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As Residents Return to Fallujah, Marines Help Them Rebuild

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

FALLUJAH, Iraq, Jan. 12, 2005 – People are coming back to Fallujah.

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Marines make identification cards for returning Fallujans. The cards create a database with fingerprints and retina scans to identify people. Photo by Jim Garamone
  

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Each day, more Iraqis are crossing the New Bridge or coming up to the other four entry points to the city, to see their homes and neighborhoods.

The main street of Fallujah Route 10 is a row of deserted stores, buildings and shops. Signs advertising the stores wares hang haphazardly off the fronts. Many of the stores are blackened by fire. Other buildings have the roofs blown off and others are simply gone.

But people are coming back, and the Marines and soldiers who fought so hard to rid the city of insurgents are working to help the Iraqis rebuild.

"Most of the people are coming into the city to see their homes, and then leave," said a senior Marine Corps official in the city. "That's because most of the homes sustained damage not only from the fight for the city, but from the insurgents' occupation. They can't live in the homes the way they are now."

The insurgents used the city as their staging base for terror attacks throughout Iraq. Fallujah was a hotbed of support for Saddam Hussein's regime, and it was a center for criminal activity mostly smuggling.

Marines and soldiers engaged in some of the most brutal urban combat against a fanatical enemy. "They died in place," said the Marine.

Before the war, Fallujah had a population approaching 500,000. At the time of the attack, officials at the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force estimate there were only about 5,000 innocent Iraqis left in the city.

Fallujah, located on both sides of the Euphrates River west of Baghdad, had about 210 defensive positions in neighborhoods, mosques and schools. Many of the positions were laced with improvised explosive devices.

The insurgents were planning more. The Marines found 503 weapons caches and are still finding about three per day. "The amount of weapons we found was incredible," said one Marine. "It was tough destroying it all."

In one improvised explosive device factory built in a home the Marines uncovered 40 IEDs and two vehicle-borne IEDs, officials said. All told, Marines and soldiers found 29 IED/VBIED factories.

The Marines also found houses where insurgents tortured those who disagreed with them. Those houses often contained headless corpses and bodies "mutilated beyond belief," said the official.

The northern part of the city, though damaged, is better than the south. In the south, the Marines and soldiers razed whole blocks as insurgents fought to the end.

And yet even as that was going on in the southern portion of the city, Marines were delivering supplies and clearing roads in the north.

The effort continues today. "I know you don't think so, but when I look at Fallujah, I'm impressed with how good it looks compared to that way it did," said Marine Col. John Coleman, chief of staff for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. Navy Seabees have hauled away tons of rubble. They have patched countless holes in houses and started the process of returning electricity and water to the city.

They have now hired local construction firms to continue the work.

The Marines are feeding thousands in the city at three humanitarian aid centers. Under tight security, families receive food and water, and the Marines are creating identification cards to prevent insurgents from gaining a foothold in the city again. The ID cards create a database with fingerprints and retina scans to identify people.

The 1st MEF plans to continue the humanitarian aid and will begin paying families for the damage done to their homes during the battle. The unit also will work with the Iraqi interim government to ensure that jobs return to the city.

"We can't have young men sitting around," said an official. "We need to have them gainfully employed so that the insurgent philosophy doesn't appeal to them or they are not tempted to earn some money by killing Marines or Iraqi security forces."

Standing on the New Bridge, people seem to be literally voting with their feet. They are coming back to the city, and life. Yet it will be a tough haul. Even three months after the battle, you can still smell the gunpowder residue in some areas of the city. And in other parts you can still smell the bodies of those still buried in the rubble.

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Related Sites:
1st Marine Expeditionary Force

Click photo for screen-resolution imageAfter going through security checkpoints, Fallujans line up for rations at a humanitarian aid center. Photo by Jim Garamone  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageFallujans pass a military convoy as they return to their city across the New Bridge. Insurgents had laced the bridge with improvised explosive devices. Photo by Jim Garamone  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageFallujans carry food and water away from a humanitarian aid supply point. Marines are feeding thousands in the city at three humanitarian aid centers. Photo by Jim Garamone  
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