Military Wiki
First Battle of Fallujah
(Operation Vigilant Resolve)
Part of the Iraq War
A U.S. Marine from the 1st Marine Division mans an M240G machine gun outside the Fallujah city limits in April 2004.
Date4 April 2004 – 1 May 2004
LocationFallujah, Iraq
Result Insurgent victory
US retreats from Fallujah[1][2]
United States
 Poland (GROM)
Iraq Ba'athists
al-Qaeda in Iraq
Islamic Army of Iraq
Chechen volunteers
Commanders and leaders
United States James T. Conway Abdullah al-Janabi
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi
Izzat Ibrahim Al-Douri
2,200[3] 3,600[3]
Casualties and losses
27 killed, 90+ wounded[4] 184 insurgents killed[5]
572–616 civilians killed[6]

The First Battle of Fallujah, also known as Operation Vigilant Resolve, was an attempt by the U.S. military to capture the city of Fallujah in April 2004. The chief catalyst for the operation was the highly publicized killing and mutilation of four Blackwater USA private military contractors,[7] and the killings of five American soldiers in Habbaniyah a few days earlier.[8]

The battle polarized public opinion within Iraq.[9]


Fallujah had generally benefited economically under Saddam Hussein, and many residents were employed as employes, military and intelligence officers by his administration. However, there was little sympathy for him following the collapse of his government, which many residents considered oppressive.[10] The city was one of the most religious and culturally traditional areas in Iraq.[11]

Following the collapse of the Ba'ath infrastructure in early 2003, local residents had elected a town council led by Taha Bidaywi Hamed, who kept the city from falling into the control of looters and common criminals. The town council and Hamed were both considered to be nominally pro-American, and their election originally meant that the United States had decided that the city was unlikely to become a hotbed of activity, and didn't require any immediate troop presence. This led to the United States committing few troops to Fallujah from the start.[12]

Although Fallujah had seen sporadic air strikes by American forces, public opposition was not galvanized until 700 members of the 82nd Airborne Division first entered the city on 23 April 2003, and approximately 150 members of Charlie Company occupied al-Qa'id primary. On 28 April, a crowd of approximately 200 people gathered outside the school past curfew, demanding that the Americans vacate the building and allow it to re-open as a school. The protesters became increasingly heated, and the deployment of smoke gas canisters failed attempt to disperse the crowd.[13] The protest escalated as gunmen reportedly fired upon U.S. forces from the protesting crowd and U.S. Army soldiers from the 1st Battalion of the 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division returned fire, killing 17 people and wounding more than 70 of the protesters. There were no U.S. Army or coalition casualties in the incident. U.S. forces said that the shooting took place over 30–60 seconds, however other sources claim the shooting continued for half an hour.[14]

Two days later, a protest at the former Ba'ath party headquarters decrying the American shootings was also fired upon by U.S. forces, this time the U.S. 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, which resulted in three more deaths.[12][15] Following both incidents, coalition forces asserted that they had not fired upon the protesters until they were fired upon first.

The 82nd Airborne soldiers were replaced by soldiers from the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment and Bravo Company 2/502 Infantry Regiment from the101st Airborne Division, and on 4 June, the 3rd Armoured Cavalry was forced to request an additional 1,500 troops to help quell the growing resistance faced in Fallujah and nearby al-Habaniyya.[16]

File:Downtown fallujah.jpg

Downtown Fallujah, Iraq, in December 2003.

