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Fallujah Awakens: Marines, Sheikhs, and the Battle Against al Qaeda

Fallujah Awakens: Marines, Sheikhs, and the Battle Against al Qaeda

4.5 2
by Bill Ardolino

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Fallujah, the cradle of an insurgency that plunged Iraq into years of chaos and bloodshed, conjures up images of the brutal house-to-house fighting that occurred during the 2004 U.S. invasion of the iconic city. The violence peaked again two years later when American Marines and Iraqi government forces struggled with a reinvigorated insurgency and the prospect of


Fallujah, the cradle of an insurgency that plunged Iraq into years of chaos and bloodshed, conjures up images of the brutal house-to-house fighting that occurred during the 2004 U.S. invasion of the iconic city. The violence peaked again two years later when American Marines and Iraqi government forces struggled with a reinvigorated insurgency and the prospect of premature withdrawal by U.S. forces.

Now in paperback, Fallujah Awakens—widely praised for presenting a balanced description of this crucial transition from both the American and the Iraqi perspectives—recounts the complex story of the remarkable turn around that began to take place in 2006–2007. As an embedded journalist, Bill Ardolino was in a unique position to observe and explain how local tribal leaders and U.S. Marines forged a surprising alliance that enabled them to secure the heavily contested battleground.

Based on more than 120 interviews with Iraqis and Americans, he explores how a company of Reservists, led by a medical equipment sales manager from Michigan, succeeded where previous efforts had stalled. Circumstance combined with smart leadership enabled Marines to build relationships with members of a Sunni tribe—once written off as dangerous and intractable—who pushed al Qaeda and other insurgents from their notoriously rebellious area.

Accidental killings, intertribal rivalries, insurgents, and intrigue all conspired to undo the tenuous alliance forged on Fallujah’s peninsula. But the partnership was cemented after a Marine commander’s risky decision to welcome nearly 100 injured civilians onto a secure American facility after a ruthless chemical attack by al Qaeda.

Ardolino’s exhaustive documentation will prove valuable to military students, analysts, and historians and will help policy makers better understand what is and is not possible in counterinsurgency. Photographs and maps further enhance the reader’s understanding of the struggle for Fallujah, from tribal dynamics to the geography of firefights.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Headlines trumpeted the 2004 Battle of Fallujah, when Marines defeated Iraqi insurgents and al-Qaeda fighters in brutal urban battle, but few reports noted that rebels soon returned and resumed their attacks. An embedded reporter at the time, Ardolino (associate editor of the Long War Journal) delivers a brilliant, detailed description of events in 2007, when Marines, tribal leaders, and local Iraqis worked together to again eject the insurgents—hopefully, this time, permanently. The author is wise to remind readers that al-Qaeda was never terribly popular in Iraq; it espoused a form of Islam considered violent and unfamiliar, “even by conservative Fallujan standards,” and its success required vicious retaliation against uncooperative Iraqis. Even so, many refused to help the radical group, opting instead to side with American forces for a variety of personal and political reasons. Ardolino describes one Marine battalion near Fallujah that achieved remarkable success by enlisting the aid of an ambitious young sheikh nicknamed “Dark.” Combining eye-witness accounts of political frustrations, the dangers of the “irrepressible and deadly creativity” of insurgents, and sympathetic portraits of the locals, Ardolino’s is an outstanding account of the winding down of a resoundingly unpopular war. 15 b&w photos, 4 maps. (May 15)
From the Publisher
“Certainly, Bill Ardolino knows what he is doing in writing the kind of book that one would come to expect from a journalist. Ardolino, admittedly and admirably, explains the lengths to which he went to verify information gleaned from interviews. Ardolino conducted interviews of 47 separate people personally in Fallujah in January and September 2007, 55 by phone or e-mail (only 3 were not involved in Iraq in some capacity) between 2008 and 2010, and 33 additional in 2012. Fallujah Awakens is a compelling read, owing to its narrative nature and its interweaving of the accounts of these 132 sources with just the right amount of historical and political context to encapsulate Ardolino’s point: COIN is the road to success and the Marines of the 1/24 show how to achieve it.”—U.S. Military History History Group.org

“…A well reported, fast paced narrative of how Major Dan Whisnant's U.S. Marine Infantry Company and Sheikh Aifan Sadoun Aifan al-Issawi, who called himself "Dark", teamed up to fight Al Qaeda in what would become the Third Battle of Fallujah.

