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ON POINT II: Transition to the New Campaign

The United States Army in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM May 2003-January 2005





Part I

Setting the Stage


Chapter 1
Overview of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM: May 2003 to January 2005

 

The Sunni Arab Challenge: August–November 2004

While the Coalition had transferred sovereignty to the Iraqis and restructured its military command, insurgent and militia organizations had begun increasing their activity against Coalition forces and the ISF. In August 2004 the number of attacks against the Coalition, the ISF, and Iraqi civilians exceeded 2,500, making that month the most violent since June 2003.26 The bulk of the violence resulted from the Mahdi Army’s renewed campaign against Coalition forces centered in An Najaf. Muqtada al-Sadr had begun flexing his muscles again and MNF-I had responded by sending both US Marine and Army units to counter his attempts to gain control of that important city. The Coalition’s combat proved decisive by the end of the month. However, the MNF-I commander had worked closely with the IIG to include ISF in the An Najaf fight, and directed Civil Affairs units into the city immediately after hostilities had ended to begin repairing damages caused by combat operations. This combination of combat power, ISF participation, and integrated reconstruction operations became the core of the Coalition approach in dealing with other cities in Iraq where Sunni insurgents had gained sway and threatened to undermine the legitimacy of the IIG and the upcoming elections scheduled for January 2005. Most important were the cities of Samarra and Fallujah, which by the summer of 2004 had become insurgent safe havens.

Samarra would be the first objective. In early 2004 the 4th ID had attempted to clear out insurgent cells in the city and enjoyed some success. But Coalition forces, with the exception of one US Army Special Forces team, had withdrawn after the 4th ID’s operation and, by the middle of 2004, the insurgents had returned to the city and reestablished their control. The mission to clear the city and reinstate Iraqi Government control fell to the 1st ID, the unit that had taken responsibility for the Sunni heartland from the 4th ID in the early spring. By late summer the 1st ID had begun planning Operation BATON ROUGE to accomplish this objective.

Between late July and late September elements of the 1st ID began using a mix of information operations and other activities to shape the situation in Samarra. Working in concert with the ISF, the division planned to slowly isolate the city and then establish footholds first on its perimeter and then near its center. By late September Iraqi and American forces had made gains, but had not yet wrested control from the insurgent and criminal groups in the city. In fact, continued insurgent violence and intimidation spurred the Coalition to act in a more direct way. On 1 October 2004 Coalition forces launched a rapid large-scale attack and search operation and methodically cleared the city over the next 2 days. Following these successful clearing operations (during which approximately 125 insurgents were killed, 60 wounded, and 128 detained), the 1st ID and the ISF remained in place to conduct security, reconstruction, and information operations designed to stabilize Samarra and make the city less vulnerable to a return of the insurgents.27

With the Sunni Arab guerrillas evicted from Samarra, the Coalition turned its attention toward Fallujah. After the CPA called off the Marine offensive to destroy the Sunni insurgents in April 2004, Fallujah had once again become a sanctuary for Sunni Arab insurgents. The Fallujah Brigade, the Iraqi force that replaced the US Marine presence in the city, had dissolved within weeks, many of its soldiers joining the ranks of the insurgents. Increasingly confident, the insurgents inside Fallujah began instituting very conservative religious strictures and preparing for the next Coalition attack. By October 2004 intelligence estimates suggested that approximately 4,500 insurgents occupied the city of Fallujah.28

For the Coalition and the IIG, the idea of holding elections while a large city near Baghdad remained in enemy hands was untenable. To rid Fallujah of the insurgents, MNF-I worked with the Iraqis in planning Operation AL FAJR (known to US units as PHANTOM FURY), which not only incorporated US Army and Marine Corps forces but Iraqi Army units as well. AL FAJR was a three-phase operation, the first of which focused on shaping the battlefield environment. Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, in a show of cooperation with Coalition forces notably absent from Operation VIGILANT RESOLVE in the spring, declared most of Iraq to be in a state of emergency. US and Iraqi forces then surrounded Fallujah, instituted a curfew, and warned Iraqis not to carry weapons. Coalition forces sealed off the city and urged all noncombatants to leave. One account of the battle estimated that “less than 500 civilians” remained in the city when combat operations began.29

Once the Coalition had isolated those remaining in Fallujah by establishing blocking positions around the circumference of the city, the second phase of the operation began. Two Marine regimental combat teams, each task-organized with a US Army mechanized battalion and several Iraqi Army formations, assaulted the city from the north on 8 November 2004. For months the insurgent forces had been constructing extensive defenses inside Fallujah’s many buildings, and these fortifications allowed the small enemy groups to resist the Coalition attack using small-arms fire, improvised explosive devices, and rocket-propelled grenades. US forces employed their superior firepower and mobility using tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, artillery, and helicopter gunships to destroy the insurgent resistance. After 2 weeks of hard fighting, Coalition forces had established control over Fallujah and began phase three of the operation which featured reconstruction missions. US and Iraqi forces killed 2,000 insurgents and captured approximately 1,200. But the tough house-to-house combat inside the city claimed the lives of 70 US Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines and 7 Iraqi soldiers. An additional 600 Coalition and Iraqi participants were wounded in the operation.30


Chapter 1. Overview of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM: May 2003 to January 2005





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