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Apr 24th, 2010 by Richard Lowry
Chapter 1 (Part 2) Fallujah: The Most Dangerous City in Iraq

The Perpetual Problem

The war had never really ended in Fallujah, even though Saddam’s regime was quickly deposed in the spring of 2003. Subsequently the All Americans of the 82nd Airborne Division had been given the onerous mission of securing this restive town thirty miles west of Baghdad. Unfortunately, they never had enough combat power to clear the city of an increasing number of enemy fighters. On April 28, 2003, a protest within the city turned violent and fifteen Iraqis were killed, further inflaming the local population.

The increase in violence throughout the summer and fall of 2003 prompted the American commanders to withdraw their forces to a series of camps outside the city. Fallujah became a safe haven and rallying point for hardened Saddam supporters, former Ba’ath party leaders, Republican Guard members, Iraqi Army diehards and, finally, Islamic fundamentalists. “These were hardcore insurgents who wanted nothing more than to kill Americans,” explained a high ranking officer.

The lightly armed paratroopers developed a “Fort Apache” mentality, only venturing into the city in heavily armed groups. They had not expected so much civilian discontent, but they quickly realized that the people were tied to centuries of local tribe and clan loyalties. Initially, the paratroopers were completely unprepared to deal with the people of Fallujah, but the soldiers worked hard to understand them and their history.

The Euphrates River cuts a swath through the Iraqi wasteland, bringing life-giving water to the Fertile Crescent. Vast barren plains lie to the north, east, and west of Fallujah. The city is an ancient crossroads and Euphrates River crossing connecting Saudi Arabia in the south with Syria and Turkey in the north. The river and roads are lifelines of trade. Fallujah has always been a hub of commerce, both legal and illegal. The main east-west road— Iraq’s oldest and most important commercial artery— is its link to the western world and today known as Highway 10, connecting Baghdad with Amman, Jordan.

Because of Fallujah’s location, control of the city has been contested since antiquity. In the 18th century B.C., Hammurabi expanded his Babylonian empire when he acquired the ancient city of Sippar. During the 1st century A.D., the Romans, Trojans, Arabs, and Persians fought at one time or another for control of what is now known as Fallujah. When the Mongols laid waste to Baghdad in 1258 A.D., Iraq’s economy fell into ruin. Iraq’s civilization lay dormant for centuries until the Iraqi people were conquered by the Ottomans in the 16th century. Control of the Fertile Crescent flipped back and forth between the Ottomans and the Persians for hundreds of years until the Turks reasserted their rule in the early 1800s.

After the Ottoman Empire sided with the Germans in World War I, England fought a series of battles against the Turks along the Euphrates River valley. After the Allied victory in 1918, the British occupied what is now known as Iraq. In 1920 resistance to their occupation increased—and was uncannily similar to what America experienced in the months following the 2003 invasion. Fallujah, the divided city, was one of the flashpoints. The British learned quickly that reconciliation was the key to success in this ancient land. “Fallujah,” explained a regional expert, “had become the symbol of the resistance and had to become the symbol of the reconciliation process.” Thus the British worked to woo the tribal and clan leaders, and Fallujah soon became a model for the nation. As a symbol of national pride, the British selected Fallujah as the site for the coronation of King Faisal, the new pro-British leader, on August 23, 1921.

Throughout the turbulent history of Anbar Province, daily life, business, and government have all revolved around its families, clans, and tribes. The province’s rugged people depend upon one another to survive in an austere environment. Their ancestors learned that the only way to endure through the blistering summers, whimsical shifts in the Euphrates River, and even more whimsical changes in government, was by helping each other. The people are close-knit, fiercely loyal, radically independent, and distrusting of outsiders. They have been ruled by the leaders of their clans and tribes for as long as can be remembered. In 2003, the most prominent tribal leader was Sheik Abdullah Al Janabi, the self-proclaimed leader of the city’s governing Shura Council. Janabi’s tribe was the most hostile to the Americans.

