Fallujah update in brief

Just some quick notes about the evolving situation here, since I was unable to expand beyond my previous, rather upbeat post.

-as per Big Mc’s question, population is excess of 100,000 as of 2 months ago, nearing 200k permanent residents. The difficulty in accounting comes from a combination of factors, not least of which is the focus on military age males in everything. That means that when resources are at all strained, the elderly, women, and children are largely ignored in counts and personnel control matters, since they are militarily irrelevant for the most part. Not to mention the difficulty in name translation, spotty id issuing, etc. It’s a census nightmare.

-Iraqi army forces here continue to far outshine what we hear from other parts of Iraq. A large part of that is, in my opinion, their absence of options. Fallujah, being as isolated from Iraq as it’s always been, is no safe haven for men from other places…they can’t just hop in a cab and go stay at a relative’s house like they do elsewhere in the midst of firefights. It breeds a wee bit of esprit de corps and urgency into their training; unfortunately it also means that ingraining professionalism and respect for the local populace is an uphill struggle.
Of course, it is an inverse relationship with the police. They remain questionable at best where in most of Iraq they are a strong point due to the same factors as above. Oh, well.

-Also, the US Army and its senior enlisted liasions are a crucial factor in the Iraqi military’s success relative success here. I love working with these guys…just a few e6-e9’s make a huge difference as they live and work out of the IIF bases and provide us with an instant means of communication, coordination, and continuous training and assessment. Best of all, they do it with virtually no translator assets…the rapport they establish with the Iraqis is invaluable.
-The insurgency here remains small and slightly effective materially in the tactical sense, highly effective in the strategic sense. For the former, their aggression consists mostly of ied’s of varying effectivity. The recent upswing in casualties was a result of yet another botched Tet Offensive style gesture. Of course, they can’t muster much direct action, but they did manage to inflict some KIA’s including one of my squad with IED ambushes. It’s the luck of the draw, I guess, but overall it’s not much to write home about on our level…it’s not really effective here except in a manner one would consider counterproductive to their cause, although I suppose there might be some hysteria back home.

Now, to presume to step out of my pay grade for a moment, I think they are being somewhat strategically effective simply because of the money and resources required to keep this city relatively safe. A small number of insurgents with a bake sale size budget are up against billions of dollars. Good job on them, I guess, but I don’t really see much hope for their future. Attrition has to be taking its toll seriously on them, as is the general lack of enthusiasm for their shenanigans in the area. We’ll see who’s the last man standing, I guess.

Other than that, I guess it’s strange to say that on a personal level, I am somewhat enjoying my job these days. Familiarity breeds contempt, it is said, but the more I get to know my peers in the Iraqi army and especially the local populace, the more I like it here. I have a profound appreciation for the responsibilities we are tasked with these days in stability and support operations, and apart from missing my wife there really isn’t much of a professional downside to being here.

So, yeah. We’re at the halfway mark of our deployment, one KIA one WIA (evac-ed) in our 10 man squad. It could always be a lot worse, I suppose.

See, the tough question is what are the local politics like?

From what I can tell stateside, the more sunni/baathist angle has been getting tired of losing support because of the foreign jihadis blowing up the wrong people. But I don’t know how much of that is wishful thinking and how much of it is real on the ground. What’s your take?

1st, I’m going to give you the biggest caveat of all: Fallujah is a world unto itself inside of Iraq, an exception in every sense when it comes to being unruly in the past. Saddam had more of a ceasefire agreement than true control of the city from what we gather. Also, everyone military in Iraq short of (hopefully) the high command lives in highly regionalized pockets that make it difficult to comment on trends beyond what we put together from news, talking to others, and what we extrapolate from everyday experience.

