In 2003, the U.S.-led Coalition in Operation Iraqi Freedom had won the war, toppling dictator Saddam Hussein and his Ba’ath Party regime. Less than a year later, in early 2004, America found itself confronting the all-too-real probability that it was about to lose the peace. The recently-installed Iraqi government was a fragile coalition whose members were unused to their new nation-building responsibilities; the reconstituted Iraqi army and security forces, purged of Ba’ath Party members, were poorly trained, paid, and motivated, and were unreliable; the Iraqi infrastructure was in shambles. The general population, still shell-shocked over the wrenching upheaval in their lives, distrusted the new government and resented the American troops, viewing them as occupiers and not liberators. Exploiting all this was a witches’ brew of well armed and supplied insurgents including al Qaeda, unemployed and angry former Ba’athists, and ex-Iraqi Republican Army troops, as well as a growing flood of anti-American insurgents recruited from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere.
Though insurgent attacks occurred throughout Iraq, senior Coalition commanders and Iraqi government officials realized that the key to success for a new Iraq was restoring order in the lawless Al Anbar province. Crucial to that effort was seizing the city that served as the insurgent base of operations and had become a symbol of opposition to the new Iraqi government: Fallujah. New Dawn: The Battles for Fallujah is an extraordinary and incredibly detailed account of the seven-week campaign by American troops to wrest Fallujah from the fanatical and determined insurgents.
Author Richard S. Lowry deftly sets the stage, summarizing the situation in Iraq following the defeat of Saddam Hussein and of the pivotal event that launched the concerted campaign against the insurgents in Al Anbar province; the ambush, brutal killing, and display of the mutilated bodies of four Blackwater security guards on March 31, 2004.
America’s first response was Operation Vigilant Resolve, and Lowry cogently presents the missteps that contributed to the failure of that short-lived campaign.
Seven months later, on Nov. 7, 2004, a second, larger campaign was launched: Operation Phantom Fury. Later re-named Operation New Dawn, it incorporated the painful lessons learned from Operation Vigilant Resolve. Led by the 1st Marine Division and supported by U.S. Army units and U.S. Air Force squadrons, the campaign would continue for seven grueling weeks and would end in a decisive victory for American forces.
Lowry spent years on this story, interviewing almost 200 participants from commanding generals down to frontline troops. This and other research has resulted in a gripping account of great scope, but also intimate, sometimes heart-wrenching, detail. He masterfully alternates from senior commander planning sessions to frontline combat actions, and succeeds in conveying the many raw and conflicting emotions experienced by troops in the different levels of command. His page-turning narrative successfully encapsulates the confusing chaos of urban combat, with all its terrifying suddenness, adrenaline-fueled pace, and claustrophobic desperation.
The troops in the campaign quickly discovered that this was a battle in which the fanatic enemy would give no quarter. In one compelling account after another, Lowry reveals with vivid detail how the troops repeatedly responded with fierce determination and courage. When the campaign finally concluded in December, large sections of Fallujah lay in ruins, but the power of the insurgents was broken. More than 1,400 insurgents were dead, at a cost of 95 Americans killed and 1,000 wounded.
With New Dawn: The Battles for Fallujah, Lowry has dramatically produced a benchmark work of a pivotal campaign that decided the future of Iraq.