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Back to Fallujah
By Michael Fumento
It doesn't take very long out here to realize that you're not in Kansas anymore. After arriving at Camp Fallujah at 4 in the morning by Blackhawk from Baghdad's Green Zone, I had barely settled into my bunk in the transient tent when I heard the thump, thump, thump of outgoing artillery fire. Last year during my entire Fallujah embed I never heard a single round.
The military being the military, they arbitrarily decided my first embed would not be Ramadi as I requested but Fallujah again. But my tame little pussycat of a city from last May has sprouted long nails and teeth. Lots of people have returned to the city and tucked among them have been insurgents, along with terrorists from Syria, Saudi Arabia, and other countries. All want a crack at the infidels and their Iraqi lackeys. Further, U.S. troop strength is down from around 3,000 to 300 with Iraqi Army (IA) troops filling the vacuum. To the bad guys -- known by several names but I'll stick with "Mooj" for Mujahadeen -- that's an invitation to a party.
I later learned the artillery wasn't high explosive but rather illumination rounds called in to help fend off the largest Mooj attack this year in Fallujah. An Iraqi Army (IA) position called Operating Post 3 comprising about 80 IA and three Marines was stealthily enveloped on three sides by about 50 Mooj. The "Jundi," as the Iraqi soldiers like to be called, held off the attack with their AK-47 rifles and a couple of light machine guns. They only had to hold on for about 15 minutes for a Marine Quick Reaction Team to arrive, but in a war in which firefights often last a minute or two that was an eternity.
When the Marines did arrive they and the Jundi quickly switched to the offensive. For 17 hours they pursued the Mooj through the city, ultimately killing 18 and taking prisoners. One Jundi died with five Jundi wounded. What could have been an absolute disaster became, in this war of small actions and small arms, a stunning success. The Mooj will be licking their wounds for months to come.
On my second night in the area, in Karbala just northeast of the city, I was standing outside enjoying a beautiful moonlit night and watching the Jundi excitedly prepare for the arrival of a captured suspect terrorist. Suddenly I heard the brat-brat-brat of machine gun fire perhaps two miles away. Then all hell broke loose out there. I listened for awhile, then went inside to find out what was happening. It wasn't good.
Seven insurgents had attacked a checkpoint at a vital bridge over the Euphrates that I would later visit. The Jundi were already jumpy from having three rocket propelled grenades fired at them earlier in the day, two of which hit the bridge. They were now perhaps overeager now in returning fire from both the bridge position and an upper floor of a building near the bridge where they had more soldiers stationed. At some point the Mooj slipped out but in the meantime a Marine quick reaction force had arrived. The Marines, unfortunately, were unaware that it was Jundi on the bridge and took them under fire even as the Jundi started firing at the Marines.
The commander of the unit I was embedded with worked his walkie-talkie furiously to get both sides to cease fire. He succeeded just in time. The Marines were about to call in a helicopter gunship to fire up the "Mooj" on the bridge and in the building. Ultimately, although about 2,000 rounds had been fired off (300 Marine, 1700 Iraqi), nobody was hurt. No, it's definitely *not* like in the movies where it usually only takes one or two rounds to bring down a soldier. Unless a sniper is at work, it takes a lot of bullets to kill a man.
The next day on a two-hour foot patrol we heard another firefight and saw flares go up and smoke rising, though building blocked our view. I caught some of it on videotape and camera. Yet another firefight broke out fairly close to us but not close enough to hear. We moved towards it in case any escaping Mooj might come our way. None did. Now, even as I type this I'm told there's more shooting going on outside.
When I went back to Camp Fallujah to be handed over to another embed our Humvee broke down and while we were waiting for it to be fixed again there was the thumping of outgoing artillery. Finally we got to Camp India east of the city at 2 am, a medium-sized outpost. Exhausted, I quickly fell asleep only to be awakened by a number of loud explosions that sounded awfully close. They were. The Mooj had hit us with large (122 millimeter) mortars that flew over the camp and landed just outside. Very rude Mooj they were, but I got the better of them. I rolled over and went back to sleep.
April 13, 2006 12:17 PM · Iraq