The Photograph

Our “Pic of Day” features a US Marine from 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines clearing a house in Fallujah, Iraq. The date is November 23rd, 2004.

He seems to have “acquired” a Soviet-made PPsh-41 SMG from an insurgent who no longer needed it.

The photo was taken during Operation Phantom Fury, sometimes referred to as the Second Battle of Fallujah. It was a joint British, US, and Iraqi offensive in November and December of 2004 to clear insurgents, anti-coalition forces, and any other bad guys from the city.

SOFREP’s interpretation of Fallujah, Iraq in November 2004.

The Pivotal Battle of Fallujah: A New Perspective

In late 2004, the city of Fallujah became the center stage for an intense and protracted battle. Codenamed Operation Phantom Fury, this offensive symbolized the pinnacle of the Iraq War’s conflict against an insurgent uprising. A collaboration between the United States, the interim Iraqi administration, and the British forces, this campaign showcased the grit of both the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Army, drawing parallels to the intense urban combat witnessed during Vietnam’s Battle of Huế City in 1968.

Fallujah had previously been a hotspot in April 2004, the setting for an initial coalition effort to neutralize insurgents responsible for a brutal ambush that cost four Blackwater private military contractors their lives. The aftermath of this operation saw the city handed over to an Iraqi security force, which, over time, inadvertently fortified the city against future assaults.

When Operation Phantom Fury was instigated, insurgent groups dominated Fallujah, distinguishing it from earlier confrontations where U.S. forces primarily battled the remnants of Iraq’s Ba’athist military.

Setting the Stage for Battle

In early 2004, the responsibility for Fallujah’s security transitioned from the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division to the 1st Marine Division. Tragically, not long after this shift, four Blackwater operatives — Batalona, Helvenston, Zovko, and Teague — faced a fatal ambush within the city, with gruesome images of the incident causing international outrage. While on-ground commanders saw this as a minor incident in terms of strategy, the political ramifications, primarily due to the widespread dissemination of the distressing images, were profound. This event led to a rapid response in the form of Operation Vigilant Resolve.