With the ever-shifting political climate, the tribes and clans have had little regard for the country’s artificial international boundaries. To the people of Anbar, smuggling is all in a day’s work, a necessity of commerce. As a result, Fallujah is peppered with trucking industry businesses. Flatbeds and long-haul trucks continually clog the main road. Truck stops, machine shops, and junkyards dominate the industrial area. If you need a tire changed, a chassis welded, a radiator soldered, or a new radio installed, Fallujahans stand ready to provide the service. Once the Americans arrived, the people of Fallujah had the talent, resources, and inclination to smuggle weapons and manufacture IEDs.

Fallujah’s main thoroughfare teemed with BMWs, donkey carts, and long-haul trucks. The road was lined with a mixture of magnificent mansions, majestic mosques, multi-storied concrete buildings, and mudbrick shanties. Throughout the city there were many poor neighborhoods, some middle-class areas, and enclaves with luxurious homes. More large mansions and estates lined the banks of the Euphrates River.

Like most Iraqi cities, Fallujah was built of cinder blocks. Nearly every building was surrounded by a wall. Some walls had been meticulously constructed, the obvious work of a proud stonemason. But many had the look of the repetitive cycle of destruction, repair, more destruction, and hasty reassembly, thrown together in a helter-skelter fashion with blocks stacked upon blocks with little or no mortar, just waiting to be pushed over again. Most houses were small, two- or three-story buildings with concrete slab floors and thick roofs. Others were large, with landscaped courtyards, marble floors, and ornate furnishings.

Fallujah’s homes had been built to shelter their residents from the sweltering heat of the Iraqi summers. They also served to protect their residents from the continuous cycle of senseless violence. Concrete walls and roofs were sometimes three feet thick, with another three feet of dirt piled on the flat roofs. They were veritable bunkers. Most courtyard doors were made of sheet metal with two or three locks. Doors leading into homes were either metal or protected by a locked metal gate.

Because of this, Fallujah could not have been more attractive to the resistance. The population was distrusting of outsiders and naturally rebellious. Its workers provided the wherewithal to smuggle weapons, explosives, and foreign fighters. Its craftsmen provided the talent to build bombs, and every home was a mini-fortress.

As 2003 turned to 2004, the cancer inside Fallujah was growing. Most Fallujahans were unemployed. The insurgents launched attacks on nearby Baghdad and to control commercial traffic. The city was home to gunrunners and smugglers. It seemed as if every storefront had a backroom full of weapons. Everyone knew who specialized in particular items: some sold machine guns, and others provided sophisticated night-vision devices. The local bazaars were crawling with merchants of death.



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Apr 18th, 2010 by Richard Lowry
Chapter 1 (Part 1) Fallujah: The Most Dangerous City in Iraq

“Fallujah was a festering sore in al Anbar Province.”
Colonel Gareth Brandl, USMC, November 20, 2007

Death to Americans

On the morning of March 31, 2004, three empty flatbed trucks snaked their way out of the heavily guarded north gate at Camp Fallujah. When Wesley Batalona reached the main road, he turned left onto a modern, four lane highway that stretched west toward the heart of the city. Soon Batalona saw freeway signs indicating a large intersection. A modern-day cloverleaf, much like you would find in America, lay directly ahead on the outskirts of the turbulent city. Batalona planned on meeting local Iraqi defense forces at the Cloverleaf. There, they would escort his handful of trucks through Fallujah. The tiny convoy drove under the overpass and rolled to a stop at the Marines’ newly inhabited TCP-1.

Batalona and three other private security contractors traveled in two Mitsubishi SUVs. They had been given the thankless assignment of protecting the flatbeds as they moved to retrieve old kitchen equipment from a base west of Fallujah. Wesley Batalona, a former sergeant in the elite U.S. Army Rangers, was in charge of security. Jerry Zovko, a 38-year-old Croatian-American and fellow former Ranger, rode shotgun in the lead vehicle with Batalona. Scott Helvenston, an ex-Navy SEAL, drove the second SUV behind the three flatbeds, with Michael Teague, a Bronze Star recipient and veteran of the fighting in Panama, Afghanistan, and Grenada, riding as his gunner.

