How Israel's ground invasion of Gaza may echo US' battles over Fallujah

How Israel's ground invasion of Gaza may echo US' battles over Fallujah
7 min read
26 October, 2023
During the initial Battle of Fallujah in early 2004, known as Operation Vigilant Resolve, 38 US troops were killed, over 90 were injured, about 200 Iraqi insurgents or alleged al-Qaida militants were killed, and hundreds of civilians were killed.
A little boy walks past destroyed buildings 04 January 2005, in the destroyed city of Fallujah, 50 kms west of Baghdad. [Getty]

As the Israeli occupation army plans a "ground invasion" of the besieged Gaza Strip following 20 days of indiscriminate airstrikes, many commentators anticipate a disastrous outcome for the Israeli military, reminiscent of the challenges their US military ally faced during the Battle of Fallujah in Iraq in 2004-2006, and since.

In this regard, eyewitnesses and participants from Fallujah's stubborn resistance against the US invasion shared their insights exclusively with The New Arab.  

On 7 October,  Hamas carried out a surprise air, ground, and sea attack in southern Israel, killing at least 1,400 people and taking more than 220 hostages, according to Israeli officials. Prior to that day, it was already the deadliest year for Palestinians and Palestinian minors in the occupied West Bank, with more than 200 killed. 

Israel followed up on the attack by declaring total war on Gaza, sealing it off from water, food, medicine and fuel and bombing the coastal enclave entirely.

As of Thursday, 26 October, 6,546 Palestinians, including over 2,000 children, were killed by Israeli attacks, with 17,436 others wounded, thousands stuck under rubble, and more than one million people displaced, the territory's health ministry has said.

The planned land invasion, which Israel claims aims to end Hamas's rule over Gaza, is expected to triple the civilian casualties count and turn Gaza into a pile of rubble similar to what Iraq's Falluja town experienced when the US army faced fierce resistance from the Iraqis. 

Bringing this parallel to the fore is the news that the Biden administration recently sent Lt. General James Glynn to advise Israel on how to mitigate civilian casualties in Gaza, according to Axios. Glynn helped oversee US special operations in the battle for Iraq's Fallujah town in 2004 and also helped the Iraqi security forces and the global coalition to retake Mosul city from the Islamic State (ISIS), which declared a self-proclaimed Caliphate in 2014 from the city.

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In 2004, US Marines and international coalition troops battled Iraqi insurgents in Fallujah. These conflicts resulted in significant losses for the adversaries while also causing heavy casualties among US and allied forces.

During the initial Battle of Fallujah in early 2004, known as Operation Vigilant Resolve, 38 US troops were killed, over 90 were injured, about 200 Iraqi insurgents or alleged al-Qaida militants were killed, and hundreds of civilians were killed.

 In the second Battle of Fallujah later in 2004, named initially Operation Phantom Fury, U.S. forces had 38 fatalities and 275 injuries, with an estimated 1,000 to 1,500 insurgents killed and another 1,500 injured. These battles were the most significant urban conflicts for US forces following the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq that toppled Saddam Hussein's regime.

Moreover, a considerable part of Fallujah, with a population of 250,000, was left in ruins, requiring extensive reconstruction efforts for residents to return. However, they were displaced once more when the ISIS group emerged and clashed with the Iraqi government in 2014.

US Marines from the 1st Marine Division deployed in the town of al-Nasr Wa al-Salam near Fallujah on 28 March 2004. Two days after battling insurgents in this restive area. [Getty]

"The Iraqi resistance against the American occupation is a complex and prolonged struggle stemming from the aftermath of Iraq's invasion. It began as an extension of the Iraqi army's fight against the occupation, involving high-ranking officers, soldiers, and young Iraqis trained by these officers," an eye witness from Fallujah told TNA, under the condition of anonymity, fearing reprisal from Iraqi and US authorities.

"One crucial example of this resistance is the first Battle of Fallujah, triggered by the US forces' attack on a peaceful demonstration in Fallujah. This marked the start of armed opposition to the occupation, with Fallujah becoming a focal point for the resistance, drawing fighters from across Iraq," the witness remarked. 

