- The Washington Times - Monday, July 12, 2010


By Richard S. Lowry
Savas Beatie, $29.95, 312 pages

Although the war in Iraq will be remembered primarily as an insurgency, the second battle for Fallujah in November 2004, Operation Phantom Fury, was a full-scale, old-school urban battle. Although smaller in scale than some of the great urban fights of World War II such as the Battle of Stalingrad, it was every bit as intense with little quarter being given or asked by either side.

In his book “New Dawn: The Battles for Fallujah,” Richard S. Lowry gives an account of both the aborted spring 2004 attack by the Marines and the decisive November battle that wrested the city away from al Qaeda in Iraq for good. Of necessity, the second battle occupies the vast majority of the book’s pages.

In early 2004, Fallujah was the most dangerous city in Anbar, the most dangerous province in Iraq. It contained a lethal mix of fanatic international jihadists, former Iraqi Ba’athist military and intelligence cadres, and homegrown irregular fighters fueled by Anbar’s unique brand of Saudi-origin Wahhabist Islamic fundamentalism.

Fallujah had always been a problem city for the central Iraqi government to control, and Saddam settled many of his military and intelligence officials there to keep an eye on it. Although the jihadists, who came to be known as al Qaeda in Iraq, and the former Ba’athists were natural enemies, they would craft a temporary alliance to fight the hated Americans for Fallujah.

When the 1st Marine Division relieved the Army’s 82nd Airborne of responsibility for Anbar province in early 2004, the Marines came with a deliberate urban counterinsurgency plan to take back Fallujah slowly, block by block, with the population still in the city. That plan was disrupted with the massacre and public mutilation of the bodies of four Blackwater contractors in April.

Enraged, Washington ordered the Marines to drop their counterinsurgency plan and storm the city. Marines being Marines, they saluted smartly and attacked. The resulting carnage of Operation Vigilant Resolve horrified senior American leaders and the fledgling Iraqi government. Consequently, the Marines were ordered to stop. Subsequent efforts to form an Iraqi “Fallujah Brigade” to control the city were a dismal failure.

However, as Mr. Lowry expertly describes, the Marines used the time bought by the Fallujah Brigade experiment to prepare for a proper assault against an enemy that had made Fallujah a true urban fortress. The Marines carefully prepared the battlefield by isolating it using information operations to persuade the great majority of civilians to leave the cordoned-off city. When it kicked off, Phantom Fury was a true joint endeavor involving Marine regiments, Army brigades, Navy Seal teams and superb support from U.S. Air Force MC 130 gunships.

Mr. Lowry deftly switches from the big picture that he illustrates thoroughly with maps, to the desperate individual fights that raged building to building and room to room. In some cases, fighting was hand to hand with Marines using bayonets and knives in some instances to dispatch fanatic foreign jihadists, 1,400 of whom fought to the death. He tells individual tales of heroism, but puts the entire tale in context of the bigger citywide tactical situation. This is no mean feat given the complexity of urban fighting.

The author is a veteran writer of military history, having several works to his credit, including “Marines in the Garden of Eden.” The book will undoubtedly be compared with Bing West’s coverage of the same subject, but the works are ultimately complementary. Mr. West’s approach is more personal because he was present at most of the events, and his style conveys the emotion involved. Mr. Lowry’s approach is more detached but extremely readable, and gives a good feel for the tactics of both the Americans and their enemies.

Ultimately, the battles for Fallujah may be remembered as the first urban example of the phenomenon of “Hybrid Warfare” where non-state actors fight conventional battles deliberately attempting to use civilian populations for cover while making use of modern weapons and information operations techniques.

Mr. Lowry accurately points out that the insurgents won the first round in Fallujah, not on the battlefield, but on the airways and the Internet by staging faked images of “American atrocities” and broadcasting them widely. Hezbollah would take careful notes and use similar methods more successfully against the Israelis in 2006. The fact that the Marine planners figured out how to counter many of these asymmetric hybrid tactics may make “New Dawn” the first text on hybrid warfare. The book is four years too late to help the Israelis.

Gary Anderson is a retired Marine Corps officer. He recently returned from a tour in Iraq with the State Department on a provincial reconstruction team.

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