Marines – valuing civilian safety over their own, even though many of those same civilians want them dead – fight for Fallujah. Washington Post reporter Pamela Constable is there with the First Marine Expeditionary Force:
- U.S. Marines have established control over a significant portion of the flashpoint city of Fallujah following two days and nights of resistance from insurgents firing from rooftops, windows and doorways at Marine convoys.
The Marines fought their way deep into the city — the most hostile in Iraq’s Sunni triangle — starting early Monday, taking constant fire as they entered from automatic rifles, mortars and rocket propelled grenades.
Fighting continued Tuesday morning, but the streets were deserted and Marine units were well ensconced in force at two positions, one in the north of the city and one in the southeast.
From these positions, rifle squads on foot have been moving deep into the city, 35 miles west of Baghdad, to suppress resistance, entering homes as necessary to seize weapons.
Four Marines have been killed in combat in or near the city, with at least eight wounded. In turn, they have killed at least ten Iraqi insurgents, according to an estimate by one officer, and taken an estimated 15 to 20 prisoners, some of them foreign fighters.
So far, the Marines have not reported identifying those who killed and mutilated four civilian contractors here last Wednesday.
“We have penetrated deep into Fallujah,” said Lt. Col. Brennan Byrne, commanding officer of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. “We are solidly ensconced and my units are stiffening their grip on the area.
“What we’re doing now is getting control of parts of the city.
“This is not retribution,” Byrne said. “This is not a vendetta. This is about making the city livable so that the people here do not have to live in fear of the thugs taking control of it.”
….Lance Cpl. Jamil Alkattan said that after the firefights, the Marines have been “going into houses to do what we had to do. We kept finding houses with guns in them that were still hot. The people tried to hide the guns or say that they had been sleeping.
“But how could they be sleeping when the sound of gunfire was so loud?”
“I guess God was on our side,” during the fighting, he said. “When a mortar comes at you all you can do is pray.”
….Byrne said the Marines are taking care not to return fire indiscriminately. “We’re trying not to alienate people here any further than they already are.”
While the Marines are equipped with tanks and assault helicopters, they have not been using artillery. “I’ve been sending squads of 10 to 13 men on foot in city,” said Dickens. “The terrorists seem to like it when we roll around in our vehicles. But the way you win the war on terror is by putting your boots on deck. We don’t want the political ramifications of collateral damage. We don’t want to kill civilians.”
Certainly the enemy knows no such constraints.
- In Fallujah, 35 miles west of Baghdad, Marines exchanged heavy gunfire with the insurgents, said Associated Press reporter Lourdes Navarro, who was with the troops on the northeast edge of the city. Loud explosions also could be heard from the center of the city, when troops engaged guerrillas before withdrawing at nightfall.
The battle began when a foot patrol that entered a few blocks into the city came under a barrage of fire from a house, wounding two Marines, said Cpl. Christopher Ebert, of Forest City, N.C., who was on the patrol.
Trapped in an alley, they put up red smoke to summon help, and a tank and a Humvee moved in to extract the patrol.
“Insurgents usually fire and run. This time they’re digging in, which is the first time we’ve seen them do that,” Ebert said.
Fallujah General Hospital reported receiving five dead and seven wounded Iraqis.
American commanders have vowed to root out insurgents after last week’s slaying and mutilation of four American civilians. Scenes of Iraqis dragging charred bodies through the streets and hanging two of them from a bridge Wednesday raised revulsion in the United States and showed the depth of anti-U.S. sentiment in the city.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said U.S. troops have captured a number of people in Fallujah in the last 36 hours.
“They have photographs of a good many people who were involved in the attacks against the individuals and they have been conducting raids in the city against high-value targets,” Rumsfeld said.