Lawlessness Part of Life in Fallujah
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 21, 2004 A certain amount of lawlessness has always been a part of life in Fallujah, Defense Department officials said recently.
While U.S. Marines stand ready inside the city, anti-coalition forces continue to attack in defiance of a ceasefire agreement. The city is a hotbed of anti- coalition activity, and has been since the U.S. troops entered the area in April last year.
But Fallujah's reputation for violence didn't start when the coalition rolled into town. It has always had the taste of what Americans would call the Wild West.
While Iraq is laced with antiquities, Fallujah isn't one of them. Just after World War II, the population of the town was around 10,000. The city, about 40 miles west of Baghdad, is on the edge of the desert, and now has about 300,000 citizens. It is a dry and arid landscape, made productive only because of extensive irrigation from the nearby Euphrates River.
It was, however, located on the main routes into Jordan and Syria. And in crime, as in real estate, location is everything. The city was on the main route for smugglers, and sheltered a number of very successful crime lords.
The area is poor, and the villages surrounding the city still shelter subsistence farmers and their families. The smugglers were a source of money even wealth for those in the region. Even government officials sheltered the smugglers, DoD officials said.
When Saddam Hussein took power in 1979, the city received a boost. Many of the people in Fallujah supported Saddam, and many of his closest advisors, highest- ranking military officers and high-ranking members of the Baath Party came from Fallujah, Ramadi, Tikrit and other areas in the center of the Sunni Triangle. Arab tribes in and around the city also owed fealty to Saddam and became bastions of the regime.
Hussein returned the favor by building factories in the city and providing jobs for his chosen people.
Fallujah took a number of hits in the first Gulf War. News reports indicate that in one instance, a U.S. bomber tried to take out Fallujah's bridge over the Euphrates. The bomb missed and allegedly killed 200 Iraqis in the city market.
Following the Gulf War, the city became an even larger smuggling center, this time with government encouragement, officials said. Saddam encouraged the smugglers to skirt the U.N.-imposed sanctions on Iraq.
Since the U.S.-led liberation of Iraq, former regime supporters have allied themselves with foreign fighters who seem to be entering Iraq via Syria, officials said. U.S. officials suspect that members of al Qaeda affiliate Ansar al-Islam have cells in the city. Other terror groups have allied themselves with former regime elements and Sunni extremists, making for a very volatile mix.
Officials said these groups intimidate the larger population of Fallujah, and these citizens seem to be caught in the middle. If the people of Fallujah cooperate with the former regime members, then coalition forces will come after them. If they cooperate with the coalition, then they will be killed.
Terrorists have launched attacks against coalition forces, Iraqis supporting coalition efforts such as police and members of the Civil Defense Corps and against everyday civilians.
The Sunni Triangle became a haven for foreign fighters and anti-coalition elements. Attacks mounted against coalition and Iraqi targets. When coalition forces captured Saddam in December, the number of attacks dipped. But on Feb. 12, former regime elements launched an attack against U.S. Central Command chief Army Gen. John Abizaid, who was visiting the area.
On March 31, anti-coalition forces attacked an SUV with four American security specialists. The attackers killed the men, and then a crowd mutilated their bodies. The Marines of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force launched Operation Vigilant Resolve on April 4.
On April 10, the Marines announced a unilateral ceasefire that allows humanitarian relief to reach the residents of the city. The Marines have remained in this posture since then, replying only when fired upon by anti- coalition forces.