These four American Blackwater contractors provided the only protection for this low-priority mission. Batalona’s team was severely undermanned and under-armed. Before being relieved by the Marines, the U.S. Army would not enter the city with anything less than four heavily armored vehicles bristling with soldiers in full combat gear and weapons. Army and Marine forays into Fallujah were fraught with danger. More often than not the soldiers would withdraw under gunfire. Just a day earlier the Marines had fought a significant firefight in the city. Yet on this day the Iraqi escorts, traveling in two dilapidated pickup trucks, led the four lightly armed civilian security contractors and their ‘thin-skinned’ sport utility vehicles into the most dangerous city in Iraq. Trusting these Iraqis was like leaving the wolves to guard the sheep: their loyalties were, at best, questionable.

Batalona should have realized that he was approaching Hell the minute he entered the city. Unemployed military-aged men loitered on the garbage strewn main thoroughfare. The deeper the convoy drove into the city, the worse things looked. Stares and frowns turned to jeers and hand gestures. As they snaked their way down the congested highway, traffic slowed to a crawl. The streets became eerily quiet. The Iraqi escorts slammed on their brakes, forcing Batalona to grind his vehicles to a stop.

The beleaguered convoy had driven almost two-thirds of the way through the city when all hell broke loose. Gunfire, directed at the rear vehicle, erupted from nearby buildings. Helvenston and Teague never had a chance to respond, as bullets ripped through their SUV. The first bursts of gunfire killed or mortally wounded them.

As soon as the shooting started, the two Iraqi escort vehicles sped away. Batalona made a quick U-turn and slammed his accelerator to the floor, but collided with an Iraqi civilian’s Toyota, his SUV skidding to a stop. Another group of armed men rushed the scene of the collision, spraying his vehicle with automatic weapons gunfire. Batalona and Zovko slumped over, dead in their seats. The shooting stopped as quickly as it had begun, and the attackers
slipped away into the city.

Insurgents with video cameras rushed to the bloody scene to film the carnage—evidence of their latest victory over the infidel. Young boys, teenagers, and old men swarmed the convoy, pouring gasoline on the vehicles. Flames erupted and both SUVs were soon engulfed, with thick black smoke rising from the inferno. The smoke drew an even larger mob to the scene and triggered a macabre frenzy. The cameras were rolling as the fire subsided. Four charred American corpses were pulled from the smoldering ruins. The mob beat the bodies repeatedly with sticks and shoes,
kicking, mutilating, and dragging them through the streets. Two of the Americans were hoisted up on Fallujah’s green steel footbridge and left to hang for the world to see. The celebrations continued until after dark.

Meanwhile, the Marines could only watch in horror the streaming video coming from their UAV. The Marine commanders made the heartbreaking decision to not deploy troops to the ambush site. They knew that the American contractors were already dead, and that further intervention would only lead to more bloodshed. Instead, they decided to let the riot burn itself out.



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Apr 7th, 2010 by Richard Lowry
New Dawn’s Foreword – The final installment




Despite our resolve, we did have some lingering concern of the attack’s timing and the US Presidential election.  On a secure videoconference outlining the attack to the President, he assured us that he saw no connection between the US election and our mission in Fallujah.  In addition, he gave commanders in Iraq the guidance we needed to successfully take out the cancerous safe haven there.

With total support from the chain of command, our options grew.  Special programs gave us valuable and timely intelligence. Iraqi battalions were recruited and trained.  The 1st Cavalry’s Blackjack Brigade Combat Team’s early departure was delayed.  After gaining the United Kingdom’s support, we moved one of their battalions to just southeast of Fallujah to free more Marines for the Fallujah fight.  General Casey won the confidence of Prime Minister Allawi and the support of the young Iraq government. As the battle neared, Prime Minister Allawi disbanded the Fallujah Brigade, established a 24 hour curfew, and prohibited carrying of weapons in Fallujah – actions that were instrumental to success in Operation New Dawn (we agreed with the Iraqi leaders to rename the operation – an important concession to help win their support).

A dominate combat power force was planned, and this force began to train and ready itself for Operation New Dawn. The team work in preparation was splendid – from the tactical level to the strategic level all were aligned, but with one very subjective part unknown: Information Operations.

