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FishForLunch
04-14-2004, 10:12 PM
In 'Classic Urban Warfare,' Marines Claw Way Through Town
By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN

Published: April 14, 2004

FALLUJA, Iraq, April 14 American forces killed more than 100 insurgents in close quarter combat in a small village in central Iraq, Marine commanders said today.

The battle, classic urban combat that raged for 14 hours on Tuesday, was one of the heaviest engagements since the invasion of Iraq last year. It showed not only the intensity of the resistance but an acute willingness to die.


"A lot of these guys were souped up on jihad," said Lt. Col. B. P. McCoy, commander of the Fourth Battalion, Third Marine Regiment, whose troops fought the insurgents. "They might as well been suicide fighters."

Marines fought house to house, roof to roof, doorway to doorway. They repelled attacks of machine gun fire, volleys of rockets and repeated charges by masked insurgents, Colonel McCoy said. Two Marines were shot but their injuries were not life threatening. The fighting erupted in the town of Karmah, six miles northeast of Falluja, during a search-and-destroy type mission.

"They hit us with everything they had," said Tom Conroy, a corporal. "This is a whole other world. The hostility is no longer hard stares or dirty looks. It's gunfire."

The fighting in and around Falluja is a throwback to a kind of urban warfare that most marines know only from the movies. It is the grueling, costly conflict American generals were bracing for when they invaded Iraq last year but hadn't seen on this scale until now.

And it does not look like it is letting up, even though United States forces are observing a cease-fire declared five days ago to allow Iraqi negotiators time to reach a peace deal with the insurgents. No deal has been reached yet and fighting continues, often from as close as across the street.

Marine commanders say the enemy in Falluja is increasingly well organized. This morning, a group of 15 insurgents mounted a coordinated assault on marine forces that were stretched thin across a corner of the city. Marines lying on their stomachs along dark rooftops repelled the insurgents but only after calling in helicopter gunships. Some insurgents have been spotted wearing Iraqi police flack jackets that were originally purchased for the Iraqi police by the Americans. The insurgents also used illumination flares during today's attack, another first.

"Last night, they were all around us in front of us, in back of us, everywhere," said Lt. Lewis Langella, who commands a squad of snipers and infantryman overlooking blocks of hostile turf on Falluja's outskirts. "They were throwing a whole lot of lead at us, and we were throwing a whole lot back."

For the past week, marines have been fortifying positions across this dusty city of monochromatic tan brick. Even though urban warfare is compact and fluid, there is still a battlefield and front lines. Here the front line is a line of rooftops occupied by marines looking down on deserted, garbage strewn streets.

One of the most important tools for this form of warfare actually belongs in a garden shed: the sledgehammer.

Today, marines punched "mouse holes," spaces just big enough for gun barrels to stick out, in the brick walls of the homes they occupied. They also smashed windows to scatter shards of glass across the front steps.

"It's an early warning system," Capt. Shannon Johnson explained, as he crunched noisily across the glass. "Something the old guys taught us."

Nearby, a squad of young men with crewcuts swung heavy hammers under a punishing sun. They were knocking down the low walls along the rooftops so they could move seamlessly from roof to roof across a system of catwalks.

"This is classic urban warfare," said Maj. General Jim Mattis, commander of the First Marine Division. "It's all the stuff World War II taught us, along with Korea, Vietnam and Somalia. People will be studying Falluja for years to come."

The weaponry being unleashed in Falluja mostly low-tech weapons like machine guns and mortars is also reminiscent of earlier wars. There have been a few guided-missile attacks from the air. But Falluja is so densely populated 300,000 people live in a grid of only a few square miles that marine commanders have been reluctant to call in air strikes for fear of killing civilians.

"And we don't want to rubblize the city," said Colonel McCoy, whose battalion of 800 men clashes daily with insurgents. "That will give the enemy more places to hide."

Every night, the quiet is shattered by the constant whoosh and bang, whoosh and bang of mortars. There are always a few seconds between the launch a loud whoosh as the shell blasts out of the tube and the thunderous bang when the shell slams into the ground. Two marines were injured today during a mortar attack on their headquarters at the outskirts of the city.

Falluja, 35 miles west of Baghdad, is predominantly Sunni Muslim and was closely tied to Saddam Hussein through tribal alliances. The town has been intensely anti-American since the invasion of Iraq. Two weeks ago, insurgents in Falluja ambushed and killed four American security consultants and a mob dragged their bodies through the streets afterwards. That attack precipitated the marine assault, which seemed to make Falluja even more anti-occupation, anti-American than ever.

F-Town, as many marines call it, has become the bitter heart of the resistance.

"It's their Superbowl," said Maj. T.V. Johnson, a Marine spokesman. "Falluja is the place to go if you want to kill Americans."