By Gerry J. Gilmore
Nov. 17, 2006 – Two years ago, much of the Iraqi city of Fallujah had suffered severe damage after some of the hardest fighting seen since the country was liberated by U.S. and coalition forces in the spring of 2003. oday, construction across Fallujah is booming, and the city's 400,000-resident population is growing, Marine Col. Larry D. Nicholson, commander of Regimental Combat Team 5, told Pentagon reporters today from Fallujah during a satellite-televised news conference.
Nicholson has commanded RCT-5's nearly 5,000 U.S. Marines, soldiers and sailors since February. The unit's primary mission, he said, is to train and develop Iraqi soldiers and police within his 1,800-square-mile area of operations in Anbar province.
Yet, security development is just one of RCT-5's many missions, the colonel said, noting his troops also work with local Iraqi officials, tribal sheiks and religious leaders to bolster area governance and economic development.
Fallujah is famous, Nicholson recalled, as being the site of Operation Al-Fajr (the Dawn, in Arabic), also known as Operation Phantom Fury. A joint U.S.-Iraqi military offensive including U.S. Marines and soldiers was launched Nov. 7, 2004, to clear rebel lodgments from the city. The insurgents were defeated, and the operation was concluded Dec. 23.
Prior to the battle, the insurgents had free rein in Fallujah, Nicholson said, noting the hard-fought victory -- often involving house-to-house fighting by U.S. Marines and soldiers -- broke the enemy's control over the city.
In the past two years, U.S. and Iraqi forces "have aggressively worked to make Fallujah a model of progress" and cooperation, Nicholson said. And today, he noted, Fallujah is one of the most forward-looking cities in Iraq.
The Iraqi government has provided $70 million for the rebuilding of Fallujah residences that were damaged or destroyed during the fighting two years ago, Nicholson said. Fallujah has an elected mayor and a functional city council, the colonel noted, that work with U.S. and coalition forces. The city has a police force, he noted, and it also hosts a brigade of Iraqi soldiers.
"Each of these elements of government, police and the Iraqi army work alongside the Marines, sailors and soldiers of RCT-5 every day to solve the city's challenges," Nicholson said.
To illustrate Fallujah's progress, Nicholson pointed to the reduced number of U.S. troops stationed in the city. In March 2005 at the end of his previous duty tour in Iraq, the colonel recalled, about 3,000 U.S. Marines and soldiers were operating in Fallajah. Upon his return to Iraq this February, Nicholson observed, about 300 U.S. troops were operating in Fallujah.
"That is a significant measure of progress under any scale," he pointed out.
Also, Fallujah had no police force in March 2005, Nicholson recalled. Today, he noted, the city boasts more than 700 Iraqi police officers.
Routine teamwork and pragmatism employed by U.S., coalition and Iraqi officials has greatly contributed to the city's success, Nicholson said.
Fallujah's progress has made it a beacon of hope for many beleaguered Sunnis fleeing the violence in Baghdad, Nicholson pointed out.
"While the fleeing of Sunni citizens from Baghdad is in itself a tragedy, the fact that Fallujah has become the overwhelming destination of choice for those seeking refuge and peace is a great testament to the work done here in Fallujah by the coalition forces, the Iraqi forces, and the local government," Nicholson said.
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