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THE CONFLICT IN IRAQ

Ineffective Iraqi Force in Fallouja Disbanded

The move is a setback to Marines, who hoped the brigade would quell the insurgency in the city.

September 11, 2004|Alissa J. Rubin | Times Staff Writer

RAMADI, Iraq — The Iraqi military force formed by the Marines in a last-ditch effort to pacify the restive city of Fallouja has been disbanded in the face of continuing violence, assaults on government security forces and evidence that some members have been working openly with insurgents.

The dissolution of the Fallouja Brigade, created during the spring to avoid an all-out assault on the insurgent hotbed, marked a significant setback for the U.S. military. The Americans had hoped that the brigade, composed of former members of the Iraqi army and Saddam Hussein's special security forces, would work alongside the new Iraqi government and help restore order.

"The Fallouja Brigade is done, over," said Marine Col. Jerry L. Durrant, who oversees the 1st Marine Expeditionary Unit's involvement with Iraqi security forces. "The whole Fallouja Brigade thing was a fiasco. Initially it worked out OK, but it wasn't a good idea for very long."

Durrant did not say what the Marines might do next, but U.S. warplanes Friday bombed Fallouja for the fourth consecutive day and the air campaign was expected to continue and possibly intensify. Friday's air attack targeted earth-moving equipment being used by insurgents to build fighting positions, a Marine spokesman said.

With the demise of the Fallouja Brigade -- agreed to by the interim Iraqi government and the Marines -- the Marines are left with no attractive options for rooting out Fallouja's entrenched insurgency. The rebel movement has spread to surrounding villages and left the interim Iraqi government without control of one of the nation's largest cities west of Baghdad. Marines remain based as close as two miles from Fallouja, but the insurgents -- local and foreign fighters backed by firebrand Sunni Muslim clerics -- have had several months to dig in and make it more difficult for American troops or Iraqi government forces to launch a ground attack.

The development comes as U.S. forces try to reestablish Iraqi government control in several insurgent bastions, including Samarra, to the north of Baghdad, just months before scheduled national elections.

Gen. Abdullah Hamid Wael, the brigade's latest leader, announced the dissolution Thursday night on instructions from the Defense Ministry.

Speaking at an Iraqi military base west of Fallouja, Wael read from a ministry statement that said "any member of the brigade can, as an individual, join the Iraqi national guard or the Iraqi police."

Discontent rippled through the group, many of whose members had hoped that it would remain intact and eventually become a unit of the new army. Judging by members' comments, it seemed likely that some would openly rejoin the insurgency, in which many had been involved before joining the brigade. In doing so, they would be able to fight with weapons provided to them by the Marines, who also paid them monthly salaries.

That will make it all the more difficult for U.S. troops and Iraqi government forces to retake Fallouja -- currently a "no go" area for U.S. forces.

"We don't know where to go now after this dismissal by the American troops and the Iraqi interim government," said Brig. Gen. Tayseer Latief of the brigade. "They leave us no other option but to join the resistance."

Defense Ministry officials declined to comment Friday.

When the brigade was established, Marine commanders acknowledged that many members either were insurgent fighters or had connections to them. The insurgents waged intense battles against Marines for weeks in April.

The goal in forming the force was to avoid a bloodbath by allowing the Marines to withdraw from the city but leaving a proxy force to tamp down insurgent activity and arrest those responsible for the killings of four U.S. civilian security contractors March 31.

Initially, Marine commanders said the brigade would root out anti-American forces and target foreign fighters. The Marines hoped that the brigade members, with their military training and pride in having responsibility for their town, would stand up against those fighting the U.S. military and Iraqi interim government forces.

Empowering a force made up of Iraqis would move "Iraqi stakeholders ... to try to contribute to solving some of the challenges and problems," Marine Col. John Coleman said in a July interview.

Coleman acknowledged that the brigade was "a nascent military capability at best," but one that enabled the Marines to get out of the city where their presence had become a rallying call for the insurgency.

In the month after the brigade's formation, "the enemy activity in this zone dropped to almost zero," he said. But it then began to climb back to the level it had been before the killing of the U.S. civilian contractors, whose remains were mutilated.

In the end, most brigade members' prior allegiance to the insurgency proved impossible to sever.

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