Using a non-fiction narrative style similar to Mark Bowden’s Black Hawk Down, Ardolino has crafted a gripping, page-turning adventure that is also a serious historical and military study of a slice of the Iraq War in 2006-2007.”— Outsidethewire.com

“…A compelling account… an eminently readable book that describes tactical action clearly. The discussion of firefights are accompanied by simple map diagrams which help to explain the action in terms that are uncomplicated but not condescending to military readers…Fallujah Awakens is well worth the time of the small wars student looking to hone his craft, Iraq veterans still coming to terms with the totality of that conflict, and any other student of military history.”— Marine Corps Gazette

“Arguably the book’s most important contribution is the wealth of material telling the Iraqi side of the story. It provides a powerful counterpoint and, in some cases, mirror image of the Marine experience there. Ardolino cogently explains with rare and remarkable clarity intimate details of Iraqi tribal dynamics, a Gordian knot reality of contradictions and complexity so confusing to outsiders that Western writers often glossed over it with the oversimplified and unhelpful label ‘tribal politics.’ … A must-read reference about how to conduct a successful counterinsurgency operation.”— Defense Media Network

“Bill Ardolino goes beyond where others have left off after the first and second battles to subdue the ‘City of Mosques’ and examines the crucial role played by Fallujah in the fight against al Qaeda. His vivid account fills a gap in our understanding of the counterinsurgency strategy that turned the tide against al Qaeda terrorists. In this engrossing book, Ardolino demonstrates that personalities mattered, not just abstract principles of war. His volume is essential reading for students of COIN and the Iraq War.”— Thomas H. Henriksen, Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution and the U.S. Joint Special Operations University

“…Superb book….A fine writer….One of the better books on Marine COIN published to date. It’s the book to read to understand how to work with the locals and having them ‘choose us.’”— Leatherneck

"The accounts of events—usefully shaped by research and interviews with Iraqi and American individuals—illuminates the work of the Marines and grants readers a window into the incredibly delicate decisions made by the involved parties. Much like the work of T.E Lawrence and other authors who spent considerable time operating in a foreign country and seeking to develop alliances—and whose works proved informative decades after their publication—Fallujah Awakens may serve the same purpose as an extended case study displaying the nuances of applying counterinsurgency or, more broadly, the requirement for considered policies in post-conflict zones with complicated social and political undercurrents."

— Australian Defence Force Journal (online)

“Bill Ardolino masterfully crafts a narrative that illustrates the challenges faced by U.S. Marines during one of the most dangerous battles in the Iraq War. Fallujah Awakens captures their struggle to be both warriors, and sometimes social workers, while combating a cagey and elusive enemy. Their strategy in Fallujah—both its successes and failures—will be studied by military leaders and war history enthusiasts for generations to come.”

—Carmen Gentile, conflict correspondent for USA Today

“A powerful account of courageous decisions and bold actions made by Americans and Iraqis alike in Anbar’s darkest city at the most uncertain and critical time in the entire campaign. His writing took me back to the nervous emotions experienced even only while driving through the city’s infamous ‘cloverleaf’ en route to engage al Qaeda in the deeper province. The author takes you on patrol throughout the most dangerous peninsula and artfully weaves in Iraq’s tribal complexities, cultural nuances, and our own political theater in a way that I have never before encountered. This should be required reading for anyone tasked with fighting, or studying, a war of counterinsurgency—or any reader interested in a tale of war hard fought, told incredibly well.”

—Capt. Alexander S. Martin, USMCR, USNA Class of 2004, is an infantry officer who has served as a platoon commander in infantry, recon and force recon units; Founder and CEO of Arbroath Capital

Product Details

Naval Institute Press
Publication date:
Blue and Gold
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)

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Meet the Author

Bill Ardolino is an associate editor of The Long War Journal. He was embedded with the U.S. Marine Corps, the U.S. Army, the Iraqi Army, and the Iraqi Police in Fallujah, Habbaniyah, and Baghdad in 2006, 2007, and 2008, and later with U.S. and Afghan forces in Kabul, Helmand and Khost provinces in Afghanistan. His reports, columns, and photographs have received wide media exposure and have been cited in a number of academic publications. He lives in Washington, DC.

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Fallujah Awakens: Marines, Sheikhs, and the Battle Against al Qaeda 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ardolino's well researched, balanced, and informative book is a must read for anyone seeking a deeper understand the conflict in Iraq than what media reports afford.  This book provides an in depth account of the valiant counterinsurgency efforts of Marines in Fallujah in 2006 and 2007, while giving an intimate portrait of the citizens of Iraq who stepped up to plate to retake their villages and cities from those who sought only murder and chaos.  While so much war literature recently has been dedicated to special operations forces, this book is a breath of fresh air recounting the efforts and exemplary leadership of conventional forces, many of whom were reservists.  A must read. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago