Middle East


A Year since Fallujah’s “Liberation,” Resistance Continues

U.S. Marines from 1st Platoon Echo Company 2nd Battalion 7th Marine Regiment conduct a foot patrol through the streets of Fallujah earlier this month. (Photo: DAVID FURST / AFP-Getty Images)

“Tonight, Iraqi security and coalition forces kicked off offensive operations to eliminate the terrorist and insurgent safe haven in Fallujah and to restore control to the Iraqi government,” U.S. General George Casey told a press briefing on Nov. 8, 2004. “The operation will liberate the people of Fallujah and begin the reconstruction of the city and the restoration of normal life.”

Without a trace of irony, U.S. defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters on the day of the launch of Operation Phantom Fury (the codename for the U.S. military’s assault on the rebel Iraqi city located 55 kilometers west of Baghdad): “No government can allow terrorists and foreign fighters to use its soil to attack its people and to attack its government, and to intimidate the Iraqi people.”

As with the White House’s broader project of “liberating” Iraq, the “liberation” of Fallujah came at a terrible cost to Iraqis. But the reoccupation of the city was a pyrrhic victory for Washington. As conquest of Fallujah has illustrated, the U.S. occupation forces in Iraq may have a proven aptitude for destruction, but their ability to convince Iraqis to accept the occupation — through either cajoling them by offering an ever-thinning facade of sovereignty or intimidating them through displays of brute force — has proved far less.

In a Nov. 6 New York Times article on Fallujah’s reoccupation, with the headline rider “Why the Iraqi city the Americans conquered a year ago is still a threat,” reporter Chris Allbritton explained that “like much else about the war in Iraq, Fallujah hasn’t turned out as the U.S. had hoped. In many respects, the city reflects less the progress of the U.S. enterprise than its troubles.”

In an attempt to control the city’s still-hostile population, the U.S. military has implemented extreme police-state measures (even by the far from liberal standards of the rest of the “new Iraq”), which seal Fallujah off from the rest of the country.

“The military has closed the city to the outside world, allowing people in only after they show ID cards that they are residents of Fallujah,” Allbritton reported. “The Marines man five entry checkpoints turning away anyone who can’t provide proper credentials or who seems suspicious.”

Despite the city’s lock-down, U.S. soldiers continue suffer attacks — from insurgent snipers, car bombs and I.E.D.s (improvised explosive devices), as well as rocket and mortar attacks on U.S. bases. According to Allbritton, the movements of U.S. patrols are sometimes announced by the loudspeakers of Fallujah’s mosques in an attempt to aid resistance fighters’ attacks. The city’s residents are unwilling to aid the U.S. troops or their Iraqi puppet troops in their efforts to hunt down armed resistance fighters.

Homegrown Resistance

Washington’s failure to end armed resistance in the city is only a surprise for those who bought the propaganda line of the Pentagon that U.S. troops didn’t face Iraqi guerrillas with a degree of popular support, but only foreign jihadists and terrorists led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

In reality, the big majority of the resistance in Fallujah was and is homegrown. The Nov. 24, 2004 Boston Globe reported, for example, that the then-leadership of the resistance in the city was a local electrician and a cleric from a Fallujah mosque.

The origins of Fallujah’s status as a bastion of anti-occupation resistance lies not in some takeover by “foreign terrorists” nor, as some corporate media reports claimed, in the city’s residents feeling loyalty to ousted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Casey claimed at his 2004 press briefing that Fallujah was the “centre of terrorist and insurgent activity in Iraq,” adding: “From Fallujah,” the rebels “have exported terror across Iraq against all Iraqis.” In reality, it was the U.S. that brought terror to Fallujah.

The city’s transformation into a bastion of resistance to the U.S.-led occupation occurred more than a year before “Phantom Fury” leveled a large portion the city in the name of “freedom.”

The origins of armed resistance in Fallujah can be traced almost precisely to April 28, 2003, when U.S. troops, who had arrived in the city five days earlier, massacred 17 apparently unarmed protesters.

The April 28 protest had demanded an end to Fallujah’s occupation and, more specifically, that U.S. troops vacate the al Qaid primary school, where classes had been scheduled to resume on April 29. The protesters chanted slogans that included “No to Saddam! No to the U.S.!”, according to “Violent Response: The U.S. Army in Al-Falluja,” a report released by New York-based Human Rights Watch (H.R.W.) in June 2003.

On April 30, another three Iraqi protesters were killed by U.S. soldiers. The response of the city’s residents was immediate — that night a grenade attack injured seven U.S. soldiers. Less than a month later, the first U.S. troops had been killed in Fallujah.

