Not that the war was ever winnable, but the war profiteers certainly made the situation worse.
The U.S. Marines, who had military responsibility for the Sunni Arab heartland in and around Fallujah, knew it was a tinderbox and had been trying hard not to set it aflame. “Patient, persistent presence” was their motto.
The attack on the Blackwater convoy changed everything.
The convoy had entered the city by bypassing a Marine checkpoint without the Marines’ knowledge. The Marines learned of the ambush the same way the rest of the world did: from the grisly pictures on TV.
President Bush, enraged by the attack, ordered a major assault on the city. Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, a Pentagon spokesman, said of the coming U.S. response: “It will be deliberate, it will be precise and it will be overwhelming. … We will pacify that city.”
A key objective of the assault, U.S. leaders said, was to capture the killers of the Blackwater contractors and bring them to justice.
The Blackwater incident was a tragic error that provoked a violent chain of events, according to Bing West, a former Marine and Reagan-era assistant defense secretary who wrote “No True Glory,” a book about the battle for Fallujah.
“Ultimately, Fallujah was a decision by our top leadership against the advice of the Marines,” West said in an interview. “They were not going to change their entire strategy because of a tactical error. They were overruled.”
What followed days later, in early April, was the first street-by-street fighting by U.S. military forces since the Vietnam War. As Al-Jazeera broadcast pictures of dead, bleeding and maimed Iraqis in Fallujah hospitals, the city became a rallying point for anti-U.S. anger.
Worried that the assault was jeopardizing the political stability of the country, U.S. leaders suspended the offensive a week later. The fighting settled into a series of skirmishes, flare-ups and periods of calm.