Reflections on Haditha

Iraqi child from Barwana attack receiving treatment at Al Asad Air Base after being rushed to the hospital by the Marines of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines. Photograph by SSgt Beckstead.. Click image to view.

Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan: The accusations of a Marine “massacre” in Haditha continue to dominate the headlines, but the fact is we still do not know what happened in the city on November 19th, 2005 in the aftermath of the roadside bombing on the Marine patrol. What we do know is one Marine from Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment was killed and another wounded, and in the subsequent violence 24 Iraqi civilians were killed, some with gunshots to the head and chest. The news reports portray the event as a cold blooded murder and massacre, but it is possible the Marines, in a rare instance of a breakdown in discipline, violated the rules of engagement and used excessive force. Until the results of the investigation are released, we have no way of knowing.

The Haditha Triad region, located along the Euphrates River in the heart of the Sunni Triangle just west of Ramadi, was the area of operations for the Marines of the 3/1 from September 2005 until March of 2006. This is the region where Abu Musab al-Zarqawi attempted to establish the “Islamic Republic of Haditha.” During the summer of 2005, al Qaeda drove off the local police and intimidated, murdered and tortured those who opposed them. Zarqawi is said to have personally conducted public execution on the Barwana bridge those he as deemed impure – homosexuals, spies, adulterers and those who sold alcohol and music,

At the beginning of December of 2005, I embedded with the Marines of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, just after they liberated the region from al Qaeda’s grip during Operation Rivergate. I spent nearly two weeks in the Haditha Triad. I patrolled the streets of Haqlaniyah with 2nd Squad, Second Platoon, Lima Company and an Iraqi squad. I witnessed India Company provide for the security for the people of Barwana to allow them to vote in the historic December 15th election. I patrolled the Euphrates River with the Marines of the 3/1’s Dam Security Unit and watched them search river traffic for weapons smugglers. In every interaction with the Marines of the 3/1, I saw them serve with distinction, as a proud and professional combat unit.

The Marines based in the Triad, as elsewhere along the Euphrates River Valley, were fighting a tough counterinsurgency against a ruthless and often unseen enemy. al Qaeda and the insurgency routinely used women as human shields, attacked from the middle of crowded locations, homes, schools and mosques, and showed a reckless disregard for civilian casualties. Assassinations of local tribal leaders cooperating with the Iraqi government was the norm, as were mortar, grenade, RPG and roadside bombing attacks. al Qaeda formed military hit squads designed to provoke the Marines into violent reactions and cause civilian casualties. The al Qaeda teams were well armed, possessed new weapons, wore body armor and were well financed.

The strict rules of engagement (ROE) the Marines had to adhere to was of great of interest to me. The rules of engagement defined the operating procedures for the Marines when patrolling, setting up checkpoints, searching homes, taking hostile fire, and reacting to ambushes or roadside bombs. When coming under fire, the Marines had to follow a predefined set of rules on the escalation of force, to ensure an inordinate amount of force was used, which can potentially alienate the population.

I was curious about how the Marines felt about operating in a difficult combat environment. And I didn’t ask the officers about the Rules of Engagement, I asked the privates and lance corporals and sergeants – the Marines who walked the streets each and every day and put their our lives on the line. To a man, the Marines I spoke to in the 3/1 stated that while the strict rules of engagement often put them at greater risk of death or injury, they understood the need follow these rules. They understood the war had switched from kinetic war fighting to standard counterinsurgency operations, where the support of the civilian population is paramount to the success of the mission. I watched these young men in operation, and am proud of their professionalism.

The media will not tell you how the Marines of the 3/1 retook the Haditha Triad region during Operation Rivergate in the fall of 2005 with minimal civilian casualties. The operation was planned in such a meticulous manner and with the intention to safeguard the residents of the city of Haditha that no civilian, Marine or Iraqi casualties were taken. The media won’t tell you how the Marines worked for days on end to ensure a safe environment for the Iraqi people to exercise their right to vote in the December 15 Parliamentary elections. You won’t hear about how a young Marine, upon positively identifying a vehicle that was used to attack Marines and Iraqi civilians alike, chased the car, on foot, through the streets of Haqlaniyah, and held his fire while the car escaped as he feared injuring civilians. You won’t hear about how,after Election Day, insurgents mortared the polling center in Barwana, and killed five children and wounded several others. The Marines of the 3/1 rushed the children to Al Asad Airbase for medical treatment, and saved the life of one Iraqi child.

You won’t hear the story about Ayman, an Iraqi policeman from the city of Haditha, who fought al Qaeda during the summer of 2005. Ayman was captured by insurgents, beaten, tortured and then had his left hand and foot cut off as punishment for his opposition to the jihadis. He was subsequently dumped in front of his home and left to die. Fearing for his family’s safety, Ayman hobbled to Haditha Dam, about 4 miles away, and sought the help of the Marines of the 3/1. Ayman was taken in, and a Marine staff sergeant was able to get a doctor from the United States to send a prosthetic foot, which allowed Ayman to walk again.

These stories don’t fit the preconceived story line of a military victimized, worn down and driven to depths of depravity due to a failed enterprise in Iraq, and so therefore they are not told.

The charges leveled against the Marines of Kilo Company are serious and deserve to be investigated. The Marines deserve to have judgment withheld until the investigation is completed and the results released. Prejudging these Marines, as has been done in numerous media outlets and by a sitting member of the U.S. House of Representatives, is irresponsible. No matter what the results of the investigation, anything but a charge of murder will now be viewed as whitewash. Our Marines deserve far better than this.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.



  • Sergeant Describes Hunt for Insurgents in Haditha

    I have learned through the experience of standing up for 2nd Lt. Ilario Pantano just how wrong the media can be. They never apologize, either. They have one helluva lot of nerve to press President Bush to admit to mistakes when they don’t even recogniz…

  • More On Haditha From Someone Who Was There

    We learned from Time magazine’s justification for their mistakes and outright lies about Haditha that their reporting methodology consisted of sending emails back and forth to Thaer Thabit al-Hadithi and other “witnesses”.

  • Reflections on Haditha

    Courtesy of the Counterterrorism Blog:
    By Bill Roggio
    Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan: The accusations of a Marine “massacre”

  • Op For says:

    Belleau Wood, June 1918

    Matt and the crew at Blackfive beat me to a Belleau Wood post, which I commend to your attention. That month-long battle was fought by 4th Marine Brigade, which was part of the U.S. Army’s 2nd Infantry Division. (The division’s…


Islamic state



Al shabaab

Boko Haram