Doctrinally we were doing everything right in the Information Operations domain.  Deception feints were successful.  Psyops operations were also very successful, as almost 90% of the population departed Fallujah.  And even with over 200,000 moving out of the city, the exodus did not create the humanitarian problem many predicted.  Our electronic warfare efforts were superb: we listened when we wanted to and jammed when we did not want the enemy to communicate inside or outside Fallujah.  We knew the enemy remained convinced that we would not attack them and that if we did, they would prevail.  We could not hide the movement of massive combat power, but our operational security supported our IO efforts, and the enemy remained confused before and during the battle.  Computer network operations were managed well above the NMC-I/MNF-I levels.  Doctrinally, we were on top of the Information Operations, but I saw one remaining challenge: “The IO Threshold.”

Since the first battle for Fallujah was lost in some measure due to the enemy’s use of information – albeit false information – General Casey could have impose strict rules of engagement for the second battle of Fallujah. On the other hand, General Sattler, MNF-W Commander, had every right to unleash as much combat power has he needed to protect his force and achieve the mission.

Relationships are as important in the military as they are in many other professions; friendships make those relationships tight and loyal threads bind warfighters.  And so it was with General George Casey, Lt. Gen. John Sattler, and me. George trusted his team to adhere to our standard rules of engagement and allowed his operational and tactical commanders to orchestrate this battle.  I would go to John and tell him that we can’t lose this battle before it starts, so his prep must stay beneath the IO Threshold.  In turn, I’d go to George to gain his support for using all available combat power regardless of what the media says until the enemy was defeated.  We were absolutely confident that our Marines and Soldiers would defeat the enemy in Fallujah.

There were, of course, IO challenges we could anticipate and for which we could plan.  We took control of the hospital the evening before the main attack on Fallujah, removing it from the enemy’s IO platform.  When the enemy uses a mosque, school or hospital from which to fight that structure loses its protection under the Fourth Geneva Convention and Rules of Land Warfare.  But since a majority of our young men and women carry digital cameras in their pockets, I asked them to take a picture of the enemy’s misuse of these facilities before rightly using overwhelming combat power against them.  When I visited young commanders, I emphasized to them that to win this battle I needed digital pictures coming my way as much as they needed main gun tank rounds headed toward the enemy.  I knew our Marines and Soldiers were good enough to win the total information war.

We were ready with a plan to strike at the enemy’s strength quickly with overwhelming combat power, political support from home, the Coalition Partners, and the sovereign Iraqi government, and an understanding of the “IO Threshold” by commanders and warfighters alike.  The real burden then fell to Marines, Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen to get the job done, and Richard Lowry has masterfully captured the hard, dangerous, personal fight that took place in Operation New Dawn.  His research and accuracy will not only be enjoyed by readers today, but also help historians for years to come. He has honored young leaders and warfighters as he covers their actions minute-to-minute throughout one of the toughest urban fights in which Americans have fought.

I want to thank Richard for the honor of writing this forward because his book superbly records the major challenge of III Corps’ success in Iraq.  Each of the major units in the Corps fought numerous successful tactical battles.  The operational success achieved in Operation New Dawn by MNF-W, MNC-I, MNF-I and the Iraqi Government then led to the strategic success of national elections in January 2005.

In his book, Richard Lowry has brilliantly captured the successes of the young men and women of all the services who fought and supported Operation New Dawn.  To them and Richard, we owe a debt of gratitude. God Bless them all and God Bless America!

LTG Thomas Metz USA (ret.)



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Apr 4th, 2010 by Richard Lowry
New Dawn’s Foreword Continued



All units took on the task of guarding logistics convoys, and notwithstanding the significant fight in which they found themselves in the northern part of the Sunni triangle, we carved a reserve out of the 1st Infantry Division.  We increased this reserve by taking a Stryker Battalion from the Multi-National Brigade-North, which added risk to an economy of force operation – a risk that I felt had to be taken.

As for Fallujah, American, Iraqi and international media were strongly criticizing Marine tactics there, while supplies of ammunition, fuel, and water were running low.  As a result of our inability to disrupt the enemy’s effective use of information operations, the political support for continued operations was withdrawn, and the Marines were ordered to withdraw from Fallujah.  The solution was to form an Iraqi unit, the “Fallujah Brigade,” which would be tasked to control the city and bring the Blackwater contractors’ murderers to justice.  Although we all wanted the “Fallujah Brigade” experiment to be successful, very few coalition leaders were optimistic.

