When American forces moved into the so-called City of Mosques, Fallujah, Iraq, in April 2003, they took it over with virtually no resistance. The mayor declared himself and his city fully pro-American. But a few weeks later, an angry crowd gathered in front of a school that had been turned into a military headquarters and demanded the Americans give it back.
Troops from the 82nd Airborne Division fired into the crowd, killing 17 people and wounding over 70 more. A second protest days later resulted in more gunfire and two more dead Iraqi civilians.
Fallujah was pro-American no more.
When I visited the town the following week people were angry, refusing to be interviewed, rushing our van and rocking it before letting us drive slowly away. In March 2004, four American drivers in a convoy of food supplies left unprotected by their employers, Blackwater, weren’t so lucky. They were hauled from their vehicles, beaten and set on fire – their dead bodies strung up over utility lines along a highway.
In August 2003, when a terrorist attack killed dozens of Shi’ite pilgrims at the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf, the Sunni majority in Fallujah sent thousands of contributions of blood and supplies to relieve the survivors. When the Pentagon ordered that Shi’ite army troops be sent to Fallujah to help American forces punish the city for the burning of the contractors, many of the Iraqis refused to fight, some wouldn’t even leave the helicopters that had ferried them to the Fallujah battle zone.
Nevertheless, Fallujah, which was badly battered by an unsuccessful U.S.-Iraqi army offensive, turned violently anti-Shi’ite, as well.
In November 2004, the U.S. unleashed Operation Phantom Fury, re-taking the city at a cost of over 1,350 insurgent Iraqi fighters. Approximately 95 American troops were killed, and 560 wounded. 36,000 of the city’s 50,000 homes were destroyed, along with 60 schools and 65 mosques and shrines”
During this operation, then-U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Elliot Ackerman led his troops through a week of deadly fighting with so much dedication and skill that he was awarded a Silver Star. The official Marine Corps proclamation of Ackerman’s medal, interleaved with his own observations, form the final chapter of his new memoir Places and Names, in which he looks back at two American wars in which he fought – in Iraq and Afghanistan, and one he observed, in Syria. It is his fourth book, joining his three superb novels Green on Blue, Dark at the Crossing (a National Book Award finalist) and Waiting for Eden.
Elliot Ackerman is a decorated former Marine officer, who served 5 tours of duty with US Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, winning the Silver Star, the Bronze Star for Valor and the Purple Heart. He is also a journalist who reports for Esquire, The New Yorker, The Atlantic and the NY Times Sunday Magazine, and a novelist, whose books Green on Blue, Dark at the Crossing (a National Book Award finalist) and Waiting for Eden are informed by issues and experiences connected to wars in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, respectively. His new book, Places and Names is a memoir of his experiences as a Marine and a writer and journalist.