On the ground, however, the sunni baathist angle as you put it is largely, um, nonexistent. Impractical. As vague as saying “midwesterner”, almost. Tribal allegiances in Fallujah are everything, and the tribal hierarchy that formerly existed had more in common with the Godfather than with Baghdad politics. Not to suggest they were more criminal, but in terms of an oligarchical, almost apolitical organization where religion really took a backseat almost all of the time. The latter is just as much a result of the homogeneity of the region as well as the relaxed attitude towards religion the Sunnis around here seem to have. I mean, tons of Mosques, but the call to prayer is not the red-light-green-light I’ve seen in countries like Jordan, or hell, even in Arab Jerusalem. People go to the mosque as much as a social affair as a spiritual one, it seems, and just about the only people I have seen bust out a prayer mat are the very occasional Iraqi Army shiite from a much more rural town. And even they have no compunction about ignoring it if they are on patrol.

What I can say, that is either heartening or depressing, is that more than a few sheik types have shifted directly from the most wanted list to the list of people on the city council. Either they are destroying from within or they are on board…or something in between. Either way, being Pancho Villa around here is less trendy than ever before.

I realize this is almost like a stream of consciousness, now, but I am really baffled by how best to convey the lack of perspective that I feel being this close to things and the lack of perspective I feel your question necessarily requires to be at all logical. Iraq, or at least Al Anbar, has big problems, but none of them fit into categories that are easily digestible for Americans, or at least for this one. It seems that divides between us and insurgents, and even among themselves, are at least as likely to be born of whimsy or mood than ideological or cultural differences. Hell, the Iraqi Army guys we work with are of all cultural stripes, from Kurds to southern Shiites to Tikrit Sunnis, and no amount of adjective matching can predict who will work best with who or lead most effectively.

American stereotyping/ignorance and preexisting hierarchies continue to produce second rate organizational leadership that looks good on paper but lacks the chops for longevity and effectivity; as harsh as it sounds, I believe that the continuing chaos is really the sort of crucible that will ultimately sort this out, if anything will. The question is whether we will have the fortitude to stay the course, if in fact the quality rather than the quantity of our involvement is to be a determining factor in producing an outcome acceptable to the West.
Does this answer help at all? It would be best if you asked me more specific things, I think.

Like I said before, it’s kind of grown on me; the marine corps would be much more of a long term option if I could be guaranteed an opportunity to try to see things through here in consecutive deployments rather than whatever catches the command’s fancy.

I know we’ve had our differences, to put it mildly, in the past but I’m glad you’re alright. And the info you’re sharing is really insightful. It jibes with what I’m broadly hearing from other quarters.

Do you get the sense that Fallujah is still a priority for the insurgents or do you suspect they’re just harrassing you there to keep you occupied while the bulk of operations are elsewhere? We keep hearing about the operations along the Syrian border. And before that it was in other cities. Assuming there’s some cooperation, and the increasing sophistication and improving equipment of the insurgents is something one tends to hear about here, is it possible they’ve largely given up Fallujah as a lost cause while they kick up trouble in other places?

Or do you even get a sense they’re all that coordinated?

Interesting stuff. Thanks.

Oh, one question: do you get a sense of a larger game of wack-a-mole (capture & pacify one city, another goes down), or of a slow pacification process? It’s impossible to tell from over here.

Thanks for taking the time to share your experiences/perspective, LK – these posts are really great. You’re the man.

It’s still ok to wish terrible things on me. Really. I would hate for anyone to feel handicapped in dissecting my statements simply because I chose to spend my summer vacation(s) in Fallujah. And I’m glad there is corroboration, because the closer you are to the ground here the further you feel from the national situation in Iraq, don’t even mention the global situation re this country.

Do you get the sense that Fallujah is still a priority for the insurgents or do you suspect they’re just harrassing you there to keep you occupied while the bulk of operations are elsewhere?

