An account from Agence France-Presse about demonstrations in Fallujah by Sunnis celebrating the American withdrawal from Iraq included this strange passage about the battles of Fallujah:
That year, the U.S. military launched two massive offensives against Fallujah, signs of which are still visible today in collapsed buildings and bullet holes in walls. The first offensive in April aimed to quell the burgeoning Sunni insurgency but was a failure — Fallujah became a fiefdom of Al-Qaeda and its allies, who essentially controlled the city. In November, a second campaign was launched, just months before legislative elections in January 2005. Around 2,000 civilians and 140 Americans died, and the battle is considered one of the fiercest for the U.S. since the Vietnam war.
“But was a failure” is not a good description of the first siege. The Marines were on the verge of taking the city until the Iraqi Governing Council petitioned Paul Bremer to call off the assault, making it more a tragedy than a failure, in that too many courageous Marines died on the verge of victory.
The AFP account also fails to mention that the second battle succeeded in more or less banishing al-Qaeda from the city, marking a turning point in the war, after which al-Qaeda was on the defensive and gradually lost Anbar Province. It is equally odd of them to have listed purported civilian fatalities and the 140 American deaths but failed to mention enemy losses. Al-Qaeda and its affiliates suffered their greatest losses of the war in Fallujah (1,000–1,500 killed) and, of course, had themselves conducted a nightmarish reign of terror during their brief control of the city from April to November.
The entire history of the two battles of Fallujah has yet to be written, and the topic is full of lurid and unproven charges about Marine cruelty, white phosphorous used indiscriminately, and the shooting of prisoners, without much attention paid to what the Marines found when they removed al-Qaeda or the brutal manner in which the terrorists fought and how they treated civilians — or the courage with which the Marines fought and won. But at this early juncture it at least can be said that there was far more to the first assault than the single noun “failure,” and any mention of the second without a word about massive al-Qaeda losses is political airbrushing.