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5 Minute Guide: attack on Fallujah

Updated on 01 February 2007

The battles in Fallujah were the US's most intense since the Vietnam war. Thousands of civilian homes were destroyed as the US tried to rid the city of Sunni rebels. Conflict was sparked after four US workers were mutilated in the city.

What happened?

Fallujah was the scene of one of the bloodiest battles of the Iraq conflict - leaving a devastating legacy.

In April and November 2004, military forces poured into the city 43 miles west of Baghdad to attack Sunni rebel strongholds in the city.

The US described the battle of Fallujah as its most intense urban combat since Vietnam.

US marines, soldiers and Iraqi commandos laid siege to the city with the November attacks chasing the insurgents out.

The US described the battle as its most "intense urban combat" since Vietnam - and it was not without controversy.

Thousands of buildings were destroyed and, more symbolically, dozens of mosques. Images of dead and injured civilians caused uproar throughout the rest of Iraq and the Islamic world.

It is still unclear how many of the hundreds of deaths were insurgents, as opposed to innocent bystanders. Thousands were forced to flee the city.

By the end of 2006, the attack on Fallujah was still the most intense battle of the Iraq conflict.

While the US claim it was a successful military exercise, critics have called it a brutal massacre which reduced the city of mosques to a city of rubble.

Why did it happen?

Fallujah was initially unaffected by the Iraq war, as conflict centred on other areas.

However, tension in the city first surfaced in April 2003, when it was reported that a mob of 200 people ignored a curfew to protest over occupying forces.

It turned into a stand-off which led to between 15 and 17 Iraqi civilians being killed by US troops.

The next flashpoint was in March 2004, when four US contract workers were killed and images of their mutilated bodies broadcast across the world.

The US went into Fallujah soon after, intent on showing it could quash such brazen opposition - and Sunni rebel control - thereby paving the way for elections in January 2005.

Another reason for the invasion was to try to capture Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an influential member of al-Qaida believed to be in the city.

What happens next?

As with the rest of Iraq, what happens next in Fallujah is far from certain.

The city suffered an exodus during the 2004 siege. The population is stabilising again, but this is mainly the result of people fleeing death squads and mortar battles in Baghdad.

The city was battered by the siege and thousands of homes have been destroyed.

The city was battered by the siege. Thousands of homes have been destroyed and, although reconstruction was by the start of 2007 under way, the process was far from complete.

Local council members continue to be killed, and the city's mayor fled in July 2006.

US forces say they want to hand over the running of the city to democratic Iraqi institutions - when, or whether, it will be stable enough to do so remains to be seen.

Key players

This is a term to describe Muslims fighting in a war or any other struggle. It came to the fore in the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and also describes the insurgents who fought against the US forces in Fallujah.

In this conflict the mujahideen were Sunni rebels, who claimed to have survived the US attacks and wanted to seize back control of the city.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi
With a $25m bounty on his head, al-Zarqawi was identified as Iraq's most deadly insurgent.

Born in 1966, the Jordanian was linked to a string of attacks, suicide bombings and assassinations, including the beheading of foreign hostages.

al-Zarqawi (credit: Reuters)

It is understood that he met bin Laden during the conflict with the Soviets in Afghanistan, but it is unclear whether the pair were friends or rivals.

Even so, al-Zarqawi was credited with being the al-Qaida boss in Iraq - a position he used to undermine US attempts to establish a new government in the country.

He was killed in Iraq following a US air raid in June 2006. He was found in a small city outside Baghdad. Security forces had long since justified attacks on Fallujah because it was his base.

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