|A street in Fallujah heavily damaged by the fighting.|
The Second Battle of Fallujah — code-named Operation Al-Fajr (Arabic,الفجر “the dawn”) and Operation Phantom Fury — was a joint U.S., Iraqi, and British offensive in November and December 2004, considered the highest point of conflict in Fallujah during the Iraq War. It was led by the U.S. Marine Corps against the Iraqi insurgency stronghold in the city of Fallujah and was authorized by the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Interim Government. The U.S. military called it “some of the heaviest urban combat U.S. Marines have been involved in since the Battle of Huế City in Vietnam in 1968.”
This operation was the second major operation in Fallujah. Earlier, in April 2004, Coalition Forces fought the First Battle of Fallujah in order to capture or kill insurgent elements considered responsible for the deaths of a Blackwater Security team. When Coalition Forces (most of them U.S. Marines) fought into the center of the city, the Iraqi government requested that the city’s control be transferred to an Iraqi-run local security force, which then began stockpiling weapons and building complex defenses across the city through mid-2004. The second battle was the bloodiest battle of the entire Iraq War, and is notable for being the first major engagement of the Iraq War fought solely against insurgents rather than the forces of the former Ba’athist Iraqi government, which was deposed in 2003.
In February 2004, control of Fallujah and the surrounding area in the Al-Anbar province was transferred from the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division to the 1st Marine Division. Shortly afterward, on 31 March 2004, four American Blackwater USA contractors were ambushed and killed in the city. Images of their mutilated bodies were broadcast around the world.
Within days, U.S. Marine Corps forces launched Operation Vigilant Resolve (4 April 2004) to take back control of the city from insurgent forces. On 28 April 2004, Operation Vigilant Resolve ended with an agreement where the local population is ordered to keep the insurgents out of the city. The Fallujah Brigade, composed of local Iraqis under the command of Muhammed Latif, a former Ba’athist general, was allowed to pass through coalition lines and take over the city.
Insurgent strength and control began to grow to such an extent that by 24 September 2004, a senior U.S. official told ABC News that catching Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, said to be in Fallujah, was now “the highest priority,” and estimated his troops at 5,000 men, mostly non-Iraqis.
In April, Fallujah was defended by about 500 “hardcore” and 2,000+ “part time” insurgents. By November it was estimated[who?] that the numbers had doubled. Another estimate put the number of insurgents at 3,000; however a number of insurgent leaders escaped before the attack. By the time of the attack on Fallujah in November 2004, the number of insurgents in the city was estimated at around 3,000 to 4,000.
The Iraqi insurgents and foreign mujahadeen present in the city prepared fortified defenses in advance of the anticipated attack. They dug tunnels, trenches, prepared spider holes, and built and hid a wide variety of IEDs. In some locations they filled the interiors of darkened homes with large numbers of propane bottles, large drums of gasoline, and ordnance, all wired to a remote trigger that could be set off by an insurgent when troops entered the building. They blocked streets with Jersey barriers and even emplaced them within homes to create strong points behind which they could attack unsuspecting troops entering the building. Insurgents were equipped with a variety of advanced small arms, and had captured a variety of U.S. armament, including M14s, M16s, body armor, uniforms and helmets.
They booby-trapped buildings and vehicles, including wiring doors and windows to grenades and other ordnance. Anticipating U.S. tactics to seize the roof of high buildings, they bricked up stairwells to the roofs of many buildings, creating paths into prepared fields of fire which they hoped the troops would enter.
Intelligence briefings given prior to battle reported that Coalition forces would encounter Chechen, Filipino, Saudi, Iranian, Libyan, and Syrian combatants, as well as native Iraqis.
Meanwhile, most of Fallujah’s civilian population fled the city, which greatly reduced the potential for noncombatant casualties. U.S. military officials estimated that 70–90% of the 300,000 civilians in the city fled before the attack.
