Iraq Journal: An Edgy Calm in Fallujah

Michael J. Totten is an independent journalist reporting on the war in Iraq. Here is a portion of his latest journal entry provided exclusively for

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"You're probably safer here than you are in New York City," Marine 1st Lt. Barry Edwards said when I arrived in Fallujah. I raised my eyebrows at him skeptically. "How many people got shot at last night in New York City?" he said.

"Probably somebody," I said.

"Yeah, probably somebody did," he said. "Somewhere."

Nobody was shot last night in Fallujah. No American has been shot anywhere in Fallujah since the 3rd Battalion 5th Marine Regiment rotated into the city two months ago. There have been no rocket or mortar attacks since the summer. Not a single one of the 3/5 Marines has even been wounded.

"The only shots we've fired since we got here are warning shots," Lt. J.C. Davis said. Another officer didn't agree. "We haven't even fired warning shots," he said. "It's too dangerous."

It's dangerous because anti-American sentiment still exists in the city, even though it is mostly passive. Someone has been taking pot shots at Americans.

A few days ago somebody threw a hand grenade at Marines. Two weeks ago an insurgent was caught by Iraqi police officers while planting an IED near the main station. He freaked out, accidentally connected the wires and blew himself up. "That's what he gets," Pvt. Gauniel said.

Even so, almost all patrols in the city are routine and uneventful affairs.

"We've got it quiet all the way up to our boundary line," Edwards said. "But it's stalling as you get closer to Baghdad. I don't know who is on the other side over there. But the tribe that lives in that area doesn't stop at our imaginary boundary line. The tribe keeps going toward Baghdad. We don't know why the insurgency is still active because we're not operating there."

You can't get a picture of Iraq as a whole from embedded reporters. It just isn't possible. When I'm with an Army or Marine unit I'm mostly aware of what's right in front of me, somewhat aware of what goes on generally in their area, and no more informed about the rest of the country than anyone else.

In July I reported that my corner of Baghdad — in Graya'at, near Adhamiya — was quiet. It was, and I meant that literally. I spent a week there outside the wire with the 82nd Airborne, and I saw no violence. I heard a single (very loud) car bomb from 3 miles away, but there was no other indication that I was in a city at war.

Last week I spent a mere eight hours in the Green Zone waiting for a helicopter flight to Fallujah. I lolled on the grass just outside the Iraqi Parliament building, about 100 feet from the Red Zone, and heard a series of gunshots on the other side of the wall, followed by police sirens.

The Iraqi police responded to the violence as they should — by driving toward it, not by hiding or running from it. Sadly, that counts as progress in Baghdad. But the sounds of gunfire continued without let-up for another hour and a half. I have no idea who was shooting at whom.

The Americans at the Green Zone outpost didn't know either. The Peruvians guarding the gates shrugged when I asked if they knew what was happening. "Hay muchas problemas," one said. "Es Baghdad."

Baghdad supposedly is only half as violent as it was when I spent my quiet week inside the city, but it still is very dangerous. The trend lines are going in the right direction, but anything still can happen anywhere, at any time. It remains a city at war.

Fallujah is different.

None of the Marines I've spoken to are nervous while walking the streets. "Complacency kills" is the new catchphrase in Fallujah, and it's drummed into the heads of the Americans here every day. The Marines may not have won the war in this city, but it sure is starting to look like it.

The insurgency in Fallujah is over.

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