FALLUJAH, Iraq -- Marines recently conducted search operations in Fallujah’s souk – the city’s marketplace – to confirm or deny anti-Iraqi forces were operating there.
Marines from 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5 and Iraqi Army soldiers searched and cleared the souk district and found several weapons caches belonging to enemy forces.
The area has historically been a high friction point for the battalion. Firefights are common for coalition forces traveling through the district, where insurgents like to target them from surrounding buildings and escape into the complex street system.
“It’s basically like a New York strip,” said Lance Cpl. Angelo Vella, a machine gunner with C Company, from Lincoln Park, N.J. “There is a lot of vehicle traffic and foot traffic in the area at any given time.”
Food stands, electronic stores, butcher posts, and many other small businesses are based in the souk district.
“It is basically the centerfold of the city, and at one point or another everyone travels there for business,” said 30-year-old Cpl. Marshall R. Collins, a fire team leader with C Company, from West Hartford, Conn.
Marines and Iraqi soldiers inserted into the area while many shops were still opening their doors for business. The streets were crowded with consumers and shop owners alike as coalition forces pushed into the district.
Hundreds of Marines and Iraqi soldiers set a cordon around the perimeter of the souk, protecting against insurgents who could potentially attack the Marines and soldiers operating inside. Tanks and amphibious assault vehicles motored down roads and set into place as the operation kicked off.
“Our focus was to search for anything leading, including propaganda, and then do a deeper search once we uncovered something,” said 23-year-old Vella.
Locks were cut on those shops whose owners were not present, and those who were present were asked for identification and questions about there business and the souk itself.
Enemy forces don’t leave their weapons out in the open or in obvious places in Fallujah. They hide them deep in unsuspecting spots. But that doesn’t stop the Marines and Iraqi Army soldiers here who uncovered five weapons caches, each incriminating enough to tie them to the insurgents’ hands.
The people laundering the caches and holding them in their shops weren’t around when the caches were discovered.
“We didn’t expect to find anything big, but we wanted them to understand that it is even difficult to hide small-weapons caches in the area,” said Lt. Col. Christopher A. Landro, battalion commander, from Kennesaw, Ga.
“Even though we may not have caught any insurgents, through our raid and the fact that we went into every building and house, we now have a much better picture of the area that can drive future operations,” added 46-year-old Landro.
In total the forces found seven AK-47 assault rifles, two rocket-propelled grenade launchers and six warheads, a submachine gun, two mines, more than 1,800 rounds of ammunition, 50 pounds of explosive materials, a missile warhead, night-vision goggles and other optics, ski masks and various improvised explosive device-making materials.
“Everything went exactly as planned,” Landro said. “It was a complex event that had a lot of moving parts, and the cooperation and communication of the Iraqi Army was essential as we moved through the operation in a series of phases.”
“We once again demonstrated the abilities of the Iraqi Army to operate independently and side by side with the Marines, but completely under their own command and control apparatus,” he added.