View Full Version : Fallujah's farms offer respite from city fighting

04-23-04, 05:32 AM
Fallujah's farms offer respite from city fighting


FALLUJAH, Iraq ---- Just a mile from where Marines and rebels are busy killing each other in this embattled city, other American troops are getting on fine with locals, making medical house calls and sharing home-cooked meals.

Marines from Camp Pendleton's Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment are spread out around the northwest corner of Fallujah where the city's cramped urban quarters quickly melt into the marshy farmland along the banks of the Euphrates River.

While two-thirds of the company's men have been engaged in heavy fighting along the urban fringe, the other third has been stationed among the friendly farm folk who don't seem to want much to do with the anti-American cause.

"It's like another world," 1st Lt. Ross Schellhaas, Fox Company's executive officer, said Thursday after returning from a patrol to a roadblock near some fields. "We're doing more of the SASO (security and stabilization operations) stuff. It's more hearts and minds over here."

Before the Marines arrived in this rebel-infested Sunni heartland west of Baghdad in March, they had trained for several months on how to win over Iraqis to the coalition cause by politely inspecting vehicles, smiling and waving, and handing out candy to the kids ---- all the while going after the few "bad guys" they said were spoiling it for everyone else.

But within days of arriving in the region, the Marines were embroiled in a costly guerrilla war. And within weeks, they had besieged Fallujah.

Since surrounding the city on April 5, the Marines have waged a bloody fight to maintain their stranglehold on the city and isolate the insurgents inside.

For a while, it was all-out war, and every resident was a potential guerrilla.

But when most of the fighting stopped during a cease-fire ---- which has been honored enough to keep U.S. and Iraqi officials talking about a possible political solution to the standoff ---- the Marines found friends among Fallujah's farmers and other rural residents.

Among a population they say needs to be watched, but not always feared, the Marines' humanitarian training has come in handy.

"We feel pretty comfortable here," said Sgt. Cody Boswell, 25, of Salem, Ore., who led a patrol checking cars with passengers who wanted to carry food and supplies through the military cordon into the Marine-held security zone between the Euphrates, the main rail line and the city.

"Neighbors bring us food," Boswell said, waving a family across. "We help them get their animals across, carry food and fuel and stuff ---- basically help with anything we can do within our power. It's more hearts and minds here, but still you have to be on guard; you never know."

In the nearly three weeks the platoon has controlled the zone, the troops have found only one suspected insurgent: a man with a sniper rifle tucked under his car seat.

"They seem like they're another village ---- not Fallujah," Boswell said of the locals. "One man even said, 'If my son was Mujahadeen, I would turn him in myself.' I said, 'Wow! Well. O.K. then!'"

Schellhaas said the Marines have paid local farmers hundreds of dollars for damage done to their fields. And some have given residents cash for cab rides from the roadblock so that they could travel around the city to a point in the south where some residents are allowed in to check on their homes or bring food and supplies to their families still inside.

He said many who arrive at the checkpoint say they want to return to their homes to live in the city, despite the fighting.

"I feel guilty because we've had such an impact on their lives," he said. "They say they had more freedom under Saddam Hussein. I just try to tell them that when we get this whole thing straightened out, they can get back to their normal lives. But this just isn't a place you want to take your family ---- at least not yet."

After searching a dilapidated Land Cruiser taxi for guns and explosives, Lance Cpl. Carlos Martinez told a man that he and his boys could get back in the vehicle and continue down a dusty farm road along the tracks. They obeyed; the man acted a bit uptight but the boys were smiling and chatting in hushed tones as they pointed to the Marines' weapons.

Martinez said he sympathized with the people for the inconvenience the Marines' cordon has caused. Some have fields and property on both sides of the Marines' lines, and have to be searched every time they come and go.

For the most part, he said, they are understanding. A few, however, do get testy.

"Of course!" Martinez said. "I would be, too. But most of them around here are pretty nice."

With the help of "Sammy," the Marines' East African interpreter, the troops chatted and joked with locals at the roadblock Thursday.

They asked men what their families needed, explained and re-explained the reason for the cordon around Fallujah, and promised better days to come.

The troops seemed to know many of the locals personally and asked questions about family members that only a friend would know to ask.

Lance Cpl. Joseph McCarthy, 21, of Fallbrook, squatted to give candy to a cute little girl and two skinny boys. He smiled and laughed when one of the boys tried to bargain for more.

He said that having such close interaction and being able to help Iraqis was more of what he expected to be doing when he deployed to Iraq.

