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Fallujah's location in Iraq

Fallujah (Arabic: فلوجة; sometimes transliterated as Falluja and less commonly Fallouja, Falloujah, Faloojah, Faloojeh) is a city of about 350,000 inhabitants in the Iraqi province of Al Anbar, located roughly 69km (43 miles) west of Baghdad on the Euphrates. Within Iraq, it is known as the "city of mosques" for the more than 200 mosques found in the city and surrounding villages. It is one of the most important places to Sunni Islam in the region.



The region has been inhabited for many millennia and there is evidence that it was inhabited in Babylonian times. The origin of the town's name is in some doubt, but one theory is that its Syriac name, Pallugtha, is derived from the word division. The city's name in Aramaic is Pumbedita.

The city played host for several centuries to one of the most important Jewish academies, the Pumbedita Academy .

Under the Ottoman Empire Fallujah was a little more than a minor stop on one of the country's main roads across the desert west from Baghdad. In 1947 the town had only about 10,000 inhabitants. It grew rapidly into a city after Iraqi independence with the influx of oil wealth into the country. Its position on one of the main roads out of Baghdad made it of central importance.

In the spring of 1920, the British, who had gained control of Iraq after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, sent Lt. Col. Gerald Leachman , a renowned explorer and a senior colonial officer, to quell a rebellion in Fallujah. Leachman was killed just south of the city in a fight with local leader Shaykh Dhari . The British sent an army to crush the rebellion, and the ensuing fight took the lives of more than 10,000 Iraqis and 1,000 British soldiers.

Under Saddam Hussein, who ruled Iraq from 1979 to 2003, Fallujah came to be an important area of support for the regime, along with the rest of the region labeled by the U.S. military as the Sunni Triangle. Many residents of the primarily Sunni city were employees and supporters of Saddam Hussein's government and many senior Ba'ath Party officials were natives of the city. The city was heavily industrialised during the Saddam era with the construction of several large factories, including one closed down by United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) in the 1990s that may have been used to create chemical weapons.

Gulf War

During the Gulf War, Fallujah was one of the cities in Iraq with the most civilian casualties. Two separate failed bombing attempts on Fallujah's bridge across the Euphrates River hit crowded markets, killing an estimated 200 civilians, enraging city residents.

The first bombing occurred early in the Gulf War when a British jet intending to bomb the bridge dropped two laser guided bombs on city's crowded main market. Between 50 and 150 civilians died and many more were injured. In the second incident, Coalition forces attacked Fallujah's bridge over the Euphrates River with four laser-guided bombs. At least one struck the bridge while one or two bombs fell short in the river. The fourth bomb hit another market elsewhere in the city, reportedly due to failure of its laser guidance system.

Iraq War

Fallujah was one of the most peaceful areas of the country just after the fall of Saddam. There was very little looting and the new mayor of the city — Taha Bidaywi , selected by local tribal leaders — was staunchly pro-American. When the U.S. Army entered the town in April 2003, they positioned themselves at the vacated Ba'ath Party headquarters — an action that erased some goodwill, especially when many in the city had been hoping the U.S. Army would stay outside of the relatively calm city. A Fallujah Protection Force composed of local Iraqis was set up by the U.S.-led occupants to help fight the rising resistance.

On the evening of April 28, 2003, a crowd of 200 people defied the Coalition curfew and gathered outside a local school to protest the presence of U.S. Coalition forces in the city. This developed into an altercation with U.S. troops in the city in which 15 Iraqi civilians were killed by U.S. gunfire. There were no coalition casualties in the incident.


Fallujah has become one of the most dangerous areas for coalition military troops during the occupation of Iraq. Since the occupation began, nearly 200 Americans have died in Fallujah — more than any city except Baghdad.


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 Swannack gave a transfer of authority of the Al Anbar Province to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force commanded by Lt. General Conway. The 82nd AD policy was to leave Fallujah alone if possible.

In a highly publicized attack on March 31, 2004, four private military contractors from the U.S. company Blackwater USA were dragged from their vehicle and killed. Their bodies were then mutilated and burned. A crowd of militants and townsfolk, estimated to number over a thousand, beat and dragged the burnt corpses behind automobiles, then hanged the dismembered remains from the girders of Fallujah's bridge over the Euphrates River. These acts were videotaped by journalists and broadcast worldwide. This would be the first test for the new occupation forces to set a precedent.

In response to the killing of the four Americans and intense political pressure, the U.S. Marines surrounded the city and attempted to capture the individuals responsible and any others in the region who may be involved in insurgency or terrorist activities. The Iraqi National Guard was supposed to work alongside with the U.S. Marines in the operation, but on the dawn of the invasion they all threw away their uniforms and ran away. The attempt by coalition forces to regain control of Fallujah, Operation Vigilant Resolve, led to about 40 U.S. Marine deaths. The number of Iraqi deaths (both insurgents and civilians) in the attack is disputed, with estimates ranging from 271 (according to Iraqi Ministry of Health officials [1]) to 731 (according to Rafie al-Issawi, the head of the local hospital [2]).

