The Marines Take Anbar: The Four Year Fight Against al Qaeda

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On 21 June, a four-man Scout Sniper team operating with 2nd Battalion 4th Marines in Ramadi was executed by a group of insurgents who had infiltrated their observation post. Barjas appeared on television and publicly apologized for "cooperation with the infidel". That same month, an Iraqi battalion commander was captured by insurgents in Fallujah and beaten to death. Prior to November, Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi invited representatives from Ramadi and Fallujah in an attempt to negotiate an end to the fighting, similar to his previous dealings with Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr. They refused.

Despite the return of sovereignty to the Iraqi Interim Government on 28 June, the insurgency was still viewed by many Iraqis as legitimate and the Iraqi government as agents of the United States. This was disputed by a CIA officer, explaining that they "didn't see clear financing coming from Syria".

After the initial push into Fallujah, the US argued that Zarqawi was behind a series of car bombings throughout Iraq. There had been no large car bombings in Baghdad during the siege, and enough munitions and contraband had been uncovered to conclude that many "bombs and car bombs detonated elsewhere in Iraq may have been manufactured in Fallujah.


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By late the US government's bounty on his head matched Osama bin Laden 's. Bush was reelected as president. Natonski assembled an ad-hoc force of six Marine battalions, three Army battalions, three Iraqi battalions, and the British Black Watch Regiment. The insurgents, loosely led by Zarqawi, Abdullah al-Janabi , and Zarqawi's lieutenant Hadid, had replaced their losses and reportedly now had between 3, and 4, men in the city.


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They planned to hinder the Marine advance with roadblocks, berms , and mines, while conducting attacks outside the city to tie down Marine units. The attack began on 7 November when General Natonski had the 3rd LAR and 36th Iraqi battalions seize the city's hospital, located on a peninsula just west of the city.

Coalition forces attacked from the north, achieving complete tactical surprise.

- The Washington Post

The insurgents responded by attacking the Marines in small groups, often armed with RPGs. According to General Natonski, many insurgents had seen pictures of the Abu Ghraib scandal and were determined not to be taken alive.

Fighting the Islamic State with Iraq’s Golden Division: The Road to Fallujah

The assault battalions divided the city into areas and crisscrossed their assigned areas in an attempt to find the insurgents. The battle was later described by the US military as "the heaviest urban combat Marines have been involved in since the battle of Hue City in Vietnam. Officials estimated they had killed between 1, and 1, insurgents and detained another 1, out of an estimated 1, to 3, insurgents who were believed to be in the city. The Second Battle of Fallujah was unique in the Anbar campaign, in that it was the only time the US military and the insurgents waged a division-level conventional engagement.

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Following the Second Battle of Fallujah, the Marines faced three main tasks: providing humanitarian assistance to the hundreds of thousands of refugees returning to the city, retaking the numerous towns and cities they had abandoned along the Euphrates in the run-up to the battle, and providing security for the Iraqi parliamentary elections scheduled for 30 January.

During the run-up to the elections, a CHE helicopter crashed near Al-Rutbah on 26 January, killing all 31 Marines and sailors, most of whom were members of 1st Battalion 3rd Marines and who had survived the Second Battle of Fallujah. This was the single deadliest incident for US troops in the Iraq War.

In Fallujah, the Marines surrounded the city with berms, banned all vehicles, and required residents to carry identification cards. The insurgents used a barrage of mortars, coupled with a suicide car bomb, in an unsuccessful attempt to breach the prison, wounding 44 US troops and 13 detainees. By late February, a new threat emerged—the improvised explosive device IED. In , Marines and soldiers were killed by IEDs or suicide bombers, more than half 58 percent of that year's combat deaths in Anbar.

In his request, General Hejlik added, "The [Marines] cannot continue to lose One Army officer in Ramadi complained that, after warning about the large number of IEDs on a particular route, he was told, "Unless there are people melting inside of Humvees, then it's not a real problem. But while the Iraqis wanted to concentrate on Baghdad's suburban belts where the vehicles were being assembled, [Note 6] MNF—I commander General George Casey concluded the real problem was pro-insurgent foreign fighters coming across the Syrian border. On 7 May a platoon from 3rd Battalion 25th Marines near Haditha was nearly overrun by insurgents, but ultimately rescued by one of its non-commissioned officers who was later awarded the Navy Cross.

Zarqawi had reclaimed his base in western Anbar, declared Al Qaim as his capital, and was also operating in Hit and the Haditha Triad. Twenty Marines were killed in two days: six snipers were ambushed and killed by Jamaat Ansar al-Sunna on 1 August, and fourteen Marines were killed on 3 August when their Amphibious Assault Vehicle was hit by a mine outside of Haditha. By October, more Americans had been killed in Anbar than anywhere else in Iraq and senior Marines had switched from talk about victory to simply "containing the violence and smuggling at a level that Iraqi forces can someday handle.