Like most of the men in 2/1 ---- as the battalion is known ---- McCarthy spent several months in Nasiriyah, Iraq, last year during the official war. While they were fired on occasionally by snipers, they mostly walked freely among the people and said they felt a bond of friendship by the time they left.

Out at this particularly friendly edge of Fallujah Thursday, McCarthy and his cohorts seemed like they were doing their best to build a similar legacy here, despite the violence that rages nearby.

While the other troops piled onto Humvees to move on to the next stop Thursday, and while Sammy the translator paid one of the neighbors for some bread and eggs for the troops' dinner, McCarthy helped an Iraqi boy cross the checkpoint.

With a propane tank over his shoulder and the little boy tugging at his arm, McCarthy swaggered towards the tracks.

"Hearts and minds, gents," he said out of one side of his mouth. "Hearts and minds."


Marine Lance Cpl. Joseph McCarthy, 21, from Fallbrook, hands candy out to Iraqi children who approached him at a military checkpoint west of Fallujah, Iraq on Thursday.



04-23-04, 05:34 AM
U.S. Moves to Rehire Some From Baath Party, Military <br />
<br />
By Robin Wright, Washington Post Staff Writer <br />
<br />
The United States is moving to rehire former members of Iraq (news - web sites)'s ruling...

04-23-04, 05:38 AM
Submitted by: Headquarters Marine Corps Media
Story Identification Number: 2004422175143
Story by Jim Garamone, American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON(April 22, 2004) -- It's a matter of "days not weeks" for Fallujans to demonstrate they are serious about honoring the agreement they made earlier this week, Coalition Provisional Authority spokesmen in Iraq said today.

Speaking during a Baghdad press conference, senior spokesman Dan Senor said Fallujans must turn over illegal heavy weapons and they must work "to remove foreign fighters, drug users, former Special Republican Guard, former Fedayeen Saddam and other serious, dangerous and violent criminals operating out of Fallujah."

U.S. Marines stand ready to restart offensive operations in Fallujah. The 1st Marine Expeditionary Force declared a unilateral cease-fire in the city April 9. Members of the Iraqi Governing Council have spoken with officials in Fallujah in hopes of defusing the situation and getting anti-coalition forces there under control.

"While we continue to be hopeful based on the intentions of those with whom we have been negotiating … we do caution that we are in a mode right now of days, not weeks," Senor said. "Time is running out. We want to reach a peaceful resolution to the Fallujah situation."

Coalition military spokesman Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt called on those inside Fallujah to demonstrate leadership and convince the anti-coalition elements to lay down their arms. He said the coalition does not want more bloodshed, but is ready to resume offensive operations if needed. He said a further fight in the city can be avoided "if those leaders show leadership and go back and persuade the people that are holding their city hostage that this is the best deal that they're going to get."

Kimmitt said the heavy-arms turn-in has been something of a joke. The weapons turned over to Marines fit into the bed of a pick-up truck and were mostly outdated weapons or training rounds. "(We're) looking for a serious engagement, serious discussions from people who can deliver and not bring in rubbish or trash or junk," Kimmitt said. "(We're looking for) the heavy weapons that have been responsible for the recent engagements in Fallujah."

Operations continue throughout Iraq. There were 10 attacks in the north over the past 24 hours, Kimmitt said. Five of those attacks were aimed at Task Force Olympia personnel or members of the Iraqi security forces.

In the 1st Infantry Division's north-central area, Big Red One soldiers conducted a series of raids against safe houses near Balad, used by militia loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, Kimmitt said. The raids resulted in the detention of six targeted individuals and 15 other men.

The 1st Cavalry Division's Task Force Baghdad captured 18 enemy personnel and confiscated a large amount of ammunition over the past 24 hours.

In the western zone, three attacks took place against coalition and Iraqi security forces. Kimmitt said coalition forces continue to see anti-coalition forces fighting from fortified positions, misusing mosques as weapons storage sites and using them as command and control nodes.

Outside Fallujah, the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force continues aggressive patrols and offensive operations outside Fallujah. The Marines had to halt the movement of humanitarian assistance into Fallujah due to attacks on coalition forces. They have since resumed, military officials in Baghdad said.

In Basra, coalition forces are helping local authorities recover after the April 21 terror attacks, Kimmitt said. A total of 68 Iraqis were killed in a series of car bomb attacks. Many of those the terrorists killed were schoolchildren.



