1st Marine Expeditionary Force Creating 'Fallujah Brigade'
By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 30, 2004 The 1st Marine Expeditionary Force is putting together the first battalion of a new Iraqi brigade being formed to restore and maintain order in the western city of Fallujah, a coalition military spokesman announced at a Baghdad news conference today.
An officer from the former Iraqi army will command the unit, which will be an interim organization under 1st MEF command, said Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy operations director for Combined Joint Task Force 7.
Kimmitt said the mission of the proposed Fallujah Brigade "is part of the ongoing aspiration to have Iraqi security forces completely cooperative and cooperating with the coalition forces to provide security tasks and eventually to assume responsibility for security and stability throughout Iraq."
Soldiers of the former Iraqi army are being recruited for the new battalion, Kimmitt said, and the unit will work alongside the 1st MEF to return peace and stability to Fallujah. The first battalion of the new brigade is expected to have 600 to 1,100 members, he said.
The 1st MEF, he added, will exercise operational control of the unit and will provide the resources and equipment it needs.
Marines will continue to maintain a strong presence in and around Fallujah, Kimmitt said, until the new unit has demonstrated it can man designated checkpoints and positions.
The general said the new brigade will not replace the Marines in and around Fallujah. "I think it's very important to understand a number of things," he said. "Number one, the Marines are not withdrawing from Fallujah. These forces will be working alongside the Marines. These forces, when they come to fruition, will be answering to the Marines as well as the Iraqi Ministry of Defense.
"So this is just an Iraqi component of the coalition forces surrounding Fallujah," he continued. "It is only happening in certain portions of the cordon, and the initial reports that we are getting would indicate that this repositioning of the Marines to allow these forces to come in is going well."
Kimmitt emphasized that the coalition's objectives in Fallujah to eliminate armed groups, to collect and control heavy weapons, to have foreign fighters turned over to the coalition, and to disarm anti-Iraqi insurgents -- remain unchanged. Coalition forces are not giving up their right to be anywhere commanders determine they're needed.
"Consistent with our duty to provide security," he said, "coalition forces will maintain their right of freedom of movement" throughout the area of operations.
The Iraqi general in charge of the new brigade will answer to Marine Lt. Gen. James T. Conway, the 1st MEF's commanding general. "I know that he has been carefully chosen (and) has been initially vetted," Kimmitt said. Conway and Maj. Gen. James N. Mattis, the 1st Marine Division's commanding general, have expressed "initial confidence" in the Iraqi general, he added.
The goal of turning responsibility for security in Iraq over to Iraqis necessarily involves using people of various previous loyalties, Kimmitt said. Potential members of the new Fallujah Brigade, he said, "have demonstrated a willingness to entertain the notion of serving the nation of Iraq rather than their tribal leader, rather than their former militia leader, rather than their former Iraqi army leadership."
Iraqi security forces will work inside Fallujah as order is restored to help police in their investigations to identify those responsible for the March 31 killing and mutilation of four American contractors and the Feb. 14 attack on Fallujah's police station, the general said. "When captured, those persons will be tried in the Iraqi judicial system," he added.
Discussions are still underway toward a peaceful solution in Fallujah, Kimmitt said, and the coalition welcomes anything that might attain such a result. "But I think it would also be inopportune if anybody was to somehow misread, again, what's going on in Fallujah," he added.
"This is not a withdrawal. It's not a retreat," the general said. "The Marines remain more than capable of continuing the operation to complete the military return of Fallujah to coalition control. But as long as we continue to see progress, albeit some days slower than other days, we will continue to pursue the peaceful track.
"It is only when the peaceful, the diplomatic, the political track demonstrates that there is no further chance of it bearing fruit will we then look at the capability of using the Marines to go back into Fallujah," Kimmitt said.