After Navy Seabees from NMCB-23 at the substation located just northeast of the city shut off electrical power to the city, two Marine Regimental Combat Teams, the Regimental Combat Team 1 (RCT-1) and Regimental Combat Team 7 (RCT-7) launched an attack along the northern edge of the city. They were assisted by two U.S. Army heavy battalion-sized units, the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, and 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment (Mechanized). These two battalions were followed by four infantry battalions who were tasked with clearing the remaining buildings. The Army’s mechanized Second Brigade, First Cavalry Division, augmented by the Marine’s Second Reconnaissance Battalion and, for a few days, the 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment [Stryker], was tasked to surround the city. The British Army’s 1st Battalion, The Black Watch patrolled the main highways to the east. The RCT’s were augmented by three 6-man SEAL Sniper Teams from Naval Special Warfare Task Group-Central and one Platoon from 1st Recon who provided advance reconnaissance and overwatch throughout the operation.
The six battalions of Army, Marine and Iraqi forces, moving under the cover of darkness, began the assault in the early hours of 8 November 2004 prepared by an intense artillery barrage and air attack. This was followed by an attack on the main train station that was then used as a staging point for follow-on forces. By that afternoon, under the protection of intense air cover, Marines entered the Hay Naib al-Dubat and al-Naziza districts. The Marines were followed in by the Navy Seabees of NMCB-4 and NMCB-23 who bulldozed the streets clear of debris from the bombardment that morning. Shortly after nightfall on 9 November 2004, Marines had reportedly reached Phase Line Fran at Highway 10 in the center of the city.
Use of white phosphorus
On 26 November 2004, independent journalist Dahr Jamail was perhaps the first to report on the use of “unusual weapons” used in the November 2004 Battle of Fallujah. U.S. media watchdog group Project Censored awarded Jamail’s story as contributing to the No. 2 under-reported story of the year, “Media Coverage Fails on Iraq”. On 9 November 2005 the Italian state-run broadcaster RAI ran a documentary titled “Fallujah, The Hidden Massacre” depicting what it alleges was the United States’ use of white phosphorus (WP) in the attack causing insurgents and civilians to be killed or injured by chemical burns. The effects of WP were claimed to be very characteristic. Bodies were shown which were partially turned into what appears to be ash, but sometimes the hands of the bodies had skin or skin layers peeled off and hanging like gloves instead. The documentary further claims that the United States used incendiary MK-77 bombs (similar to napalm). The use of incendiary weapons against civilians is illegal by Protocol III of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (1980). The documentary stated:
WP proved to be an effective and versatile munition. We used it for screening missions at two breaches and, later in the fight, as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes when we could not get effects on them with HE. We fired ‘shake and bake’ missions at the insurgents, using WP to flush them out and HE to take them out. .. We used improved WP for screening missions when HC smoke would have been more effective and saved our WP for lethal missions.
The U.S. State Department initially denied using white phosphorus as a munition, a claim later contradicted by the Department of Defense when bloggers discovered a U.S. Army magazine had run a story detailing its use in Fallujah. According to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), quoted by the RAI documentary, WP is allowed as an illumination device, not as an offensive weapon if its chemical properties are put to use. The OPCW has also stated that it is the toxic properties of white phosphorus that are prohibited and the use of its heat may not be prohibited. The U.S. government maintains its denial of WP use against civilians, but has admitted its use as an offensive weapon against enemy combatants. An article in Washington Post exactly a year before also pointed out the use of white phosphorus in the battle, but attracted little attention.
White phosphorus, when used for screening or as a marker, or used as an incendiary against combatant forces, is not banned by Protocol III of the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. But if used as a weapon in a civilian area, it would be prohibited. The protocol specifically excludes weapons whose incendiary effect is secondary, such as smoke grenades. This has been often read as excluding white phosphorus munitions from this protocol, as well. Washington has not signed the treaty among countries in the world which prohibits the use of white phosphorus