Thursday, November 16, 2023

Review Fighting for Fallujah, A New Dawn for Iraq

Ballard, John, Fighting for Fallujah, A New Dawn for Iraq, Westport, London: Praeger Security International, 2006


Fighting for Fallujah, a New Dawn for Iraq is a military history of the two battles for the Iraqi city by John Ballard. It covers how Fallujah became a center of resistance to the U.S. occupation, then the American attempt to pacify it and concludes with the rebuilding effort. It is heavy on details about the U.S. military units involved. The author veers off course sometimes but it is still a good blow by blow account of the struggle for Fallujah.


Ballard divides his book into three main sections. The first is how Fallujah grew into a base for the insurgency. There was a constant rotation of U.S. units through the city immediately after the 2003 invasion almost all of which were stretched across a wide swath of area leading to too few troops to secure Fallujah. One unit shot and killed protesters on two occasions turning much of the population against the Americans. The second part is on the two battles for the city in 2004. This represents the heart of the author’s story and includes an account of all the military units involved, the planning for the fighting, and how things concluded. It’s easy to get lost in all the military abbreviations during this part. Things end with the rebuilding of the city and a lessons learned review. That’s actually one of the most interesting parts because if you read carefully the city was still in tatters when the U.S. claimed victory in the fighting. The Iraqi government was incompetent, took weeks to send representatives to Fallujah to even discuss reconstruction and then did a bad job. As a result the Marines had to carry out many of these tasks. Services were still in shambles months after combat had ended.


There are a couple faults with Fighting for Fallujah. The biggest one is when he said Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Al Qaeda in Iraq were not motivated by religion but crime. He called him a criminal because of the brutality of his acts. Not only is that a bad characterization but completely misses the Islamic roots and motivation of Zarqawi. Another is when he declared the battles for Fallujah a victory. Yes, the U.S. and Iraqi governments won the fighting but the city was never fully rebuilt afterwards. Ballard talks about how important it was to get the thousands of displaced back into Fallujah and get water, electricity and other services up and running again, but then he glosses over the fact that never fully happened. Finally, he spends an entire chapter on the Sadr uprising in Najaf. It’s meant to give a fuller picture of the security situation in Iraq and involved the marines that fought in Fallujah but was it necessary to give a whole chapter to the topic? This was a bit of a distraction.


The book captures many of the difficulties the U.S. military faced early on during the occupation. There were too few troops and the ones in country were spread too thin to provide security. Each unit had its own strategy for dealing with Fallujah but all turned to combat as the sole approach because of the insurgency. The Americans created a new Iraqi government that had no idea what it was doing initially. Finally, the U.S. proved good at destroying cities and lacked the capability to rebuild them.


John Balled provides a good military history of the 2004 battles for Fallujah from the American perspective. It provides the background and more importantly covers the aftermath that is missed in many other accounts. On the other hand it is heavy on details and is not as engaging as some others that include personal accounts of those involved.


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