Victory is such a transient thing. Particularly when your adversary appears willing to suffer blows and arrows with little regard for self. This is where we stand today on the outskirts of Fallujah.
Yes, that Fallujah. The city decried for starting Iraq’s own intifada by slaughtering four Blackwater contractors back in March 2004.
In that moment Iraq transformed from a conquered nation where Americans traveled the land as armed tourists, to a heated rebellion complicated by sectarian divisions. Iraqis versus foreign invaders, Sunni versus Shia. There was no respite from violence.
Americans began taking body counts—a statistic Pentagon decision makers had avoided ever since Robert Strange McNamara quit trodding the five-sided building’s corridors. How many died on a given day? Of that number what did we cause? What kind of damage did the Sunni insurgency inflict? Where were the suicide attacks?
All data that proved as of little worth in Iraq as it did in Vietnam. The insurgency continued, cities were taken and lost, civilians and soldiers died in the streets. Many on the route to and from Fallujah.
Oh, we won the city back—in December of 2004—at the cost of over 100 American and 1500 Iraqi lives.[i] But what did we get? A satchel of disgruntled remaining citizens and a lingering taste for Sunni revolution.
A point born out a short 10 years later when ISIS came to town. Having captured Mosul and seized most of al-Anbar Province, the jihadi were ready to storm the gates of Baghdad. But not with cannons nor catapults. Suicide bombings crept through the security Shia depended upon to maintain a grasp on power and a chance to establish a state Washington promised a long decade-plus earlier.
So it was Fallujah became a target for proving Iraqi Security Forces could defeat the jihadi—so long as the Americans provided air power, intelligence and on-site guidance.
How little changes in the course of time.
It took two years and more lives than Baghdad will admit. And then what remained of Fallujah was once again Iraqi and not part of the new caliphate.
Or was it?[ii]
Defeat does not come easily for an enemy armed with weapons and theology.
What passed as victory now appears little more than a return to the “doormat” for a Sunni insurgency that gave birth to the Islamic State.
The more things change, the more they remain the same—even if that means a return to 670AD. Life imitates Osiris.
[i] Ricks, Thomas E. (2007). Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2003–2005. Penguin.