Both are true, sort of. Fallujah is a symbolic battleground, sort of an insurgent Stalingrad in a backasswards way. But their means are far more limited here, both due to the killing/capturing of so many local terrorist elements in the last year (I use the term literally) and the heavily controlled nature of the city these days. That does not mean they do not try periodically to muster all of their efforts in one media friendly burst at a time…the lack of media presence and the aggressive response by a well entrenched Coalition/Iraqi force makes it difficult to get the most of out of what little they manage. But hey, they keep trying, and every now and then they get lucky. More often, they get cut in half with automatic fire while attempting to operate their crude ied’s and have other such horror movie ends, but it comes with the territory.
The bulk of operations are elsewhere, yes, but not for lack of attempts. I think the approach here just works better both for circumstancial and strategic/tactical reasons.

We keep hearing about the operations along the Syrian border.
It’s tough to field this question without violating some facet of opsec. I wish I could say more, but I’d risk misleading you both as to the extent of my knowledge on the matter and the situation itself. Sorry.

And before that it was in other cities. Assuming there’s some cooperation, and the increasing sophistication and improving equipment of the insurgents is something one tends to hear about here, is it possible they’ve largely given up Fallujah as a lost cause while they kick up trouble in other places?

I would say it’s a mixed bag. A lot of their best and brightest have been killed or captured. Sometimes it seems we are fighting the real bottom of the barrel…very ruthless, but not much into the big picture. Certainly there is coordination, but anyone who thinks it is a good strategic move to destroy Shiite mosques is a fool. While it is certainly trendy for media types and commentators to view such instability as inherently damaging to the coalition, it is a very shortsighted strategy…the people here are no fools, they watch Al Jazeera and CNN every day and form their own opinions. Most seem to comment that it reflects poorly on the insurgency’s ability to hit hard targets (us), which is really the only target that unequivocally gains on the instability spectrum without hurting local opinion much. Hell, they aren’t even all that good at hitting Iraqi Security Forces…those crazy bastards aren’t hit nearly enough for the risks they take as a matter of course.

Or do you even get a sense they’re all that coordinated?

In the planning, our opponents are veritable Bismarcks of scheming. Their execution is piss poor, partly due to the quality of their agents and mostly due to the surrealism of their expectations. Does that make sense at all?

I would be inclined to say more of the latter by far. Their casualties in a strategic (as opposed to a body count) sense are too great per operation, ie they burn too many bridges. Their greatest asset remains their low budgeting needs, but the fanaticism that fuels it is not an inherently renewable resource. The greedy types, the former baathists and their ilk, they will play ball eventually. The kooks, however, will take a long, bloody time to eradicate.

Thanks for the support. It means a lot to me on a very visceral level…I can’t describe how good it feels to at least pretend that thinking and analyzing beyond my pay grade can be more than a silent endeavor.


Good posts, nice to hear some first hand accounts from the ground.

Stay safe and come home soon.


Let me just echo other people’s statements, Lizard King: thanks so much for posting your thoughts here and keep safe.

Can I ask a dumb question? What’s your daily routine like?

I presume you’re pretty much confined to a base? Are there movies to watch? Is there much gaming out there? Do you guys get to sit around and play Xbox games? Is the food good? I’d love to hear about the day-to-day details of being stationed over there.


Yeah, what’s it like being over there? A guy, another Marine, I know was in the assault and it sounded just insane. Oddly enough, it also sounded like he felt pretty good about getting a chance to do his job.

Anyhow, I don’t know if you’ve gotten a chance to see my thread about the current political situation in Iraq. Well, more like press clippings from Iraqi actors. Sounds like there might be a real civil war brewing. Are they all Sunni in Falluja? Do you get any sense things might be up? Especially with this defense cooperation/training deal with Iran one starts to wonder if the Shiia aren’t just anticipating our pullout and making deals to ensure their situation of dominance after we’re gone. And the al Qaida insurgents seem to be hitting soft targets mainly to trigger a hostile backlash from the Shiia to force the Sunnis into a broader internal conflict. I gotta say, you’ve got Allawi and a MP close to Sistani saying the same thing there might be something to it. Is there anything you’ve heard, that you can share, that might bring another perspective to this?