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The onslaught in Fallujah: Shooting at a fly that has landed on a horse’s head

Maarten Vanheuverswyn | 12.11.2004 20:51 | Analysis | Anti-militarism | Repression

On the face of it, the siege of Fallujah seems to be going relatively well for the US troops. Most of the city has been captured and according to the mass media “Operation Phantom Fury” will be finished in a couple of days. However, things are not so simple. The war in Iraq was also supposed to be over, whereas it clearly is not. The same applies to Fallujah, where an official victory may well turn out to be a Pyrrhic one.

“If your attack is going exceptionally well, it is probably an ambush.”
Old military maxim

On the face of it, the siege of Fallujah seems to be going relatively well for the US troops. Most of the city has been captured and according to the mass media “Operation Phantom Fury” will be finished in a couple of days. Though yesterday the US army suffered some losses, these were nothing compared to the figure of 600 insurgents killed, probably more. It is indeed likely that the occupation forces will win the battle for Fallujah. However, things are not so simple. The war in Iraq was also supposed to be over, whereas it clearly is not. The same applies to Fallujah, where an official victory may well turn out to be a Pyrrhic one.

Hit and run

American military planners expected to face thousands of Iraqi resistance fighters in the streets of Fallujah, not the hundreds they were fighting during this week’s street fights. Why is this? The explanation usually given was that the insurgents defending Fallujah are simply not as well organised as originally thought. However, since the guerrillas have had seven months to prepare for the assault, this is unlikely. The more plausible reason is that the insurgents are simply fighting the US forces the best way they can, that is, with small-scale guerrilla-type operations. It would have been utter madness for the resistance to mass into static formations, which would be inviting disaster for a group of outnumbered and outgunned guerrilla fighters. The weapons arsenal of the biggest army in the world can devastate large defensive positions and formations. That is why small-scale hit-and-run operations are a better fighting method, something we saw in the last days – a group of a dozen insurgents launching strikes against a military unit, offering token resistance and quickly retreating through routes and tunnels to fight at another location and another time.

The Associated Press quoted Marine Capt. John Griffin saying, “There has always been pockets of resistance in this type of fighting, just like there was in World War II we would claim an island is secure and fight them for months after that. Claiming the city is secure doesn’t actually mean that all the resistance is gone, it just means that we have secured the area and have control.” US imperialism, however, still does not have control over the city. They could have this “control” officially next week, but what would it mean? In all likelihood the resistance is simply waiting to strike hard. It also looks more and more likely that half of the insurgents had already fled Fallujah before the assault. They are simply repositioning themselves to fight elsewhere.

Ironically, the more the Americans squeeze Fallujah, the more violence explodes elsewhere. There have been reports of serious clashes in the northern city of Mosul, where resistance members attacked and overwhelmed several police stations and battled US and Iraqi troops around bridges across the Tigris River. It has been reported that a group in the North tried to storm an office of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of the two major Kurdish parties, and fought with Kurdish guards. Mosul’s television channel went off air for an hour and the US military admitted the Iraqi police were unable to handle the crisis.

The upsurge in violence across the country has led US officials to state that Al Zarqawi, now Public Enemy No. 1, has left Fallujah, thereby skilfully avoiding the question whether he has actually been there at all. It does not require much imagination what the next steps will be. That scoundrel Al Zarqawi will suddenly have been noticed in other cities like Samarra and will prepare the way for another devastating round of bombing in whatever city their next target is. Indeed, Gen. Myers, speaking on NBC stated, “If anybody thinks that Fallujah is going to be the end of the insurgency in Iraq, that was never the objective, never our intention, and even never our hope.'’
Media complicity conceals atrocities

Reports about what is going on in Fallujah are contradictory. At this moment there is little or no independent press inside the city to report on the situation. Instead, some reporters are “embedded” with (in bed with) the US Marines and are only allowed to write under the scrutiny of US officials. Woe betide the one who dares to call this censorship! They pretend to bring democracy – a shameless lie – and do not even allow any independent press reporting on their actions.