The people of Fallujah managed to repel heavily armed American forces until they reached a final agreement with the US occupying forces, after causing them significant losses, including personnel and military equipment.

Due to heavy US bombardment, including the use of white phosphorus and depleted uranium shells, Fallujah has been nearly destroyed. There were claims that the US troops committed war crimes and random executions of civilians

"During this period, around thirty per cent of homes in Fallujah were either destroyed or damaged," the source added. 

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Following the invasion, Iraq's civilian administrator, Paul Bremer, dissolved Iraq's army and then banned top Baath Party members from participating in Iraqi public life. Thousands of the disbanded army and former ruling party became jobless, making them upset and ready to resist Iraq's new realities. 

"The Iraqi occupation exceeded expectations with well-equipped armies, but the resistance found new ways to counter them. Arab volunteer groups coordinated efforts to disable coalition forces' vehicles by wrapping rockets in electrical tape," Abu Ahmad Al-Falluji, a pseudo-name for one of those who fought the US army, told TNA. He refused to share his real name due to possible reprisal by Iraqi or US authorities.  

"Resistance operated in small, decentralised groups for security and used various vehicles for transportation, including abandoned police cars. Some patriotic tribal clans supported the resistance, gaining the trust of the occupiers to camouflage their activities and convey information. Military expertise from former officers was crucial," he said. 

He asserted that the US forces committed war crimes and crimes against humanity by bombing civilian homes and mosques and causing civilian casualties in markets and streets, similar to the current "genocide Israel is committing against the people of Gaza".

According to him, the military tactic behind these "US atrocities" was to create "a rift among the civilians and the resistance". 

"The occupiers used excessive force, targeted houses, and demolished hundreds of mosques; despite this, the resistance remained determined to surprise the enemy and received support from groups in Baghdad, particularly the Sadrists," he emphasised. 


He mentioned that Fallujah, with a population of 200,000, faced devastation, and civilians were forced to evacuate their homes. Israel currently carries out the same policy, but the difference is that the people of Gaza are besieged from all sides with no exit, facing a total massacre.

Historically, the urban war has always been immensely risky for big regular armies and is the most complex for military planners. The area is highly compact, featuring both above-ground buildings and underground networks that offer abundant opportunities for fighters to launch attacks, hide, or move stealthily. 

Hamas has been digging a network of tunnels under Gaza City, coupled with the diverse destruction of the city, the Israeli army is expected to face fierce resistance and heavy death tolls from Hamas militants and civilians.   

"The resistance infiltrated the area, initiating deadly ambushes by strategically selecting locations and timing. They outperformed the US military, causing them significant concern," Al-Falluji stated. 

Abu Qusay Al-Mahmoudi, another nickname for a former Saddam army soldier who participated in the battle for Fallujah, told TNA that the US and their Iraqi allies from the exiled opposition groups had promised the Iraqi people a better future before toppling the Baath regime, but after invading Iraq, those promises were evaporated.  

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"After the occupation of Baghdad, we had no jobs, facing difficulties to earn our daily bread. We had only our military expertise. The mistreatment of citizens bothered us, and discussions led to the idea of resistance," Al-Mahmoudi recounted his experience. "I joined my family in Fallujah to protect them. We discreetly acquired weapons, improved our situation, and planted explosives regularly. The occupying forces' indiscriminate shelling and killings caused many casualties. Almost every family had victims, including nearly 12 close relatives to me." 

He added that the civilian casualties included two women in his cousin's car and two children, while his niece and her husband lost their lives "due to gunfire before reaching an American checkpoint."

He mentioned that he also lost a senior uncle, who was close to eighty years old, buried under the rubble of his house, and they couldn't reach him for hours due to the debris piling up and the lack of civil defence resources.

As for the injuries among his family and extended relatives, he said they are numerous, with some causing permanent disabilities and others affecting their overall health.

He concluded the carnages committed by the US Army against civilians united the people of Fallujah, except for a few who acted as spies, who were finally killed due to "their treason" for their homeland and own people.