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2004 Fallujah ambush

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31 March 2004 Fallujah Blackwater incident
Part of Iraq War
TargetBlackwater USA personnel
DateMarch 31, 2004 (2004-03-31)
Executed byJoint operation between Al-Qaeda in Iraq and the Islamic Army in Iraq
Casualties4 killed

The 2004 Fallujah Blackwater incident occurred on March 31, 2004, when Iraqi insurgents attacked a convoy containing four American contractors from the private military company Blackwater USA who were conducting a delivery for food caterers ESS.[1]

The ambush[edit]

The four armed contractors, Scott Helvenston, Jerry Zovko, Wesley Batalona, and Mike Teague, were killed and dragged from their vehicles. Their bodies were beaten and burned, with their charred corpses then dragged through the city streets before being hanged over a bridge crossing the Euphrates River.[2]


Photos of the event, showing jubilant Iraqis posing with the charred corpses, were then released to news agencies worldwide, which caused a great deal of indignation in the United States. This prompted the announcement of a counter-insurgency campaign in the city.


The ambush led to the First Battle of Fallujah, a U.S.-led operation to retake control of the city. However, the battle was halted mid-way for political reasons, an outcome which commentators have described as insurgent victory.[3][4][5] Seven months later, in November 2004, a second attempt at capturing the city, the Second Battle of Fallujah, proved successful.

Intelligence reports concluded that Ahmad Hashim Abd al-Isawi was the mastermind behind the attack, and was not captured until a successful Navy SEAL operation in 2009.[6] al-Isawi was held for a time by the United States intelligence community and testified at one of the 2010 courts-martial of SEALs he accused of mistreating him while detained at Camp Schwedler.[7] He was subsequently handed over to Iraqi authorities for trial and executed by hanging some time before November 2013.[8]

2005 lawsuit[edit]

The families of the victims filed suit (Helvenston et al. v. Blackwater Security) against Blackwater USA for wrongful death in January 2005.


  1. ^ "Contractors - The High-Risk Contracting Business | Private Warriors | FRONTLINE | PBS". www.pbs.org. Archived from the original on 2012-02-15. Retrieved 2023-05-10.
  2. ^ Bing West (2005). No True Glory: A Frontline Account of the Battle for Fallujah. Bantam Books. pp. 3–4. ISBN 978-0-553-80402-7.
  3. ^ West xxii. "The Second Phase began in March 2004, when four American contractors were killed and the bodies mutilated in broad daylight in the heart of the city. The US Marines were ordered to seize the city, but then, due to international outrage over televised reportage of the assault, were told to stop. For six weeks the Marines engaged in fierce but inconclusive siege warfare."
  4. ^ LeBleu, Joe. "Long Rifle: A Sniper's Story in Iraq and Afghanistan", p. 201. "In mid-April 2003, President Bush decided not to secure Fallujah...laying the groundwork for later U.S. failure there."
  5. ^ Scahill, Jeremy. "Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army", p. 205. "The horrors unfolding in Fallujah, coupled with the U.S. failure to take control of the city, and the bold resistance of Fallujah's residents was encouraging other Iraqis to rise up."
  6. ^ Deignan, Tom (December 22, 2013). "Navy SEALS tragedy in Afghanistan chronicled in new film, "Lone Survivors"". IrishCentral. Archived from the original on January 26, 2017. Retrieved November 28, 2016.
  7. ^ CNN Wire Staff (April 22, 2010). "Navy SEAL not guilty of charges in Iraq". CNN. Archived from the original on November 29, 2016. Retrieved November 28, 2016.
  8. ^ Hartwell, Ray V. (November 26, 2013). "Persecuting Our Heroes". The American Spectator. Archived from the original on December 20, 2016. Retrieved December 7, 2016.