How to Clean Up Fallujah


The original plan was to let the Iraqi police “clean up” places like Fallujah. This is a Sunni Arab town full of people with blood on their hands. Fallujah was long a prime recruiting ground for the secret police and Republican Guard. Saddam was good to Fallujah, and the thugs of Fallujah were merciless against Saddam’s enemies. But Saddam’s enemies are the majority of the Iraqi population and soon that majority will be electing a government. This government would send as many police and soldiers to Fallujah as is needed to round up and punish all the guilty. Unfortunately, the way things work in the Middle East, this could easily leave Fallujah a pile of smoking rubble, and most of the population dead or fled. The Arab world would have had to deal with it. Arabs killing Arabs is nothing new, in fact it’s quite normal in the Middle East, a land of tyrants, torture chambers and secret police.

However, coalition trainers hoped to have convinced the new Iraqi police to go in Fallujah and smoke out the guilty hordes more precisely and with less bloodshed. Flood Fallujah with Iraqi police and soldiers and go house to house looking for weapons and known, and suspected, criminals. Most of Saddam’s thugs operated quite openly. People knew the names. They still know the names. Next year, the Iraqi police could arrest the names, put them on trial, convict them for crimes against humanity and imprison or execute them. This is why the people of Fallujah are so eager to kill outsiders. It’s not just a habit they can’t shake, it’s a defensive mechanism. Eventually, someone is going to come to Fallujah to look for Saddam’s thugs, and the thugs know it.

But killing four Americans, and mutilating and displaying the bodies, and doing it joyfully in front of cameras, would have pleased Saddam, and brought rewards to Fallujah. But now it will bring the marines, and the marines are not as good as Iraqi police at telling the good from the bad in Fallujah.

Any Iraqi civilian with a gun will be quickly killed. The most likely plan is to assemble a force of Iraqi police to go in with the marines and quickly interrogate the people of Fallujah and try and find the gunmen before marine bullets do. The police will also spread the word that the marines will keep fighting, and killings Iraqis, until the Iraqi police are told where the killers are and can arrest the bad guys.

All this could get ugly, especially if most of the police brought in are not Sunni Arabs. Using Shia and Kurdish police means you have Iraqi cops with guns, and mental images of much worse atrocities than four dead Americans. But one way or another, Fallujah will “get cleaned up.” Actually, most people in Fallujah want it that way. Not everyone in Fallujah supported Saddam, but a large minority did. The rest went along. You don’t argue with guys who have short tempers and large guns. The majority is also more likely to identify the guilty if there is some assurance that all, or most of the thugs, are going down quickly. The thugs of Fallujah are still intimidating Iraqis, but for the past year they have only been doing it to the good people of Fallujah. Talk to the Americans and you die. The Sunni Arab police died by the dozens at the hands of these thugs. But if enough police and marines come in and stay long enough, people will talk. What is uncertain at the moment is how much and how long is enough. We’re going to find out in the next few weeks.

FILED UNDER: Iraq War, Middle East, Policing, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Kikuchiyo says:

    My interpretation of the recent CPA briefing made me wonder what exactly to expect. It would be shocking if the reaction to this were not intense to the point of being a bit frigtening.

  2. James Joyner says:

    My guess is it’ll be frightening and intense, but still measured. The capacity of our military for precision targetting continues to amaze me.

  3. Dave says:

    Interesting. I didn’t know that much about Fallujah before, let alone that it was a recruiting ground.