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September 13, 2004

Fallujah Brigade Disbanded After Joining the Resistance


by Brian Dominick
The NewStandard

Three weeks after initially suggesting the U.S.-created "Fallujah Brigade" had long since served its purpose, and one week after a clash between Brigade members and U.S. Marines left four Iraqis dead, American and Iraqi officials announced the official dissolution of the controversial unit Saturday, the LA Times reports. But as U.S. pilots continue to bombard areas of Fallujah, reports suggest the city is still very much in rebel control – possibly reinvigorated by the dispersal of the controversial Brigade.

After four months in operation, apparently enjoying effective autonomy from U.S. and Iraqi government command, the Brigade has been deemed more trouble than it was worth.

According to some Brigade members, though, the trouble is just beginning. Many of them now reportedly plan to fight openly against U.S. occupation forces and Iraqi security personnel, using U.S.-supplied weapons against U.S. Marines if the latter are ordered to re-invade Fallujah, as many expect.

The Fallujah Brigade was officially inaugurated on April 30, at the end of a month-long siege by U.S. Marines of the rebellious Sunni Muslim city 60 km (37 mi.) west of Baghdad. The Brigade's formation was part of a truce negotiated between the U.S. military and resistance leaders. Under the terms of the agreement, the Brigade – which was hurriedly equipped, armed, trained and salaried by the United States – was to patrol the tumultuous city of Fallujah alongside Iraqi Police and National Guardsmen.

However, most members of the Fallujah Brigade were former Saddam loyalists; and among them, many had also been involved in the previous month's defense of Fallujah against U.S. forces. According to numerous accounts, some Brigade members almost immediately integrated themselves among the various mujahideen resistance outfits that dominate the city to this day, collecting paychecks from the U.S. military all the while.

One Brigade leader expressed exasperation at the disbanding of the unit. "We don't know where to go now after this dismissal by the American troops and the Iraqi interim government," Brig. Gen. Tayseer Latief told the Times. "They leave us no other option but to join the resistance."

Many members of the Brigade saw their role outlined by the Fallujah truce arrangement as providing for peace between Fallujans, with whom they sympathized, and the U.S. occupation forces. Even though they were nominally aligned with the Marines, their allegiance to the people of Fallujah was never a secret.

Another Fallujah Brigade officer, Maj. Abed Abaas, echoed Latief's disappointment. "This was a great violation to the members of the brigade by the American forces and the Iraqi interim government," Abaas told the Times. "Dissolving the Fallujah Brigade, they broke the truce agreed upon last April. ..."

In reality, the largest change for many of the Brigade's members – originally 1,600 strong – will not be which side they are on, but rather the impending absence of a steady, substantial salary supplied by the occupiers against whom they were already fighting. Numerous journalists have reported observing Fallujah Brigade members, Iraqi Policemen and Iraqi National Guardsmen (formerly the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps) working in open collusion with mujahideen throughout the city.

The U.S. military has provided the Brigade with assault rifles, vehicles and even a base. Col. Jerry L. Durrant of the U.S. Marine Corps, who oversees relations with Iraqi forces, doubted the value of trying to recover equipment already distributed to Fallujah Brigade members, many of whom have reportedly long since discarded their U.S.-supplied uniforms in favor of Saddam-era battle dress. Durrant, speaking to the Times, called the Fallujah Brigade experiment a "fiasco" and accused its members of having already stolen air conditioners provided them by the U.S.

On Aug. 14, United Press International reported that U.S. commanders planned on dissolving the renegade unit one week later, on the 21st, after it had become obvious the Fallujah Brigade was in total disarray. Fallujah Brigade personnel were also suspected of involvement in the murder of an Iraqi National Guard commander as well as several kidnappings.

But at least some Brigade posts were still staffed as late as Sept. 3, when the UK Press Association reported U.S. tanks shelled a checkpoint manned by Brigade members, killing four Iraqis and wounding six others. U.S. officials later told reporters that Iraqi personnel provoked the skirmish by first opening fire on Marines. Fallujah hospital officials reported that two of the dead and four of the injured in that incident were civilians.

In a previous incident, U.S. helicopters flying over the now-abandoned Fallujah Brigade base sustained heavy ground fire, which hit one pilot in the face, according to Maj. Durrant.

Fallujah was the first of a handful of cities in the so-called "Sunni Triangle" to win relative if temporary autonomy from U.S. occupation forces. Resistance fighters in other localities have since followed suit, including Ramadi, Samarra and Baquba. U.S. troops have been unable to enter Fallujah since May 1, except while escorted by Iraqi security forces.

American pilots have struck the city of 300,000 more than a dozen times since ground forces pulled out last spring, however. In fact, they have bombed the city nightly for the better part of the past week, each time striking what U.S. military officials say are terrorist "safehouses." On nearly every such occasion, hospital officials have said the strikes killed or wounded women, children and others presumed to be noncombatants.

New doubt was recently cast on the validity of U.S. targets by an unusual source: In a video the UK Guardian says is being distributed in markets all over Fallujah, unidentified captors reportedly execute an Egyptian man who says his name is Muhammad Fauzi Abdul Aíal Mutwali. Before he is beheaded, Mutwali confesses to having been offered $150 apiece to plant homing devices in the houses of suspected insurgents around the city, to be used to help U.S. pilots hit specific targets in the city.

In the past, the tactic of using paid informants to determine targets has received criticism for its arbitrary nature and its potential for abuse by competing parties on the ground. This is especially applicable in cases where damage cannot be assessed by the military, and thus informants cannot be held accountable for providing invalid targets.

While the U.S. military enjoys unbridled control of the skies above Fallujah, the streets appear to belong exclusively to a cabal of some 20 militias whose leaders have begun to meet and coordinate defense of the brazen city, the Guardian reports.

One of the most prominent critics of the strategy U.S. commanders have used against Fallujah is a local businessman named Muhammad Hassan Al-Balwa, who used to head the city council before resigning in protest over the Marines' April assault. Quoted in the Guardian, Al-Balwa said disparate militia organizations run the entire city in concert with the various security forces. "Nobody can say they are controlling Fallujah," he said. "There are many sectors of power and there is nothing in common between their aims and their slogans."

According to Al-Balwa, reports the Guardian, the resistance factions fit into one of three categories: Islamic fundamentalists, Saddam loyalists and tribal nationalists. Together, though, the groups reportedly rule Fallujah under an extremist interpretation of Islamic law and mete out severe punishments for various crimes ranging from theft to collaborating with the enemy.

Al-Balwa further claims to have warned the U.S. such a scenario would come to pass if occupation forces did not change their approach to Fallujah. "I told the Americans, 'If the people do not see any change, then the resistance will become bigger and stronger.'"


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Brian Dominick is co-founder of PeoplesNetWorks and Middle East Editor at The NewStandard.

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