In June, American forces began confiscating motorcycles from local residents, claiming that they were being used in hit-and-run attacks on coalition forces.[17]

On 30 June, a large explosion occurred in a mosque in which the imam, Sheikh Laith Khalil and eight other people were killed. While the local population claimed that Americans had fired a missile at the mosque, U.S. forces claimed that it was an accidental detonation by insurgents constructing bombs.[18]

On 12 February 2004, insurgents attacked a convoy carrying General John Abizaid, commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, and the 82nd Airborne's Major General Charles Swannack, firing on the vehicles from nearby rooftops with RPGs, after seemingly infiltrating the Iraqi security forces.[19]

Eleven days later, insurgents diverted Iraqi police to a false emergency on the outskirts of the city, before simultaneously attacking three police stations, the mayor's office and a civil defence base. At least 17 police officers were killed,[20] and as many as 87 prisoners released.[19]

During this time, the 82nd Airborne were conducting regular "lightning raids" inside the city, where Humvee convoys would destroy road barriers and curbs that could hide IEDs, and oversee searches of homes and schools, which frequently saw property damage, and led to shoot-outs with local residents.[21]

In March 2004, Swannack transferred authority of the Al-Anbar province to the I Marine Expeditionary Force commanded by Lt. General Conway.

By early March 2004, the city began to fall under the increasing influence of guerrilla factions. The rising violence against the American presence resulted in the complete withdrawal of troops from the city, with only occasional incursions trying to gain and reinforce a "foothold in the city" being attempted.[22] This was coupled with one or two patrols around the outer limits of FOB Volturno, the former site of Qusay and Uday Hussein's palace.[23]

Blackwater deaths

On 31 March 2004 – Iraqi insurgents in Fallujah ambushed a convoy containing four American private military contractors from Blackwater USA who were conducting delivery for food caterers ESS.[24]

The four armed contractors, Scott Helvenston, Jerko Zovko, Wesley Batalona and Michael Teague, were killed by machine gun fire and a grenade thrown through a window of their SUVs. A mob then set their bodies ablaze, and their corpses were dragged through the streets before being hung over a bridge crossing the Euphrates.[3][25]

Photos of the event were released to news agencies worldwide, causing a great deal of indignation and moral outrage in the United States, and prompting the announcement of an upcoming "pacification" of the city.

The intended Marine Corps strategy of foot patrols, less aggressive raids, humanitarian aid, and close cooperation with local leaders was suspended on orders to mount a military operation to clear guerrillas from Fallujah.

The Campaign

U.S. Marines from 1st Battalion, 5th Marines fire at insurgent positions during the First Battle of Fallujah.

On 1 April, Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, deputy director of U.S. military operations in Iraq, promised an "overwhelming" response to the Blackwater USA deaths, stating "We will pacify that city."[26]

On 3 April 2004, the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force received a written command from the Joint Task Force, ordering offensive operations against Fallujah. This order went against the wishes of the Marine Commanders on the ground who wanted to conduct surgical strikes and raids against those suspected of involvement in the Blackwater deaths.[27]

On the night of 4 April 2004, American forces launched a major assault in an attempt to "re-establish security in Fallujah" by encircling it with around 2000 troops.[3][26] At least four homes were hit in aerial strikes, and there was sporadic gunfire throughout the night.

By the morning of 5 April 2004, headed by the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, American units had surrounded the city with an aim towards retaking it. American troops blockaded roads leading into the city with Humvees and concertina wire. They also took over a local radio station and handed out leaflets urging residents to remain inside their homes and help American forces identify insurgents and any Fallujans who were involved in the Blackwater deaths.[28]

It was estimated that there were 12–24 separate "hardcore" groups of insurgents, armed with RPGs, machine guns, mortars and anti-aircraft weapons, some of it supplied by the Iraqi Police.[29] By 6 April 2004, U.S. military sources said that "Marines may not attempt to control the center of the town".[3][3]

During the First Battle of Fallujah, U.S. Marines from 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines block off Fallujah's Highway 1.

In the opening days, it was reported that up to a third of the civilian population had fled the city.[30]

The siege forced the closing of Fallujah's two main hospitals, Fallujah General Hospital and the Jordanian Hospital, which were re-opened during the ceasefire on 9 April 2004.[31]

The resulting engagements set off widespread fighting throughout Central Iraq and along the Lower Euphrates, with various elements of the Iraqi insurgency taking advantage of the situation and commencing simultaneous operations against the Coalition forces. This period marked the emergence of the Mahdi Army, the militia of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, as a major armed faction which, at that time, actively participated in anti-Coalition operations. The happenings were also punctuated by a surge of a Sunni rebellion in the city of Ramadi. During this period, a number of foreigners[specify]

were captured by insurgent groups. Some were killed outright, whilst others were held as hostages in an attempt to barter for political or military concessions. Some elements of the Iraqi police and Iraqi Civil Defense Corps also turned on the Coalition forces or simply abandoned their posts.

