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Marines, Sheikhs, and the Battle against al Qaeda
  • ISBN/SKU: 9781591141709
  • Binding: Paperback & eBook
  • Era: Iraq War
  • Number of Pages: 320
  • Subject: Iraq & Afghanistan
  • Date Available: March 2014
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Full Description:

Bill Ardolino, author of Fallujah Awakens is the recipient of the “2014 General Wallace M. Greene Jr. Award” presented on behalf of the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation

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.

One of the few books to recount events from both American and Iraqi perspectives, Fallujah Awakens tells the story of the remarkable turn around that began to take place in 2006–2007. Journalist Bill Ardolino explains how local tribal leaders and U.S. Marines forged a surprising alliance that helped secure the famous 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.

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, Nimroz, Khost, and Kandahar 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 Florida.

~ Praise for Fallujah Awakens ~

“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

"I set the book down wondering what was the benefit of our time and sacrifice in Iraq. The Marines in the narrative felt they had made a difference. As a reader I am not sure. Maybe this complicated sense of the mission and sacrifice is what makes this book worthwhile. It is the experience of Iraq condensed into three hundred pages."

— Proceedings

“Bill Ardolino takes up the crucial role played by Fallujah against al Qaeda where others left off after the first and second battles to subdue the ‘City of Mosques.’ 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

 “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

“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.”

—Publishers Weekly “Starred” review ~

"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

“…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.’”


“…A well reported, fast paced narrative of how Major Dan Whisnant's US 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.”


“I strongly recommend this book. Ardolino has managed to write two important stories of the Iraq war in one book…. This book is a valuable addition to the literature on Iraq, the Middle East and naturally, terrorism/counter-terrorism. Ardolino tells the story of successful counterinsurgency in Iraq, drawing lessons for other conflicts; and he manages to tell the story very well in a relatively small book. It will not be hard to get the students to read this well-written and engaging book…Useful as a secondary book in Middle East Politics, Iraqi Politics, Terrorism/Counter Terrorism, and Community Policing.”

Middle East Media and Book Reviews Online



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