As we were transferring authority of Baghdad from the 1st Armor Division to the 1st Cavalry Division, young Soldiers were being killed during their last and first weeks in country.  But we decided to keep the 1st Armor Division an extra ninety days to give the Coalition the combat power to put out the up-rising hot spots, especially in the central south part of Iraq.  Working closely with leaders like Jim Conway, Jim Mattis, Marty Dempsey, Pete Chiarelli, John Batiste, and Carter Ham, the following critical lessons learned were seared into my professional heart during the spring of 2004:

  • Information operations are critical to victory on today’s battlefield; you must consider the IO effect of every lethal and non-lethal decision
  • Commanders must think through the second and third order effects of their actions or in actions and never forget that failure to make a decision is a decision
  • Our doctrine demands a reserve, so follow the doctrine.
  • Never take your eye off logistics
  • When fighting with a host nation in a counter insurgency, you must start together,  stay together and finish together
  • Our young leaders in brigades, regiments and battalions know how to fight “jointly” and can do so with superior effectiveness on today’s battlefield. Senior leaders must maneuver and support them effectively

I promised myself that I would take these lessons and ensure that I had learned from them.  My gut told me that I would need them before my tour in Iraq was complete.

Behind the chaos of the April uprising, the plans for creating the Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I) and its subordinate ground component command, the Multi-National Corps-Iraq (MNC-I), were taking shape.  By June, MNC-I was fully operational and MNF-I was in its initial operation capacity. CJTF-7 and CPA were inactivated, Iraq was a sovereign government, and the Fallujah Brigade experiment had indeed proven to be a terrible failure: its leaders were in full cooperation with our enemies.  The experiment to let Iraqi forces control a city had failed, and our enemies had a safe haven from which to operate.

The density of our enemies in Fallujah gave our special operations forces a “target-rich environment”.  As these special operations attacks continued over the summer of 2004, and as I realized that the international media covered them less and less, I coined the non-doctrinal term “IO Threshold.” Simply put, the IO Threshold is the boundary below which the media is not interested and above which they are. This concept would play an important part of the second battle of Fallujah.

One evening while in an informal meeting with General Casey and his staff, I asked in how many Iraqi cities do we have to have successful elections for the total elections to be successful?  I answered my question “Baghdad, Basra, Mosel” and then paused.  My good friend General Casey picked up the idea and challenged his staff to develop an answer.  I knew that if Fallujah was one of these cities, we would have to retake it from the enemy in the coming months.

Over the summer and fall, the Fallujah cancer grew, and few leaders in MNF-I, in the Iraqi government, in the Coalition partners or at home in America could accept the status quo there.  Too much violence from Fallujah was moving north to Mosel, east to Baghdad and south to Sunni insurgents who were in a very good position to impact our main supply route into Baghdad.  It was decided that Fallujah had to be taken before the election of January 2005.

From my earlier experiences, I insisted the retaking of Fallujah would be a Corps operation.  When we eventually attacked the enemy there, we would have to be ready for the same kind of nationwide uprising that we experienced in April.  The Corps is a resource provider, and I ordered that the fuel, water and ammunition available inside Iraq be doubled. For example, we went from storing 7 million gallons of diesel fuel in Iraq to almost 15 million gallons. Subordinate commanders across the Coalition were brought into the planning process. Senior commanders and civilian leaders supported our planning process with very positive coordination. For once, the bureaucrats were prone to say “yes”  instead of “no” and the full power of the Coalition would be brought upon the enemy in Fallujah.  My staff recommended the name of this operation be called Operation Phantom Fury, and as the Commander of Fort Hood, Texas’s Phantom Corps, I approved.  Fury was a very good description of my intent.



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Apr 1st, 2010 by Richard Lowry
Start reading New Dawn Today

I have had several requests for advanced copies of New Dawn. Like you all, I am waiting for the book to roll off the presses. I have no review copies left, so I am starting a series that I will be updating throughout April. I will start at the beginning of the book and post the Foreword, Preface and Chapter 1.

Sperge and friends



LTG Thomas F. Metz USA (ret.)