The rebels in Fallujah held on as the Americans attempted to tighten their hold on the city. Air bombardments rained on insurgent positions throughout the city, Lockheed AC-130 gunships attacked targets with their Gatling guns and howitzers a number of times. Scout Snipers became a core element of the Marines' strategy, averaging 31 kills apiece in the battle, while PSYOP Tactical Psychological Operations Teams from Tactical Psychological Operations Detachment 910[32] tried to lure Iraqis out into the open for the Scout Snipers by reading scripts that were aimed at angering insurgent fighters and by blaring AC/DC along with Metallica and other rock music over their loud speakers.[29]

After three days of fighting, it was estimated that the United States had gained control over 25% of the city, although it was suggested that insurgents had lost a number of key defensive positions.[citation needed]

Due to the fact that American attacks were taking a toll on civilians as well as Iraqi insurgents, coalition forces faced growing criticism from within the Iraqi Governing Council, where Adnan Pachachi said, "these operations by the Americans are unacceptable and illegal."[33]

Al-Jazeera reporter Ahmed Mansur, and cameraman Laith Mushtaq, the only two non-embedded journalists covering the conflict since 3 April 2004, reported that an unknown source stated that United States insisted that the reporters be withdrawn from the city, as a pre-condition to the ceasefire.[34]

At noon on 9 April 2004 under pressure from the Governing Council, Paul Bremer announced that the U.S. forces would be unilaterally holding a ceasefire, stating that they wanted to facilitate negotiations between the Iraqi Governing Council, insurgents and city spokespersons, and to allow government supplies to be delivered to residents[3]

As a consequence, much-needed humanitarian relief which had been held up by the fighting and blockade finally managed to enter the city, notably a major convoy organized by private citizens, businessmen and clerics from Baghdad as a joint Shi'a-Sunni effort.[citation needed] Some U.S. forces used this time to occupy and scavenge abandoned houses and convert them into de facto bunkers,[35] while a number of insurgents did the same.[36]

At this point, it was estimated that 600 Iraqis had been killed, at least half of whom were non-combatants.[36] Although hundreds of insurgents had been killed in the assault, the city remained firmly in their control. American forces had by then only managed to gain a foothold in the industrial district to the south of the city. The end of major operations for the time being led to negotiations between various Iraqi elements and the Coalition forces, punctuated by occasional firefights.

On 13 April 2004, U.S. Marines fell under attack from insurgents located within a mosque. An airstrike destroyed the mosque, prompting a public outcry.[3]

On 15 April 2004, an American F-16 Fighting Falcon dropped a 2,000-pound (910 kg) JDAM GPS guided bomb over the northern district of Fallujah.[3]

On 19 April 2004, the ceasefire seemed to be consolidated with a plan to reintroduce joint US/Iraqi patrols in the city. Over time this arrangement broke down and the city remained a major center of opposition to the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Interim Government. Additionally, the composition of the armed groups in Fallujah changed during the following months, shifting from domination by secular, nationalist and ex-Ba'athist groups towards a marked influence of warlords with ties to organized crime and groups following a radical Wahhabi stance.[citation needed]

On 27 April 2004, insurgents attacked U.S. defensive positions, forcing the Americans to call in air support.[36]

US Withdrawal

On 1 May 2004, the United States withdrew from Fallujah, as Lieutenant General James Conway announced that he had unilaterally decided to turn over any remaining operations to the newly formed Fallujah Brigade, which would be armed with U.S. weapons and equipment under the command of former Ba'athist Army General Jasim Mohammed Saleh. Several days later, when it became clear that Saleh had been involved in military actions against Shi'ites under Saddam Hussein, U.S. forces announced that Muhammed Latif would instead lead the brigade. Nevertheless, the group dissolved and had turned over all the U.S. weapons to the insurgency by September,[37] prompting the Second Battle of Fallujah in November, which successfully occupied the city.