“The US forces are there to prepare the ground for democratic elections,” claim the mass media. “Therefore we have to get rid of these terrorists so that Iraq can make the move to democracy.” This nonsense passes for “objective information”. Very little attention is paid to the human catastrophe inflicted upon the city and the real nature of the whole operation. Nevertheless, if one looks carefully at some articles written on Fallujah, it is possible to get an idea of what is really going on. Fadhil Badrani, a journalist in Fallujah reporting for the BBC World Service reported:

“For people in the city, life has become even more extreme. Food is in short supply and the shops are all closed ... Electricity is cut off because of damage to the main power station from the bombardment. The water supply has been cut off too. The roads are now heavily cratered. People, particularly children and women, tend to stay at home, fearing being mistaken for a military target.

“Doctors say medical supplies at the main hospital, which has been in American hands since Sunday, are low. Most of the city’s population has left, some for other parts of Iraq, others, I hear have left the country altogether for neighbouring Arab counties.”

Civilians who are still in their city, now besieged by a foreign army, are out of luck. They run a high risk being bombed or shot. As a side note, even dogs are not better off, as they appear to be shot to prevent them from being rigged with explosives. Let us ask the question: What offence have the inhabitants of Fallujah committed? They did not threaten the world with weapons of mass destruction nor did they bring down the WTC towers. It seems that their only crime is resistance to the occupation by a foreign army.

Interestingly, in one of the few interesting articles in The Washington Post, one of the American newspapers openly backing the war in Iraq, we read that in Fallujah some artillery guns fired white phosphorous rounds that create a screen of fire that cannot be extinguished with water. Insurgents reported being attacked with a substance that melted their skin, a reaction consistent with white phosphorous burns. The Washington Post quoted Kamal Hadeethi, a physician at a regional hospital: “The corpses of the mujahedeen which we received were burned, and some corpses were melted.” The Post went on: “The Jolan and Askali neighborhoods seemed particularly hard hit, with more than half of the houses destroyed. Dead bodies were scattered on the streets and narrow alleys of Jolan, one of Fallujah’s oldest neighborhoods. Blood and flesh were splattered on the walls of some of the houses, witnesses said, and the streets were full of holes.” If this kind of report manages to slip into the billion-dollar press, one can imagine what kind of butchery is really going on in Fallujah.

Resistance an unstoppable hydra

In spite of rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire forcing two US helicopters to make “hard landings” and some twenty men down, the push through Fallujah has been going relatively well for US imperialism. But from their point of view, they should not fool themselves. This is not the endgame. After they have destroyed Fallujah “in order to save it” (!), the US forces will have to leave a fraction of its troops behind to “secure” the city. At that point, the resistance could come out of hiding and attack the diminished force and retake the city. This is exactly what happened in Samara.

The occupation forces face the problem that there is not one single operational centre. They are confronted with an enemy with as many heads as a hydra. No sooner have they cut off one head than another two or three grow in its place. Now Fallujah has been decapitated, but so-called pockets of resistance (which are in fact a mass movement) pop up at other places. In Baqubah, Samara, Kirkuk, Mosul and Baghdad, attacks using car bombs, improvised explosive devices and rocket-propelled grenades are on the increase, with Iraqi police as favoured targets. There are other cities such as Ramadi that have taken in insurgents, thus spreading the guerrilla forces around the country.

Fortunately for them, US forces can count on the good services of the new Iraqi National Guard. Fallujah was supposed to be the testing ground of the new Iraqi Army. Let Scott Ritter, former UN weapons inspector in Iraq, speak for himself:

“The reality is there is no Iraqi Army. Of the tens of thousands recruited into its ranks, there is today only one effective unit, the 36th Battalion.

“This unit has fought side by side with the Americans in Falluja, Najaf, and Samara. By all accounts, it has performed well. But this unit can only prevail when it operates alongside overwhelming American military support. Left to fend for itself, it would be slaughtered by the resistance fighters. Worse, this unit which stands as a symbol of the ideal for the new Iraqi Army is actually the antithesis of what the new Iraqi Army should be.

