5 years, 10 months ago
The final preparations are underway for the U.S. Marines to leave Fallujah.
As part of the reduction of United States troops from Iraq, by Thursday there will be few marines left in or around this mostly Sunni city of about 300,000 people. The closing of Camp Falluja is one of the most prominent symbols yet that America’s presence in the country, which at times had seemed all encompassing, is diminishing.
As recently as a year ago, the base closing was cause for alarm. The calm that seemed to have taken hold here was fragile enough that both Iraqi and American officials feared the potential consequences of the marines’ departure.
Today they look forward to it.
“That will make our job easier,” said Colonel Dowad Muhammad Suliyman, commander of the Falluja Police Department. “The existence of the American forces is an excuse for the insurgents to attack. They consider us spies for the Americans.”
To be sure, the threat of violence has not vanished. But the police said they were proud that a place that suffered a major attack a week just a few years ago has had only two in the last six months.
The view that the town is better off taking care of itself was echoed by residents, even in the neighborhood hit by the most recent big attack, in early December, when suicide truck bombers linked to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia killed 19 people, wounded dozens of others, and leveled nine houses and two police stations.
“Our sons will take care of the security issue,” said Khalil Abrahim, 50, a resident of the neighborhood, as he walked over the rubble of his house, wondering aloud how he could afford to rebuild. “They can do a better job.”
Camp Falluja will be handed over to the Iraqi Army, with most of its marines relocated to Al Asad Air Base, about 90 miles to the west. A smaller contingent will remain at nearby Camp Baharia.
The move reflects the confidence of the American command that major violence will not return here.
“It won’t happen again because the Iraqis don’t want it to happen again,” said Colonel George Bristol, the bald, heavily muscled commanding officer of the First Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group at Camp Falluja.
“We’ve certainly turned a page,” he said. “The conditions are now there where we can close it and turn it over to the people who fought beside us. It’s a great thing. If you look at the city, it has really come to life” …
At Camp Falluja, Major James Gladden and Master Gunnery Sergeant Ray SiFuentes are overseeing the dismantling of a base that had once been home to 14,000 marines and contractors.
The 2,000-acre post had its own fire department, water treatment plant, scrap yard, voter registration booth, ice-making factory, weather station, prison (for insurgents), beauty shop, power plant, Internet café, Turkish bazaar and dog catcher.
Its chapel could fit 800 marines for religious services, a Toby Keith concert or a performance by the Philadelphia Eagles cheerleaders, all of which were held there.
“We had basically everything a small town had,” said Gladden, 34, who is known by other marines as the mayor of Camp Falluja. “Everything except fast-food outlets,” he said, which were deemed too unhealthy.
There are only 200 marines left now, and about 170 truckloads a day leave the base, most headed for other United States military installations.
Even the gaggle of geese from the camp’s artificial pond, which some marines had adopted as pets, has been taken away. One by one, they were trapped and set loose at a larger pond at Camp Baharia.
A good deal of packing up involves making sure nothing is left behind that later could be used against American forces. Obsolete armor for trucks, ballistic glass plates for Humvees and concertina wire are cut to pieces. Thousands of mammoth concrete barriers are being trucked to other military bases.
First of all, this is a testimony to the difficulty of movement of military materiel and relocation of forces. Logistics rules, and we have long said that the logistics officers will determine when the U.S. withdraws from Iraq rather than the politicians.
Second, it is even more a testimony to the bravery of the Marines in Operation Al Fajr, the follow-on operations, and then finally the Marines of 2/6 who conducted Operation Alljah. Three years of blood, sweat and tears have brought Fallujah to this point. The bravery of the Marines has enabled the process to move forward. It’s now time to turn over, and continued presence by the Marines in Anbar would be an improper extension of the the final phase of counterinsurgency. It is finished in Anbar.
Separately from another Marine stationed elsewhere in Iraq (perhaps to the North), The Captain’s Journal has received word that they are engaged only in force protection. There is no combat. It’s time to move on, since the victory has been won.