Turning Fallujah

By Mulleniii, William F. | Joint Force Quarterly, April 2010 | Go to article overview
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Turning Fallujah

Mulleniii, William F., Joint Force Quarterly

Fallujah has taken on tremendous significance because of what happened there from April to December of 2004. It has become one of the touchstone battles of the Marine Corps involvement in Operation Iraqi Freedom because of the intensity of the fighting and the number of Marines and Sailors killed or wounded. It is not a large city in either area or population. It is a compact, dirty, beat-up town that always had a sinister reputation, even under the Saddam Hussein regime, as a smuggling and black market center. Its people are known as xenophobic, their general attitude seeming to be "us Fallujans against the world." This feeling is directed not only at coalition forces, but also at any Iraqis not specifically from Fallujah. The city will certainly not be considered a vacation hot spot any time soon.


My personal involvement there started in December 2004 when I went to Iraq on a Pre-Deployment Site Survey (PDSS). I was the operations officer for Regimental Combat Team (RCT) 8, and we were to replace RCT 1 in February 2005. My involvement finished, at least for the time, when I departed in October 2007 as commander of [2.sup.d] Battalion, 6th Marines (2/6), having spent the previous 7 months in control of the city.

This article is not an attempt to tell how we did everything right and solved the riddle of "turning Fallujah" from being a constant source of trouble and anxiety to an example of what could be accomplished in Iraq given the proper counter insurgency (COIN) techniques. We did not do everything right, and our success there, such as it was, could only be described as the culmination of years of dedicated struggle and effort on the part of thousands of Marines, Soldiers, and Sailors, as well as members of the Iraqi Security Forces, many of whom were wounded or killed there. Success was also a result of the fortunate coming together of several different events, all happening around the same time, which happened to coincide with my battalion's arrival.

This article briefly provides what I know of the history of Fallujah from 2004 to 2007, the techniques we used as an RCT to try and maintain control of both the town and the surrounding area during 2005 and early 2006, some lessons learned that I took away from observing the units that operated underneath RCT 8 during that year (one of which was 2/6, but under a different commander), the preparations we made in 2/6 after I took over to be ready to return to Fallujah, and finally the specific steps we took to capitalize on the conditions we found when we arrived in late March 2007. I firmly believe it was the preparations made while training prior to the deployment that enabled us to recognize what was happening in Fallujah and turn it to our advantage. We also developed an approach to turning Fallujah that resonated with the citizens there and generated a level of success that well surpassed what we expected. It was an amazing experience, and I feel privileged to have been part of it.


Fallujah in December 2004, during Operation Al Fajr (the Dawn), was a dark, haunted place. The smell of death was everywhere, and RCT 1 was conducting mop-up operations throughout a largely deserted city. The amount of destruction rivaled what I remember from Sarajevo in 1995. Most of the heavy fighting was over, but enemy snipers and small ambush elements were scattered in various places. These were the die-hards who refused to flee or surrender. Marines would go from building to building, clearing each one (they had already been cleared many times), and would encounter these small groups of enemy. The encounters would be sharp, violent, and short. If the enemy was not killed in the initial engagement, the Marines would pull back and blast the house with whatever was available -- tank main gun fire, heavy machineguns, or in some cases air-delivered ordnance. The city infrastructure was in shambles as sewer and water lines had been ruptured, pumping stations destroyed, electrical lines cut, and transformers blown.

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