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In late 2004, U.S.-led forces won the Battle of Fallujah in some some of the most brutal fighting of the war and pushed out radicals from their major stronghold in Iraq. Ninety-five American troops paid the ultimate sacrifice.
Several U.S. service members were honored for heroism in that battle, including U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Jeremiah Workman, who was awarded the Navy Cross.
However, just more than nine years later, reports now confirm that al-Qaida forces have control of Fallujah, and efforts to impose a radical Islamist government are now moving on to Ramadi.
The news struck Workman hard.
"I'm saddened," he told WND. "My heart aches because of the Marines we lost in that city and for their families, obviously. I'm not surprised. What I am surprised is there really wasn't a lead-up to this. You didn't hear of any major fighting going on before they raised the flag on the mayor's complex."
So why isn't Workman surprised that Fallujah fell just two years after the U.S. left Iraq when so many others are shocked?
"The fact of the matter is we have an elephant in the living room when we're trying to watch the Superbowl. If you look at that culture, it's the same now as it was back in biblical times. They haven't really moved forward as a culture. They're still running around hacking people's heads off with dull, rusty knives," Workman said.
"We can't lay an egg in the middle of Baghdad and expect it to hatch and all of a sudden there's democracy. It just does not happen in that part of the world. They've been a people at war and turmoil for thousands of years," he said.
While Workman isn't surprised, the al-Qaida seizure of Fallujah reverses what had been considerable progress there. While he can't say what Fallujah was like when U.S. forces left Iraq in 2011, he said the change between the 2004 battle and his return in 2007 was remarkable.
"One thing that really stuck in my memory from that 2007 trip was that you had Iraqi Fallujah police officers pulling people over for minor traffic infractions that you would see on (Interstate) 95 here in the United States. So I left in '07 feeling they had really come a long way. It was orderly and peaceful. I would like to think that from '07 to 2011 that they continued to build on that success," Workman said.
On Monday, the Obama administration announced no personnel would be sent to Iraq to deal with the al-Qaida advances but that drone assistance would be available to the Iraqi government. Workman doubts that will have much impact since competent Iraqi intelligence would be needed to make the drones effective. But he said the political mistakes in Iraq go much deeper.
"On both sides, the United States and Iraq, you have the complete political fumble. What the current administration has done by saying (Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri) al-Maliki wanted all Americans out of the country. I think it's come to surface that that was not completely 100 percent truthful," Workman said. "I think to pull out abruptly like that. I think we're starting to see the results of that."
He also noted that political infighting in Baghdad forced al-Maliki to remove national troops from Anbar Province, leading to regional defense measures and a green light for al-Qaida violence.
As difficult as it is for Workman to watch Fallujah fall back into the hands of extremists, he said the latest news does not diminish the devotion and sacrifice of his brothers in battle nine years ago.
"Regardless of what's going on in Fallujah right now, nine years ago I watched heroism, sacrifice, dedication that gives me goosebumps to even talk about," he said. "The way that those Marines fought for their brothers and for each other, it's unbelievable to know that America has people like that willing to go do that type of work for them."