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'They fought like lions'

27 Apr 2004 | Gunnery Sgt. Mark Oliva

Marines in Fallujah repulsed a sustained enemy attack Monday.  The attack came just a day after Coalition Forces announced joint Marine and Iraqi patrols were to begin in the city.

Marines fended off attacks against a force outnumbering his own, according to Capt. Douglas A. Zembiec, commander for Company E, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment in comments to reporters during the battle. 

"I am very proud of my men," Zembiec said. "They fought like lions."

Two Marines from the division died in the past week; one killed in action and another as a result of wounds incurred in fighting earlier this month.

The attack Monday began about 9:45 a.m. when Marines reported three men shot at them from the Al-Ma'adhidy mosque in northwest Fallujah.  Marines returned fire, confirming they killed one of the attackers. 

Marines played instructions in Arabic over loudspeakers that told anyone in the mosque to come out with their hands raised over their heads.  No one exited.

Marines briefly entered the mosque and found it empty. Expended ammunition casings were found on the floor of the mosque's minaret.

A short time later, anti-Iraqi forces re-entered the mosque and again fired on Marines.  Marines responded with tank fire against the minaret, silencing the attackers.

Marine helicopters also returned fire on attackers in nearby buildings.

The pitched battle, which waged for several hours, came on the heels of an announcement that Marines and Iraqi Civil Defense Corps soldiers and the Iraqi Police Service would conduct joint patrols through Fallujah.  The aim is to allow Iraqis to form an Iraqi solution to the problems in the city instead of resuming an all-out Marine offensive.

"A military solution is not going to be the solution here unless everything else fails," said Maj. Gen. James N. Mattis, 1st Marine Division commanding general to reporters.

Marines will work with Iraqi forces to allow them to move through the city.  The exact composition of the patrols and firepower available won't be hindered.

Lt. Col. Brennan Byrne, commanding officer for 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, told reporters in Fallujah that Marines would have heavy firepower and air support on call.

"It will be a combat patrol in the city that is prepared to deal with anything they run into," Byrne explained. "If we are attacked, we will absolutely eradicate that source of fire.

"We're perfectly happy to move down the street, destroy a bad guy over here and just continue on with the patrol," he added.

Elsewhere in Iraq, Marines are already patrolling the streets alongside Iraqi police.  Marines in Karibilah, in western Iraq, joined Iraqi police after outfitting them with Kevlar helmets and Camelbak hydration systems.

Marines in Ar Ramadi are in the middle of street rehabilitation projects, paving roads where there was once dirt and raw sewage flowing into alleys.  Representatives from the 1st Marine Division also met with the Iraqi governor for Al Anbar Province to hammer out the details on $540 million worth of construction and rehabilitation projects.

Some immediate projects include a new hospital and medical clinics.

"This is the way we want to do it," Mattis added when speaking to reporters. "We didn't come here to fight."