“While the Bush administration has suppressed the formation of militia units organized along ethnic and religious lines, the 36th Battalion should be recognized for what it really is – a Kurdish militia, retained by the US military because the rest of the Iraqi Army is unwilling or unable to carry the fight to the Iraqi resistance fighters.” (, November 11, 2004)

Members of the Iraqi police and army are rightfully seen as collaborators with the occupiers. They are seen as traitors by the majority of the population. That explains why in Fallujah no Iraqi army or national guard unit fought. Stratfor reported that Iraqi National Guard units have refused to attack guerrilla positions; their commanders had been unable to make soldiers move forward and some officers were siding with the troops. “Only the Iraqi army’s special forces unit, which is mostly Kurdish, helped search for hidden guerrillas behind U.S. Marine lines outside the city. Hundreds of Iraqi soldiers have deserted bases around Al Fallujah, the sources added.”

Free elections?

George W. Bush is supposed to have won the elections because of his ‘moral values’. In Iraq we see how much these moral values are worth. Fallujah is only one example of the barbarity of the US occupation forces. Their attempts to sell this bloody mess as “bringing democracy” are a very sick joke. Likewise, the claims about having “free elections” in January reek of the most rotten brand of cynicism.

Last year, after the fall of Baghdad, Bush and Blair rejected the call for free and fair elections. Instead the American troops were simply standing by when the country was looted. The people were “not ready” for elections. Let us remember that it was Donald Rumsfeld who literally said that “Freedom is untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things”. In reality the imperialist forces in the country are frightened of the Iraqi people voting for anti-occupation leaders. They will only accept sham elections supervised by the occupation forces, at most allowing an Allawi-style puppet regime to win the elections.

Unless Iraq is turned into an openly military dictatorship, Allawi’s interim government won’t last for too long. Already there are divisions in the government. Iraqi interim President Ghazi al-Yawar criticised the plan to attack Fallujah. “I completely disagree with those who see a need to decide the [Fallujah] matter through military action,” Yawar told Reuters. “The coalition’s handling of this crisis is wrong. It’s like someone who fired bullets at his horse’s head just because a fly landed on it; the horse died and the fly went away.”

The question of free elections is almost never linked with the question of the army and the police. However, state power in the last analysis is armed bodies of men, and that is why the United States will never give up on these essential positions. In theory the army and police are controlled by the Iraqi government, but in practice the coalition forces decide what they do. Apart from that, how can a country be free anyway as long as more than 100,000 foreign troops are stationed on its soil?

Action and reaction

The word freedom as applied to present day Iraq leaves a bad taste in the mouth. More than 100,000 Iraqis have been killed since the invasion, while Fallujah and other cities are in a shambles. Every voice of opposition to the occupation is brutally crushed. Whereas right after the official ending of the war many Iraqis were prepared to give the Americans some credit, these illusions have now been shattered by their bitter experience with the monstrous crimes inflicted upon them.

The present onslaught on Fallujah will have solved nothing. On the contrary, it will have the opposite effect of what the ruling clique in Washington intended. Far from having weakened the resistance, they will only have made themselves more unpopular with the Iraqi population. More and more Iraqis will cease to stand aside to see their relatives being slaughtered in this dirty war. What else can they do?

The truth is that the United States cannot win this war. The US Empire is overstretching itself to a great extent. The economic motives for entering Iraq in the first place are not paying off. Instead they see themselves more and more trapped in a Catch 22. They cannot simply leave Iraq because that would go against their economic and strategic interests. On the other hand, the more they crush the resistance by turning Iraqi cities to dust, the bigger the resistance grows. These elemental truths won’t remain hidden forever to the American public. There is a limit on the extent rulers can fool the people. And once these facts grip the consciousness of ordinary working people in America and elsewhere, things will move at a fast pace.

November 12, 2004

In Defence of Marxism

Maarten Vanheuverswyn
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