Crisis in Iraq
A one-star general who led Marines in Fallujah and recently wrote a book about his experiences there said the U.S. military set Iraq up for success, but political leaders there have squandered those opportunities.
Brig. Gen. William Mullen, director of the Capabilities Development Directorate at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, recently completed a book called “Fallujah Redux: The Anbar Awakening and the Struggle with al-Qaeda,” set to be released on Sept. 15. The infantry officer served as commander of the North Carolina-based 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines, during their 2007 deployment to Fallujah, when al-Qaida was pushed out of Anbar province.
Seven years later, Mullen and other Marines watch with dismay as renewed insurgencies encroach on some of the biggest cities they fought to secure in Iraq. But Mullen says Marines must know they’re only responsible for what happened while they were there — not what others have allowed to fall apart years after.
“We gave them the best possible opportunity they could have to have a good future when we left,” Mullen told Marine Corps Times. “I differentiate between what we did and what’s happening now. I force that aside and say, ‘We gave you the opportunity; you look like you’re blowing it.’ ”
Mullen said the U.S. carried out an orderly withdrawal from Iraq in 2011, leaving things better than when they found them. Since then, several things outside of the control of U.S. troops has led to deteriorating conditions there, including spillover from the conflict in Syria and the inability of the U.S. and Iraq to come to an agreement on keeping residual forces there past the withdrawal. More importantly, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a member of the majority Shia population of Iraq, cut the Sunnis out of the political process, deepening a rift that has existed for more than 1,000 years.
“I know not everyone was there in 2007, 2008 and 2009, but things got so quiet to the point that it was boring over there and al-Anbar was essentially won,” Mullen said. “We handed off the best opportunity we could to the Iraqis, and it was up to them from then on.”
Mullen co-wrote “Fallujah Redux” with Navy Reserve Lt. Cmdr. Daniel Green, who’s currently a defense fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Green served in Fallujah at the same time as Mullen, and their book is the first to highlight the 2007 weakening of the al-Qaida insurgency from the perspective of military veterans.
Green said al-Qaida was successfully pushed out of Anbar province because the U.S. was able to help orchestrate cohesion and cooperation between the local tribes, the Iraqi police forces and the army. The U.S. played a crucial role as coordinator and facilitator between those three entities, he said. Once U.S. forces were removed from the equation, that cooperation began to fall apart.
“I think the only benefit of anything going on in Iraq right now is that Afghanistan can learn the lessons of what a precipitous withdrawal could bring,” Green said.
“Fallujah Redux” is currently available for pre-order on Amazon.com. It includes a foreword from retired Marine Gen. John Allen, who commanded U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan. All proceeds from the sales will benefit the Semper Fi Fund, Mullen said, which is a nonprofit that provides financial support to critically ill or wounded troops and their families.