Some thoughts On Fallujah

The shooting incident inside a mosque during Operation Dawn in Fallujah merits all the attention it has been getting. But consideration of the matter should not blind us to other important aspects of the operation deserving of our attention: the immediate and longer—range results.

As to the shooting, let's look first at what the rules of engagement were for Marines fighting in Fallujah.  Though the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF), whose units were, and are, in action there, will not divulge specific rules of engagement for obvious reasons, we do know that Marines were authorized the use of force if confronted with a hostile act or hostile intent.

We also now know, thanks to excellent columns by Oliver North and Thomas Mackubin Owens, that the Marine who shot the wounded terrorist had experienced both hostile intent and action the previous day.  He and his fire team had entered a room with three dead terrorists and a wounded one. The wounded terrorist cried out for help and a doctor to lure the Marines closer, then pulled a live grenade from his clothing.  The ensuing explosion killed one Marine and wounded the other in the face.   Next day, the Marine with the face wound was confronted with a similar situation in a room in a mosque.  He saw a wounded terrorist against the wall, moving, and didn't hesitate killing him.  Why?  Because that terrorist represented both hostile intent and, based on what occurred the previous day, hostile action.  Self—defense and protecting fellow Marines.

Then there is the Law of Land Warfare to be considered.  Under its Section V on the subject of Stratagems we read that

'Treacherous and perfidious conduct such as deceit to gain advantage and use of [phony flags of truce] (my paraphrasing) in war is forbidden.' 

We know, from Amnesty International, that terrorists have been using the white surrender flag ploy in Iraq to lure Coalition forces into deadly traps.  We know that a wounded terrorist crying out for a doctor to lure Marines closer to kill them is violating the Law of Land Warfare by engaging in 'treacherous and perfidious conduct.' 

Then there's also the small matter of using mosques as arms depots and offensive combat sites. 

On April 16, 2004 the commanding general of the 1st MEF, Maj. Gen. Sattler, told reporters that 'Marines (then fighting for first time in Fallujah) have not been hamstrung in any way, shape or form by their rules of engagement (ROE) and do not have to wait to be fired upon to open fire.' Though he was not addressing specifically the kind of incident that occurred November 13, he was making it clear that ROE for Fallujah put a premium on self—defense. 

Operation Dawn has been a tremendous success.

At the outstanding blogsite Iraq The Model,  pertinent comments by former US ambassador to Qatar, Dr. Joseph Ghougassian can be found.  He served as top advisor to the CPA on reconstruction efforts in Iraq from May 2003 to Aug 2004.  He says that

'Of all Iraqi cities, Fallujah remained a bastion for Saddam loyalists Since April 2003 it had been the floodgate for foreign mercenaries, terrorists and Baathist insurgents to come and go; a favored escape route for enemies of Iraq and Iraqis leading to Syria.  It was always my belief that Fallujah mirrored the heart and mind of Saddam Hussein.  While physically incarcerated, his person, his anima, his mind and heart reverberates in Fallujah.'

That bastion has been destroyed.  That floodgate is now sealed off.  The Saddam—imaging mirror has been shattered, the echoes of his evil silenced.    

Mountains of weapons, ammunition and explosives have been discovered and destroyed.  Tons of documents that will continue to reveal important information have been captured.  Those revelations will be exploited and serve as basis for subsequent operations.   The most prominent head has been cut off of the terrorist network Hydra, even as the Coalition blade falls on others.  Like Bin Laden, Zarqawi is now a less formidable entity, on the run and in hiding elsewhere.

Let's keep in mind that Prime Minister Ayad Allawi had very good reasons in announcing a 60—day state of emergency for most of Iraq.  He stated previously that such actions would be taken if the security situation demanded it.  In the run—up to elections, it does.  And we need to remember that it is the Iraqi government that is authorizing operations in Fallujah and elsewhere; that Fallujahns were given several chances to avoid the assault that eventually occurred.

Now, the rebuilding and rehabilitation of Fallujah as a stable, non—hostile city can proceed apace.  One of the models for this is Samarra, with its new police chief, own police force, own city council and Iraqi army force drawn from its own citizens.          

Of course terrorist attacks will continue as Iraq proceeds steadily towards elections. Their embracing of murder, death and destruction is the ultimate dead end, with zero psychological, social or political appeal for the majority of Iraqis.    Iraqi security forces will continue to improve and take on more operational responsibilities. Most  Iraqis understand exactly what's at stake.  They appreciate our efforts to help secure their democratic future.  In Fallujah and elsewhere, US and Iraqi forces will carry on, doing what is necessary to ensure that outcome.

John B. Dwyer is a military historian