During the interim period between the two battles, U.S. forces maintained a presence at Camp Baharia, a few miles outside the city limits.


During the First Battle of Fallujah, U.S. Marines from the The 1st Marine Regiment take cover as an M1A1 Abrams from the 1st Tank Battalion fires at a building where insurgent snipers are positioned.

The largest combat mission since the declaration of the end of "major hostilities",[38] the First Battle of Fallujah marked a turning point in public perception of the on-going conflict. This was because insurgents, rather than Saddam loyalists, were seen as the chief opponents of U.S. forces. It was also judged by both military and civilian agencies, that reliance upon U.S.-funded regional militias, such as the failed Fallujah Brigade, could prove disastrous.[39] American strategists were mercurial about the outcome of the battle with one writing "the handwriting is on the wall. The Battle of Fallujah was not a defeat—but we cannot afford many more victories like it."[citation needed]

The battle also pushed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi into the public spotlight as the best-known commander of anti-Coalition forces in Iraq, and brought public attention to the concept of a Sunni Triangle.

48 U.S. Marines, two soldiers, and one Navy corpsman were killed in action, and the wounded in action totaled 412 Marines, 43 U.S. soldiers, and 21 U.S. sailors during the month of April in and around Fallujah during the battle.[40] 1,200+ Iraqis, both civilians and insurgents, were killed during the fighting.[41] Many of the Iraqis killed were buried inside the city's former football stadium, which became known as the Martyrs' Cemetery.

Participating units

In popular culture

  • No True Glory: A Frontline Account of the Battle for Fallujah, by Bing West (2005) (ISBN 978-0-553-80402-7)
    • No True Glory: The Battle for Fallujah, an upcoming film based on Bing West's book starring Harrison Ford
  • Blood Stripes: The Grunt's View of the War in Iraq, by David J. Danelo (2007) (ISBN 978-0-8117-3393-9)
  • Boredom By Day, Death By Night: An Iraq War Journal, by Marine Sgt Seth Connor (2007) (ISBN 978-0-9795389-0-2)
  • Once a Marine: An Iraq War Tank Commander's Inspirational Memoir of Combat, Courage, and Recovery, by Nicholas Popaditch, with Mike Steere (2008) (ISBN 978-1-932714-47-0)
  • "Fallujah Forensics" a documentary film by Tara Sutton[42]