The occupying force on April 9 allowed more than 70,000 women, children and elderly residents to leave the besieged city, reportedly also allowing males of military age to leave. On April 10, the U.S. military declared a unilateral truce to allow for humanitarian supplies to enter Fallujah. U.S. troops pulled back to the outskirts of the city; local leaders reciprocated the ceasefire, although lower-level intense fighting on both sides continued. An Iraqi mediation team entered the city in an attempt to set up negotiations between the U.S. and local leaders, but as of April 12 had not been successful. The rebel forces capitalized on this 'ceasefire' to conduct the most aggressive counter-offensive of the cordon. Additionally, numerous weapons were found hidden in the humanitarian supply trucks that were attempting to enter the city. [3]

The ceasefire followed a wave of insurgency across southern Iraq, which included the capture of two American soldiers, seven contract employees of 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.

The U.S. occupation forces 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 American and Iraqi security personnel. As the siege continued, even though U.S. Marines were under a unilateral ceasefire, insurgents continued to conduct hit-and-run attacks on U.S. Marine positions.


At the beginning of May, 2004, U.S. Marines announced a ceasefire due to intense political pressure. Roughly two thirds of Fallujah was under US control at the time of the ceasefire announcement. 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, acknowledging that many of the people under control of the general were probably insurgents themselves. The general, Major General Muhammed Latif , replaced a U.S. choice, Muhammed Saleh , who was discovered to have been involved in the earlier atrocities against Kurds during the Iran-Iraq war. The cease-fire 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 Saddam Hussein's era and stated that the United States army needs to leave the country.

Inside the city, mosques proclaimed the victory of the insurgents over the United States. 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 U.S. military's decisions in Fallujah for the attack, stating "The garage is open and car bombs are coming repeatedly." [4]

Fallujah, according to reporters who have visited, has since become a sort of Islamist mini-state, with Sharia law enforced by the mujahedin. [5]


Throughout the summer and fall of 2004, the U.S. military conducted sporadic airstrikes on Fallujah, often on residential areas. 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. Civilians were also killed in these attacks.

Fallujah city administrators maintain that Fallujah does not have, nor ever held any insurgents; only civilians.[6] 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. [7]

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 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.

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 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. soldiers 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". U.S. Marines 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.

US-Iraqi Offensive of Nov 8 2004

Journalists embedded with US military units, although limited in what they may report in order to protect the troops, have reported the following:

  • On November 8, 2004, a force of over 10,000 U.S. and 2000 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, West and Southeast, taking control of the volatile Jolan and Askari districts. Rebel resistance was not as strong as expected, although some rebels fought very hard as they fell back. By nightfall on November 9, 2004, the U.S. troops had 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, but they did not appear to be well-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, U.S. and Iraqi soldiers endured sniper fire and destroyed booby traps, but not as many as 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.
  • Reports by the Washington Post suggest that US 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. The use of WP ammunition was confirmed from various independent sources, including US troops who had suffered WP burns due to 'friendly fire'.
  • On November 13 2004 a Red Crescent convoy containing humanitarian aid was delayed from entering Fallujah by the U.S. army.
  • On November 13 2004, a U.S. soldier was videotaped shooting a wounded, unarmed alleged insurgent to death in a mosque. The incident, which is under investigation, created controversy throughout the world. [8] On November 10, the shooting of a wounded rebel fighter by an US soldier was also caught on video; due to this person being hidden behind a door, it could not be determined if it had posed any threat at the time, though circumstances suggest that he was incapable of further hostile action.
  • Some of the tactics used by the insurgents included wearing civilian clothing while attacking, playing dead and attacking, surrendering and attacking, rigging dead or wounded with bombs, and other acts. In the November 13th incident mentioned above, the US Marine apparently believed the insurgent was playing dead.
  • Of the 100 mosques in the city, about 60 were used as fighting positions by the insurgents. The US and Iraqi military swept through all mosques used as fighting positions.
  • On November 14 2004, the Associated Press reported 38 U.S. soldiers killed and 275 wounded during the Fallujah offensive.[9]

Residents were allowed to return to the city in mid-December after undergoing biometric identification, provided they wear their ID cards all the time. About 7000 to 9000 of the roughly 50,000 buildings in the town are estimated to have been destroyed in the offensive [10], and two thirds of the buildings have suffered notable damage. Reconstruction is only progressing slowly and mainly consists of razing heavily-damaged areas to the ground 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 [11].

Pre-offensive inhabitant figures are unreliable; the nominal population was assumed to have been 200-350,000. Thus, over 150,000 individuals are still living in harsh conditions in tent cities outside Fallujah.

See also

External links

Last updated: 10-29-2005 02:13:46