04-23-04, 05:38 PM




Press Release 04-021

April 21, 2004

Anti-Iraqi Forces Deliberately Disregard Peace Initiatives With Attacks

Today Marines near Fallujah continued to defend against Anti-Iraqi Force attackers, who have disregarded the peace initiatives there.

Approximately 40-60 AIF attacked Marines at 6:30 a.m. this morning with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades. Marine battlefield reports stated the RPG fire was so intense there were “too many to count.”

One company of Marines engaged in the battle reported hearing music lyrics, “God is good, God is great. Holy warriors come out to fight.”

A nearby mosque was heard broadcasting messages and giving orders, telling people to “rise up and fight.”

An AIF sniper engaged Marines during the fight, but with poorly aimed shots having little effect. One report from a Marine in the fight stated, “The enemy sniper can hide well, but not shoot well.”

At 11 a.m., a Marine sniper reported killing an AIF sniper.

Marines responded to the attacks with overwhelming small arms and mortar fire, as well as close-air support, killing 36 AIF.



04-23-04, 06:21 PM

Marines Write to Comfort Kin of Comrades, and Themselves

Custom and friendship are behind letters eulogizing troops who gave their lives in Iraq.

By Tony Perry, Times Staff Writer

FALLOUJA, Iraq — On the ground floor of a squalid public-housing project turned makeshift military base, sad letters are being written.

Marines are writing to the families of those killed during the initial push to rid this Sunni Triangle city of insurgents.

"Your husband/son/brother was an excellent Marine, admired by his peers, respected by his superiors, and he died doing his duty," many of the letters will say, or versions thereof.

Among the fallen Marines is Lance Cpl. Robert Zurheide, 20, of Tucson, whose wife will soon give birth to their first child. His buddies want to make sure that someday Zurheide's child will know of his sense of humor, strength of character and bravery.

No law requires these letters to be written, only custom. In the Marine Corps, custom is a potent call.

"Words can't stop the family's pain, but at least we can tell them there are others grieving alongside them," said Lt. Col. Gregg Olson, commanding officer of the 2nd Battalion, 1st Regiment of the 1st Marine Division. He has had to write several of these letters, and more are possible as the Marines stand ready to assault the insurgent stronghold in the core of the city.

The letters may take weeks to be delivered. Letters from officers are being collected here at the Marine encampment on the city's outskirts. They are being typed and corrected for spelling.

But enlisted Marines, some hunkered down in bullet-riddled homes awaiting orders to begin an assault, also are encouraged to write down their memories. Some use scraps of paper, others the sides of cardboard boxes that carry Meals Ready to Eat.

Troops remembered Zurheide's sense of humor, his love of singing and playing guitar, his occasional displays of dancing and his joy at showing the ultrasound picture of his unborn child.

"We want his child to know his dad was a good Marine. He never balked, he always volunteered, he went out of his way to help others," said 2nd Lt. Ben Wagner, commanding officer of Zurheide's platoon.

The chaplain also will write a letter, reminding Zurheide's widow that as a woman of faith, she knows that someday she and her husband will be reunited. Until then, said Lt. Scott Radetski, the letters and small memories "will help bridge the gap."

The formal notification process — the dreaded "knock on the door" — will already have taken place, within a few days of the death. An officer in dress blues, other Marines, a chaplain and sometimes a medic will bring the news to the family.

Letters are considered a "follow-on." They will arrive after the funeral and the initial rush of support from families and friends — as the chronic ache has begun to set in.

"It is clear to all who knew [the Marine] that he was raised by loving parents," said a letter to the mother and father of a young man killed in a firefight.

When mail delivery is too slow, messages can be relayed by e-mail from a Marine at one of the larger encampments with Internet connections. That is being done for the family of Lance Cpl. Brad Shuder, 21, of El Dorado Hills east of Sacramento, who died in the same firefight as Zurheide.

Shuder's funeral is scheduled for Friday, and members of his platoon want their comments included. "His family was legendary in its support of the Marines," Wagner said.

Capt. James Zembiec said the letters "can never be enough" to ease the family's pain. He has written to the kin of Shuder and Zurheide.

"I hope what I wrote will at least let them know their sons didn't die in vain," he said. "They died trying to bring peace to a violent and chaotic part of the world."

The letter-writing process helps the surviving Marines as well. They take comfort in the thought that the missives are helping a dead friend's family.

"That's how Marines grieve," said 1st Sgt. James Madden, who has been in the Corps for 22 years. "We take care of our own."