Medical workers in Husaybah claimed that 97 civilians were killed. On 15 October, the people of Anbar went to the polls to decide whether or not to ratify the new constitution. AQI launched a series of attacks in Jordan in late that were partially based out of Anbar. The group had already unsuccessfully attacked the Trebil checkpoint along the Jordanian border with Anbar Governorate in December A fourth bomber, also from Anbar, was caught. In May , the Marine Corps was rocked by allegations that a squad from 3rd Battalion 1st Marines had gone "on a rampage" the previous November, killing 24 unarmed Iraqi men, women and children in Haditha.

A squad of Marines led by Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich had been riding in the convoy and immediately assumed control of the scene. Following the mine attack, the Marines stopped a white Opel sedan carrying five Iraqi men and shot them after they tried to run away, [] before the platoon commander arrived and took charge. The Marines say they were then fired upon from a nearby house, and Wuterich's men were ordered "to take the house". They differed over whether the killings had been permitted under the rules of engagement.

The Marines claimed that the houses had been "declared hostile" and that training dictated "that all individuals in a hostile house are to be shot. The military's internal investigation was concluded in June. Though Bargewell found no evidence of a cover-up, his report seriously criticized the Marine Corps for what he described as "inattention and negligence" as well as "an unwillingness, bordering on denial" by officers, especially senior officers, to investigate civilian deaths. He referred to the deaths as "the cost of doing business on that particular engagement.

Six defendants subsequently had their cases dropped and one was found not guilty.

In , Wuterich pleaded guilty to negligent dereliction of duty in exchange for all other charges against him being dropped. McMaster in had pioneered a new type of operation: " Clear, Hold, Build ". Under McMaster's approach, his commanders saturated an area with soldiers until it had been cleared of insurgents, then held it until Iraqi security forces were gradually built to a level where they could assume control. The 1st BCT moved into some of Ramadi's most dangerous neighborhoods and, beginning in July, built four of what would eventually become eighteen Combat Outposts. Despite the reported presence of AQI leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri , the insurgents failed in all of their attacks and lost about 30 men.

Several senior American officers, including General David Petraeus , later compared the fighting to the Battle of Stalingrad. Colonel MacFarland even publicly described his operations as "trying to take the heat off Baghdad. Marines of the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, swept through urban sprawl between Ramadi and Fallujah in a series of operations i.

Kilo Marines killed or captured insurgents; 4 Marines were killed in action, and 17 were wounded. Within Kilo itself, the squad most affected was "Voodoo Mobile", the vehicle-mounted element of the unit's HQ section. Of its 16 members, 12 were wounded and 3 killed between September and November During the seven-month deployment, fighting between Al Qaeda and the Marines was largely sporadic but intense. While only a handful of large-scale firefights developed — mostly in the suburbs of Ramadi between Habbaniyah and Julaybah — contact between the two sides was nearly continuous.

Operations consisted of a mixed array of company-scale urban "sweep-and-clear" operations, census and suppression patrols, and static, fortified area-denial positions. The battalion was spread out along a 30 kilometer front from the western fringes of Fallujah to the eastern boundary of Ramadi. During the battle, 14 Marines from the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines were killed and at least were wounded.

As the 1st Brigade pushed into Ramadi, it began aggressively courting the local tribes for police recruits. This was critical because, according to Colonel MacFarland, "without their help, we would not be able to recruit enough police to take back the entire city.

The Marines Take Anbar: The Four Year Fight Against Al Qaeda

The number of Iraqis joining the police went from 30 a month before June to a month by July. They simultaneously assassinated the Sunni sheikh of the Abu Ali Jassim tribe, who had encouraged many of his tribesmen to join the Iraqi Police. According to David Kilcullen , who would later serve as Senior Counterinsurgency Adviser to General Petraeus, the revolt began after AQI killed a sheikh over his refusal to give his daughters to them in marriage.

Colonel MacFarland asked his tribal adviser, Captain Travis Patriquin , to prepare a brief for the Iraqi government and the MEF's staff and journalists, all of whom remained skeptical about arming Sunni tribes who might someday fight the Shi'a-led government. Ricks referred to the briefing as "perhaps the most informal one given by the US military in Iraq and the most important one. Following the formation of the Awakening movement, violence in Ramadi continued to increase. Monsoor , quickly smothered the grenade with his body and was killed.

He was later awarded the Medal of Honor. Even as the Awakening progressed, Anbar continued to be viewed as a lost cause. Devlin believed that the only way to reestablish control over the province was to deploy an additional division to Anbar, coupled with billions of dollars of aid, or by creating a "sizeable and legally approved paramilitary force". He concluded that all the Marines had accomplished was preventing things from being "far worse". Zilmer said that he agreed with the assessment, but added that his mission was only to train Iraqi security forces. He added that if he were asked to achieve a wider objective he would need more forces, but that sending more Americans to Anbar would not pacify the province—that the only path to victory was for the Sunnis to accept the Government of Iraq.

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Some of the first offensive operations outside of Ramadi also began in late , with the construction of 8-foot 2. By early January, attacks in the Triad had dropped from 10—13 per day to one every few days. The Iraq Study Group Report , released on 6 December, acknowledged that the Awakening movement had "started to take action", but concluded that "Sunni Arabs have not made the strategic decision to abandon violent insurgency in favor of the political process" and that the overall situation in Anbar was "deteriorating".