“In Fallujah, [the Americans] have created a new vague target: [Abu Musab] al-Zarqawi. Almost a year has elapsed since they created this new pretext and whenever they destroy houses, mosques, restaurants, and kill children and women, they said: ‘We have launched a successful operation against al-Zarqawi.’ The people of Fallujah assure you that this person, if he exists, is not in Fallujah … and we have no links to any groups supporting such inhuman behavior. We appeal to you to urge the UN [to prevent] the new massacre which the Americans and the puppet government are planning to start soon in Fallujah, as well as many parts of the country.”
– October 14 letter sent by the Fallujah shura (council) to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan
Whenever a neo-colonial power – or a puppet politician like interim Iraqi Premier Iyad Allawi – orders the widespread bombing of civilian areas, as in Fallujah, the rationale invoked is “regrettable necessity.” What is never mentioned is the real objective: collective punishment.
It’s crucial to check how Iraqi Shi’ites are interpreting this “necessity” of reducing Sunni Fallujah into rubble. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani – Iraq’s top Shi’ite religious authority – has not uttered a single syllable about it. Top Sunni clerics such as Sheikh Mehdi al-Sumaydi – the leader of the Salafis in Iraq – are very much aware of the incendiary consequences of Shi’ite – and Kurdish – soldiers fighting in the so-called “Allawi’s army” against Sunnis in Fallujah. This is a surefire recipe for civil war. The talk in Baghdad is of Sistani’s silence being widely interpreted by Sunnis as a Shi’ite endorsement of the US attack.
The US response was predictable: they raided the Ibn Taymiyah mosque and arrested Sheikh al-Sumaydi. Many Sunnis will inevitably interpret this development as a direct result of the alliance between Sistani and the Americans. But the real reason for the sheikh’s arrest is that he had been preaching armed struggle against the occupation.
Compare Sistani’s non-reaction to Muqtada al-Sadr’s. Sheikh Ahmed al-Misser, leader of Muqtada’s office in Sadr City in Baghdad, has stated publicly that “if the Fallujah people asked for help of any kind, our followers are to help them in any way they can. I mean help them by any means necessary.” Sources in Baghdad confirm that followers of Muqtada living near Fallujah, in such places as Hilla for instance, have been mobilized to take care of refugees from Fallujah. This means that for many Shi’ites, humanitarian concerns are much more important than sectarianism.
Arabs against Kurds
But the omens of an impending civil war in Iraq get more dreadful by the hour. The latest proof is the daredevil, coordinated storming by groups of black-masked mujahideen of six police stations in Mosul, in northern Iraq, where they captured loads of weapons, ammunition and flak jackets and then went on a mortar-firing rampage against Iraqi National Guard and US troops positioned on four of five of Mosul’s bridges over the Tigris. They ended up capturing the bridges – and truckloads of guerrillas are still roaming around Mosul. Residents say they have not seen such chaos since the US invasion in March 2003.
The US response was predictable: air strikes over parts of Mosul. And an army of snipers “shooting anything that moves,” according to an Iraqi journalist quoted by the Associated Press. As expected, Mosul is the new Fallujah: as early as Monday, the day when Operation Phantom Fury was launched on Fallujah, Iraq’s current defense minister, Hazim Shaalan, explicitly said that Mosul would be next. Shaalan tried to sell the usual Pentagon spin – blaming “groupings that came from neighboring western countries trying to step up terror operations there.” He meant Syria. Wrong: streets on fire in Mosul are part of the coordinated Iraqi resistance strategy of widespread counterattacking.
Mosul – the third-largest city in Iraq after Baghdad and Basra – is basically an Arab city. But it is right on the border of Iraqi Kurdistan. As local Iraqi journalists put it, Iraqi Arabs in Mosul most of all fear economic – and political – Kurdish expansionism. Residents strongly dislike the proliferation of buildings housing Kurdish political parties. But they also don’t like being intimidated by hardcore Islamists who promise to kill them if they get a job working for Allawi’s government or the Americans: in a country under occupation where unemployment may be as high as 60%, any job goes when one has to support a family.
The information war
Sources in Baghdad tell Asia Times Online that the population is even angrier than usual: the majority of the Sunni-dominated capital sees the assault on Fallujah as part of a massive campaign of normalization of US neo-colonial crimes. Baghdadis seem to be very much aware of the almost impenetrable media blackout imposed by the Pentagon – and the fact that all mainstream Fallujah war “news” comes from embedded media censored by the Pentagon.
Fallujah has always been defiant toward Saddam Hussein. Now its civilian population has been reduced to a bunch of “insurgents.” No one puts in context why Fallujah has become the symbol of the Iraqi resistance: it’s because on April 2003, marines opened fire on a peaceful demonstration, killing at least 18 people and wounding hundreds. Now, reports from family and friends about the deadly devastation inflicted by AC-130 gunships, F-16s, 2,000-pound bombs, cluster bombs and the most lethal snipers in the world against what is essentially a collection of slums should be telling the real story – but they will never make it to embedded CNN or BBC. Al-Jazeera’s office in Baghdad was closed by Allawi’s “government” in August. Even the al-Arabiya network is being criticized by Iraqi bloggers such as Raed for “doing its best to be as Bushy-friendly as they can; just some fragments of news that don’t mean anything. No one is covering what the hell is happening in Iraq.”
According to official Pentagon spin, “hundreds and hundreds” of “terrorists” have already been killed in Fallujah. There’s no proof – and there’s no way to independently confirm it. Also because of the news blackout, nobody knows how many Fallujah civilians are dead. Sat-phone calls to Baghdad by trapped Fallujah civilians tell of rows of decomposing bodies littering the streets. Firdoos al-Abadi, the lady who is the head of the Iraqi Red Crescent’s emergency committee, sums it all up: “It is a disaster inside Fallujah. There is no water, no electricity, no food. They [the Americans] are forbidding doctors from helping the people.” The Red Crescent sent a convoy of four trucks to the city on Thursday with some first aid kits, food, blankets and tents. But a makeshift hospital set up in a mosque is helpless because the doctors are severely under-equipped.
Dahr Jamail, blogging from Baghdad, as well as girl blogger Riverbend confirm what Asia Times Online has already posted: the resistance now controls parts of Baghdad neighborhoods, such as al-Dora, Abu Ghraib and Amiriyah. Jamail says there’s no electricity in the Aadhamiyah neighborhood – one of the key centers of the resistance, as well as in most of Baghdad. The lines outside gas stations stretch for as long as four kilometers. Water has been cut off. Many shops are closed. And significantly, “the Green Zone continues to be bombed by mortars every day, sometimes for extended periods of time”; and “the US base in the old Saddam palace in Aadhamiyah has been mortared every single night now for at least a week straight.” Baghdadis are furious with US soldiers in Fallujah bombing mosques – at least half of the city’s 120 – and using the ones still standing as lounges.
Asia Times Online sources, bloggers in Baghdad, they are all saying more or less the same thing: Iraqis are suffering collective punishment. With a media blackout fully enforced, the Bush administration and its appointed courier Allawi are effectively tying “collective punishment” to “regrettable necessity.” Which amounts to the same thing: a neo-colonial lie.
Iraqis are capable even to give their lives to protect a guest. They are also capable of giving their lives to get rid of an invader – and his puppet. The resistance has already sent its warning to “Saddam without a mustache” Allawi – by capturing some of his relatives. In 1958, the last prime minister imposed by the British occupation, Nuri Saad, was dragged through the streets of Baghdad until people, gruesomely, said he had become a sheesh kebab.