Marine commander gives insurgents 'days, not weeks' to end standoff

22 Apr 2004 | Sgt. Colin Wyers

Lt. Gen. James T. Conway, the I Marine Expeditionary Force commanding general, said the people of Fallujah, Iraq, have "days, not weeks" to show progress in complying with the terms of the ceasefire at a press conference here April 22.

The general's comments came after a turn in of heavy weapons - required under the terms of the ceasefire - yielded little arms, and even fewer that could have been employed against coalition forces.

"It probably amounted to a pickup truck-full," said Conway. "Junk. Things that I wouldn't ask my Marines to begin to fire, because they probably wouldn't even be safe to handle."

According to the 1st Marine Division, even though 113 mortar rounds were collected, most were rusted beyond use. Similarly, 21 rocket-propelled grenade projectiles turned in were labeled "inert," and were simply training rounds.

In contrast, soldiers from the 1st Brigade Combat Team, currently operating in support of the Marine division, recovered numerous weapons systems, including 80 AK-47 assault rifles, in raids near Fallujah. These weapons were in working order, clean, oiled and ready for combat.

The ceasefire was a product of negotiations with civic leaders of Fallujah beginning April 17. Coalition forces agreed to restructure forces to allow greater access to hospitals and begin allowing families to return to their homes, in exchange for a turn-in of "heavy weapons" monitored by the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps and Iraqi Police Service.

"Based upon the fairly paltry turn-in that we saw we said today that there will be no families allowed into the city," said Conway. "And the people of Fallujah and the negotiators have to understand that it is a give-and-take process.  We're expected to give certain things and we think we have, we expect certain things in return.  And those things - to date - have not been forthcoming."

Conway also responded to allegations that coalition forces have been indiscriminately targeting civilians in Fallujah.

"American weapons are extremely accurate, said Conway.  "And our people operating the weapons are very, very good at what they do.  We know that a large number of people have been killed, but I would contend that the vast majority of those people have been Iraqi fighters."

Conway added that many of the insurgents in Fallujah dress in civilian clothes, making it harder to identify them.

Marines outside the city remain prepared to continue operations against insurgents in Fallujah if the ceasefire does not hold.

"It is clear to us that the fighters in Fallujah understand completely what is going on, what is being offered, and what the linkage is to further military operations, or lack thereof," said Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy director for Coalition Operations. "So if they can't deliver, then we've got to take a look at some other options, to include the ending of the suspension of offensive operations; in other words, the resumption of offensive operations."

Whatever the outcome of the standoff, the Marines will work towards eliminating the root of the insurgency: foreign fighters who have infiltrated the city and are sponsoring the anti-Iraqi forces.

"We think that there are at least a couple of hundred, what we would call foreign fighters, who are inside the city," said Conway. "They have been a catalyst for the vast majority of the problems that we have seen in the Al Anbar Province.  Those people must be dealt with.  They will not be pardoned, they will not be allowed to resume anything like a normal lifestyle."