By early February the next year, the incessant resistance to their presence forced U.S. troops to abandon the city. The Feb. 8, 2004 Washington Post reported that “U.S. troops have abandoned fixed positions in the city …

“On any given day in Fallujah, it is hard to know who really is in charge. U.S. forces are seen less often than before in the muddy streets. The U.S.-sanctioned local government operates behind barricades, and police hunker down in fortress-like compounds.”

Origins of Rebellion

The challenge to Washington’s attempts to impose a new, U.S.-friendly order on Iraq represented by the Fallujah rebellion could not go unanswered. Using the March 31, 2004, lynching of four U.S. mercenaries employed by Blackwater USA as justification, the marines launched an attempt to reoccupy Fallujah. Widespread Iraqi opposition to a vicious siege of the city forced the attempt to be called off.

A ceasefire saw a formal handover of responsibility for the city’s security to the Fallujah Protection Army — an Iraqi-led force that began to recruit the city’s resistance fighters. “Many of the guys who were shooting at the marines have simply put on their old army uniforms and joined the Fallujah Brigade,” a U.S. official told the May 6, 2004, Washington Post.

The ceasefire agreement amounted to a U.S. back down — an acknowledgment that the political costs of proceeding with crushing the resistance in Fallujah through brute force would be too great.

In early November 2004, however, with the U.S. presidential election safely out of the way, Washington launched an ultimately successful attempt to recapture the city. The Nov. 10, 2004, London Guardian reported that “36,000 of the city’s 50,000 homes were destroyed, along with 60 schools and 65 mosques and shrines … Iraqi N.G.O.s and medical workers estimate between 4,000 and 6,000 dead, mostly civilians — a proportionately higher death rate than in Coventry and London during the blitz.”

A report by renowned independent U.S. journalist Dahr Jamail, published by the Dec. 3, 2004 New Standard, included eyewitness accounts of U.S. brutality during the assault on Fallujah. Several refugees from Fallujah recounted witnessing the killing of injured Iraqis, including U.S. tanks crushing people to death.

Chemical Weapons

Recently, more evidence has emerged of U.S. war crimes committed during the city’s reoccupation. “Fallujah, The Hidden Massacre,” a documentary screened on Italian TV on Nov. 8, alleged that chemical weapons, including white phosphorus (WP), were used against Fallujah’s inhabitants. Similar accusations have been made in the past. During a March 3 press conference in Baghdad, for example, Khalid ash Shaykhli, an official from Iraq’s health ministry, accused the U.S. of using weapons banned by international conventions during the assault on Fallujah.

The U.S. State Department, responding to the Italian documentary on Nov. 10, denied that U.S. troops had used WP against enemy forces. “They were fired into the air to illuminate enemy positions at night, not at enemy fighters,” a department issued media statement declared.

But on Nov. 15, the Pentagon admitted its troops used WP munitions against resistance fighters during the November 2004 attack on Fallujah. Pentagon spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Barry Venable told a press conference that the U.S. military had used WP as an incendiary weapon in Fallujah.

He referred reporters to an article in the March-April 2005 edition of the U.S. Army’s Field Artillery magazine in which veterans of the Fallujah assault described their use of WP weapons.

“WP proved to be an effective and versatile munition,” the authors wrote. “We used it for screening missions at two breeches and, later in the fight, as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes when we could not get effects on them with HE [high explosives]. We fired ‘shake and bake’ missions at the insurgents, using WP to flush them out and HE to take them down.”

WP ignites in the air and is capable of burning people right to the bone unless extinguished. However, the Pentagon claims that WP is not a chemical weapon and that its use is legal.

Protocol III of the 1980 international Convention on Conventional Weapons (C.C.W.) prohibits the use of incendiary weapons “to make any military objective located within a concentration of civilians the object of attack by means of incendiary weapons” unless the military objective “is clearly separated from the concentration of civilians and all feasible precautions are taken with a view to limiting the incendiary effects to the military objective and to avoiding, and in any event to minimizing, incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects.”

The U.S. is a signatory to the C.C.W., but not to Protocol III.

Despite bringing some of the more vicious weapons in its arsenal to bear, victory for the U.S. military in Fallujah has remained elusive. The Nov. 16 Christian Science Monitor reported: “One year after Marines launched the most ferocious urban assault since the Vietnam War — emptying the city in order to root out entrenched insurgents — the battle for Fallujah has yet to be won.”