In this superbly written book detailing the battles for Fallujah, Richard Lowry focuses on powerful accounts of the tactical campaign.  Braving the toughest urban combat since World War II, our Marines, Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen cleared the way for success at the operational and strategic levels of Operation Iraq Freedom (OIF-I).  As the Multi-National Corps-Iraq (MNC-I) commander during Operation New Dawn, I was honored to observe the superb performance of our young men and women; quite simply, their valiance turned the tide.  Today’s readers and tomorrow’s historians will be most thankful that Richard devoted years of his life to ensure New Dawn not only accurately documents these battles, but also rightfully gives the credit to those young Americans whose sacrifices made success possible.

In the fall of 2001, I was already on orders to leave my assignment in the Pentagon as Vice Director of the J8 to command the 24th Infantry Division and Fort Riley, Kansas.  On the afternoon of September 11th – after the Twin Towers had collapsed, after American Airlines Flight 77 had slammed into the Pentagon, and after I saw first-hand the devastation that could be wrought by global terrorism – I knew that I would be focused on training and preparing soldiers for war.  I had no vision of what that war would look like, but I knew that the Army in which I enlisted after high school graduation and had served ever since was going to be at war in the twilight of my career.

That afternoon, I could not have envisioned becoming the CENTCOM Chief of Staff during the final planning phases of Operation Iraq Freedom, nor of taking command of the III Corps, deploying it to Iraq, and becoming the senior commander of the ground forces there with the mission of helping its people hold their first free elections.

I had never heard of Fallujah, and I certainly could not envision developing a Corps Operation three years later to rid this city of the thugs, criminals, foreign fighters, insurgents and Al Qaeda operatives whose occupation of Fallujah was a significant obstacle to Iraqi democracy.  On the afternoon of September 11th, I could not have imagined that my entire career would now point to one operation – an end to the enemy occupation of Fallujah, which was a malignant tumor that needed to be cut away and destroyed. Defeating the enemy in Fallujah would be essential to Iraq’s first successful elections in January 2005. Fortunately, we had the world’s best warfighters, whom Richard has so aptly honored in his book.

On my pre-deployment sight survey prior to moving III Corps Headquarters to Iraq, I met with General Abizaid and learned that LTG Ric Sanchez would remain in Iraq as the Coalition Joint Task Force-7 (CJTF-7) Commander focused on the strategic level of Operation Iraq Freedom. General Abizaid needed me to focus on the day to day operations. As Colonels, Ric and I overlapped for a year at Fort Riley and were accustomed to working together. Based upon General Abizaid’s guidance, I leaned into the operational fight and intelligence that supported it. With a career in the operational Army, I was ready to use my education, training and experiences to successfully achieve our goals in Iraq.

Violence was down in the first three months of 2004 due to Saddam’s capture, but that changed March 31st when insurgents in Fallujah dragged four Blackwater contractors from their SUVs, beat them savagely, and set them on fire.  The brutal desecration of their bodies – pictures of which were infamously broadcast around the world – prompted some leaders to advocate immediate retaliation.  But although a response was justified, hindsight tells us a more carefully considered one would have better served our short- and long-term goals.

Two concurrent decisions proved also to be missteps – the capture of one of Muqtada al-Sadr’s top deputies and the closure of Al Hawza, a newspaper published by his supporters.  And for good reasons, many leaders – from Anbar, Baghdad, CENTCOM, DoD and on to the White House – were focused on a battle of revenge in Fallujah.  But because of these three uncoordinated, concurrent decisions with respect to Fallujah and Sadr, the Coalition was fighting extreme Sunni and Shia forces across almost the entire country of Iraq by the second week in April.

As LTG Sanchez and Ambassador Bremer focused on Fallujah, I turned to the remainder of the country to help the Coalition’s division and brigade commanders get the resources to successfully put down the uprising.  The enemy destroyed about a dozen bridges on our main supply route from Kuwait, and ambushed convoys at will across the country.  Battle was joined in neighborhoods across Baghdad.  Five thousand gallon tankers could be seen burning from our headquarters. The British and coalition partners were holding their own in the south, but the Poles and coalition partners in south-central Iraq needed help.



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