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Marines fight enemy across western Iraq

20 Apr 2004 | Gunnery Sgt. Mark Oliva

Marines from the 1st Marine Division engaged enemy forces across the entire Al Anbar Province last week.

Marines saw action against enemy forces in Fallujah, where the cordon of the city remains in effect and offensive operations are still suspended, to Husaybah, a town on the border with Syria. 

Seven Marines, soldiers and sailors were killed in action in the past week.

Negotiations between Iraqi civic leaders and Coalition Provisional Authority members are ongoing to extend the unilateral suspension of offensive operations into a full-fledged truce.  Marines maintain defensive positions in the city and sporadic firefights were reported.

Still, Marines, even at the highest echelons, expressed frustration with enemy forces who violate the agreements and continue the attacks.

"I don't forecast that this stalemate will go on for long," said Maj. Gen. James N. Mattis, commanding general of the 1st Marine Division to reporters in Fallujah. "It's hard to have a cease-fire when they maneuver against us, they fire at us."

Marines remain poised to resume their attacks against the enemy, should talks fail.

"We've got to be patient, but not too patient," Mattis added.

By early this week, a basic agreement for a lasting cease-fire was in the works.  Still, Marines harbor doubts the enemy will live up to it.

"An agreement has been reached," said Lt. Col. Brennan Byrne, commanding officer for 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, to reporters. "Whether or not that agreement holds is the million dollar question."

Marines witnessed events that demonstrated the enemy's determination to launch attacks from mosques and even use ambulances to transport weapons.  Both are protected by Geneva Conventions accords from attacks, but Marines are authorized to target them once they are used for hostile purposes.

Terrorists were discovered to be hiding weapons in sacks stuffed with food and other humanitarian supplies April 14.  In the joint operation, Marines and New Iraqi Army soldiers discovered armor piercing rounds, aiming sights for rockets and rifles hidden in bags of grain, rice, and tea. The man detained for transporting the weapons was wearing a poorly made fake Red Crescent uniform in an attempt to make the convoy look legitimate.

The same day, an enemy sniper fled the battlefield in an Iraqi ambulance.  The next day, an Iraqi ambulance pulled up to a mosque in Fallujah and another building to unload weapons into both sites.

Enemy fighters shot at Marines from a mosque and a nearby building on Sunday.  Marine M-1A1 tanks returned fire against the building, killing one enemy and another group of Marines returned fire at the mosque's minaret, silencing the gun there.

Marines blared loudspeaker messages into Fallujah, saying, "You are cowards for hiding behind women and children. Come out and fight," Byrne said.  They also played heavy metal music, including AC/DC's "Shoot to Thrill."

Marines on the outskirts of Fallujah uncovered large caches of enemy weapons and captured scores of enemy forces.  Marines found hundreds of AK-47 rifles, pistols and rocket-propelled grenades.  Larger munitions such as anti-aircraft guns, rocket launchers and rockets as well as materials for making improvised explosive devices were also seized.

Marines continue to allow humanitarian aid, such as food, water and medical supplies to flow into the city.

Action against the enemy wasn't limited to Fallujah, though.  Marines and soldiers from 1st Brigade Combat Team, serving under the Blue Diamond, raided hundreds of homes and buildings, netting hundreds of weapons and munitions and capturing several detainees suspected of carrying out attacks.

Marines also battled as many as 150 enemy forces Saturday in Husaybah, on Iraq's western border. 

A daylong series of firefights began around 8 a.m. when a Marine patrol reported they were under fire by enemy forces wielding machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.

Additional Marines, backed by helicopter close-air support, were dispatched to the city and soon came under fire by enemy equipped with rifles and RPGs.  The enemy forces were operating from positions in the vicinity of the former Ba'ath Party headquarters in Husaybah.  

Enemy casualties are estimated to be 25-30 dead and an unknown number of wounded.  At least 60 enemy fighters were detained.

"I don't think they expected us to retaliate as hard as we did," said Lt. Col. Matthew A. Lopez, battalion commander for 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment to reporters there.

Enemy forces were observed setting up mortar positions.  Women and children surrounded those positions, but it is unknown whether or not they were in those positions on their own free will.

Shots were also fired at medical helicopters carrying wounded Marines from the battlefield.

By Saturday evening, contact with the enemy dropped off significantly, however, fighting at the squad level was sporadic in the city.  The city remains cordoned and Marines in that area continue to hunt down enemy forces.