda-linked militants who have overrun two cities, but won’t send in American troops.
Kerry said, “this is a fight that belongs to the Iraqis. 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 are not contemplating putting boots on the ground. This is their fight. … We will help them in their fight, but this fight, in the end, they will have to win and I am confident they can.”
This morning, he urged residents and local tribes to “expel” al-Qaeda militants to avoid an all-out battle — remarks that may signal an imminent military move to retake the former insurgent stronghold.
Tribal fighters in Anbar Province have been battling al-Qaeda, but it is unclear whether they support Maliki’s government.
Most residents of Fallujah do not support the al-Qaeda fighters, a journalist there told the Washington Post, but they also lack the means to oppose them, and they also oppose the Iraqi government.
“It is sad, because we are going back to the days of the past,” he said. “Everyone is remembering the battles of 2004 when the Marines came in, and now we are revisiting history.”