A small scale attack on the Fallujah Government Center; Fallujah Police form the SMG
FALLUJAH, IRAQ: As the American mission in Iraq is increasingly focusing on transitioning security responsibilities to the Iraqi Security Forces, the American Military and Police Transition Teams are becoming the focal points of Iraq policy. At the Iraqi Government Center in the heart of the city of Fallujah, the Police Transition Team (PTT) of the 3rd Battalion, 14th Marines is working to organize the local police and teach them to operate independently. The Fallujah PTT is commanded by Major Brian Lippo, a Marine Reservist and former Philadelphia policeman who works for the FBI. One of the primary missions of the PTT is to facilitate communications between the Fallujah Police, the Iraqi Army and the Marines in the Joint Command Center.
The Government Center occupies several city blocks, and contains the Fallujah Police headquarters, the Major Crimes police division, the mayor’s office, a company of Iraqi Army accompanied by a Marine Military Transition Team, and Charlie Company of the 1st Battalion, 24th Marines. The Government Center is largely secured by the Iraqi police, who man the gates and outer security watchtowers.
The city of Fallujah has been locked down since Operation al-Fajr in November of 2004. Residents are required to possess identification badges. The large traffic arteries into the city are controlled by six Entry Control Points (or ECPs), which are manned jointly by the Fallujah Police, Iraqi Army and U.S. Marines. The city is also ringed by outposts manned by Iraqi Army and Marines.
Yet despite the cordon, Fallujah is not completely sealed. Al-Qaeda and insurgents are able to slip through the deserts to the south and west of the city.
Al-Qaeda in Iraq is the driving force behind the attacks inside Fallujah, according to military and intelligence officers, as well as the Iraqi police. Al-Qaeda’s primary advantages are leadership and organizational capabilities, and most significantly, cash. With the high levels of unemployment in Anbar province and the abundance of ‘military aged males’ or MAMs, al Qaeda uses abundant cash supplies to fund insurgent attacks against the U.S. military, the Iraqi Army and the local police.
The Iraqi police are a prime target for several reasons. As the police force is made up largely of local Fallujans (over 95% of the force is local), the police possess local knowledge of the city and have their own contacts and intelligence networks. Al-Qaeda has conducted a campaign of intimidation and terror against police and their families. Twenty-two police have been killed in Fallujah since the 3/14 PTT has been in the city, including a respected police captain.
The police are a soft target for al Qaeda. They are the most lightly armed and armored units in the city. While the Marines and Iraqi Army patrol in up-armored humvees with heavy weapons, the police drive white painted unarmored Nissan pickup trucks and carry AK-47s and PKCs. The police have begun a program to add armor plating to the doors, and are set to receive 11 armored humvees in the middle of December.
Violence and attacks are a near-daily occurrence inside Fallujah. Just yesterday, a Fallujah Police patrol was hit with an IED. Marines were patrolling across the river from the Fallujah hospital and came under small arms fire from insurgents. One Marine was killed, and two were wounded. The attackers are believed to have fled to Fallujah Hospital, as the Marines heard a call from a mosque requesting blood donors.
The Marines requested the police follow up and search the hospital. The patrol was dispatched, and was hit almost immediately with a roadside bomb at one of the most dangerous intersections in the city. Ten women and children were killed in the bombing, according to the police. Three policemen were wounded, and the vehicle was devastated. Dozens of police trucks have been taken off the line by roadside attacks over the past several months.
Today, the Government Center was hit by a small insurgent attack. Just about ten minutes after noontime prayers, insurgents in a white sedan attacked the northern watchtower, which is manned by police. The police returned fire, and the insurgents fled. The Marines never fired a shot, and the engagement was over by the time we reached the rooftop. Inside the Joint Coordination Center, the Fallujah Police, Iraqi Army and Marines organized a response, and a police patrol and Marines from Charlie 1/24 left the gates shortly afterwards to pursue the attackers. No police or Marines were injured, and the insurgents escaped.
To combat al Qaeda and the insurgency, the Fallujah police are working to build offensive capabilities. One such example is the Special Missions Group, a new, platoon-sized unit of thirty specially selected Fallujah police designated to hunt al Qaeda and insurgents in the city. The Special Missions Group was the vision of a Marine Reserves sergeant in the Police Transition team. The sergeant, who asked not to be identified, is an FBI agent, and has experience with this sort of training.
The Special Missions Group training includes weapons discipline, as the Iraqis are known for firing their weapons liberally when attacked. The Iraqis typically fire their weapons in all direction, in what is known as the “death blossom.” Last week, a policeman was hit in the backside in a death blossom after the Government Center was attacked. The Special Missions Group is also being trained to clear rooms, floor and buildings.
While the Fallujah Police conduct their training, the U.S. and Iraqi Army continue to hunt al Qaeda in the Fallujah region. Yesterday, Iraqi Army Special Forces captured a senior al Qaeda commander believed to be involved in the murder of several police officers and Army personnel, as well as organizing terror cells in Anbar province.
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