For three years, the Iraqi city of Haditha withstood continuous attacks from the Islamic State group, enduring mortar shells, car bombs, Grad rockets, an active front line and a siege that lasted for 18 months before the city ultimately prevailed. The story defies the military logic of that moment, since the Islamic State had swept through large areas, pushed heavily armed groups and armies into capitulating and threatened Baghdad and Erbil, yet failed to capture this relatively small town in the heart of Anbar. More important, the group also desperately sought to capture the town and deployed substantial resources for its campaigns. What made Haditha stand out from the dozens of Iraqi cities and townships that surrendered to the Islamic State without so much as a fight?
New Lines Magazine interviewed leaders and eyewitnesses in Haditha who recollected what had befallen their city since the days leading up to the first attacks by the Islamic State, and how they succeeded in protecting their territory where so many others had failed.
It began shortly after the fall of Mosul on June 10, 2014, into the hands of the Islamic State, with virtually no resistance from the U.S.-trained Iraqi forces that had been based there. Months earlier, on Jan. 2, the Islamic State had overtaken Fallujah under similar circumstances. The tribal leaders of Haditha saw the writing on the wall: An attack by the Islamic State was imminent. But unlike other cities, Haditha would not capitulate, the leaders decided. They would instead fight, come what may.