See also


  1. LeBleu, Joe. "Long Rifle: A Sniper's Story in Iraq and Afghanistan", p. 201. "In mid-April 2003, President Bush decided not to secure Fallujah...laying the groundwork for later U.S. failure there."
  2. Scahill, Jeremy. "Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army", p. 205. "The horrors unfolding in Fallujah, coupled with the U.S. failure to take control of the city, and the bold resistance of Fallujah's residents was encouraging other Iraqis to rise up."
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 "Marines, Iraqis join forces to shut down Fallujah". CNN. 6 April 2004. Retrieved 2 May 2010. 
  4. Period Details[dead link]
  5. "IBC Fallujah April 2004 News Digest". Iraq Body Count. Retrieved 19 May 2011. 
  6. "No Longer Unknowable: Falluja's April Civilian Toll is 600". Iraq Body Count. 26 October 2004. Retrieved 19 May 2011. 
  7. Operation Vigilant Resolve,
  8. "Official Website for Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton – The Scout Newspaper". Retrieved 19 May 2011. 
  9. Christian Science Monitor, Siege of Fallujah polarizing Iraqis, 15 April 2004
  10. "Violent Response:". Retrieved 19 May 2011. 
  11. The Nation / By Christian Parenti. "Scenes From a Nasty, Brutish, Long War". AlterNet. Retrieved 19 May 2011. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 "Iraqis in deadly clash with U.S. troops". CNN. 29 April 2003. Retrieved 2 May 2010. 
  13. "Violent Response:". Retrieved 19 May 2011. 
  14. "Violent Response:". 28 April 2003. Retrieved 19 May 2011. 
  15. "Violent Response:". Retrieved 19 May 2011. 
  16. "Violent Response:". 28 May 2003. Retrieved 19 May 2011. 
  17. "US strikes at Iraqi resistance". BBC News. 29 June 2003. Retrieved 15 May 2006. 
  18. "Bush firm despite Iraq attacks". BBC News. 1 July 2003. Retrieved 15 May 2006. 
  19. 19.0 19.1 "Attack on Fallujah police highlights lack of US control in Iraq". 23 February 2004. Retrieved 19 May 2011. 
  20. Hodierne, Robert; Curtis, Rob; Times, Army (15 February 2004). "Insurgents attack five sites, kill 17 Iraqi policemen". USA Today. Retrieved 2 May 2010. 
  21. The Nation / By Christian Parenti. "Scenes From a Nasty, Brutish, Long War". AlterNet. Retrieved 19 May 2011. 
  22. "Marines settling into new home in Fallujah North County Times - North San Diego and Southwest Riverside County News -". 18 March 2004. Retrieved 19 May 2011. 
  23. Mortenson, Darrin. North Carolina Times, 2 April 2004. Marines make a home near Fallujah
  24. "frontline: private warriors: contractors: the high-risk contracting business". PBS. Retrieved 19 May 2011. 
  25. "U.S. expects more attacks in Iraq". CNN. 6 May 2004. Retrieved 2 May 2010. 
  26. 26.0 26.1 McCarthy, Rory (24 April 2004). "Uneasy truce in the city of ghosts". The Guardian. London.,,1202143,00.html. Retrieved 2 May 2010. 
  27. Chandrasekaran, Rajiv (13 September 2004). "Key General Criticizes April Attack In Fallujah". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2 May 2010. 
  28. Perry, Tony; Sanders, Edmund (5 April 2004). "Marines Roll Into Fallouja". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 5 April 2005.,1,1073065.story?coll=la-headlines-world. Retrieved 2 May 2010. 
  29. 29.0 29.1 "Operation Vigilant Resolve". Archived from the original on 27 October 2004. Retrieved 19 May 2011. 
  30. "16 April 2004 Interactive. The siege of Falluja". The Guardian. London.,5860,1193510,00.html. Retrieved 2 May 2010. 
  31. John Pike. "Fallujah". Retrieved 19 May 2011. 
  32. Kaplan, Robert D. (July/August 2004). "Five Days in Fallujah". 
  33. Barnard, Anne (11 April 2004). "Anger over Fallujah reaches ears of the faithful". The Boston Globe. 
  34. "Al Jazeera Reporters Give Bloody First Hand Account of April '04 U.S. Siege of Fallujah". Democracy Now!. Retrieved 19 May 2011. 
  35. "Troops take over houses of fleeing Fallujah residents North County Times - North San Diego and Southwest Riverside County News -". 15 April 2004. Retrieved 19 May 2011. 
  36. 36.0 36.1 36.2 "Fallujah". Archived from the original on 31 October 2004. Retrieved 19 May 2011. 
  37. Kessler, Glenn. "Weapons Given to Iraq Are Missing". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2 May 2010. 
  38. Alice Hills. "Armed Forces & Society – Sign In Page". Digital object identifier:10.1177/0095327X05281460. Retrieved 19 May 2011. 
  39. "Official Website for Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton – The Scout Newspaper". Retrieved 19 May 2011. 
  41. "AP toll says 1,361 Iraqis killed in April". [dead link]
  42. "Fallujah Forensics". Retrieved 19 May 2011. 

External resources

Coordinates: 33°21′N 43°47′E / 33.35°N 43.783°E / 33.35; 43.783

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).