In “Masters of War,” Bob Dylan sang, “Hide behind desks” but “we can see through your masks.” Now, applying their version of grassroots democracy, the US has declared that Fallujah has been “liberated.” But the virtual ghost town is celebrating with no cries of joy – with no cries at all: only with the stench of tons of explosives, and the stench of decomposing bodies.
Baghdad sources close to the resistance tell Asia Times Online that in essence the Americans control only northern Fallujah and the main boulevards; the resistance controls the narrow alleys, and the southern part of the city. At night, anyone is a target – either to the resistance or to American snipers. What the resistance is stressing is the Mesopotamian version of a rapper in urban black America: “The man control the day; we control the night.”
A hard rain’s gonna fall
What the US has achieved with Fallujah reduced to a pile of rubble and hundreds of thousands of new refugees is unprecedented Sunni anger. A slow stream of residents who managed to escape from Fallujah to Baghdad tell of women and children killed by shrapnel or hit by US bombs. According to trader Aamir Yusouf, who remains in town after smuggling his family out, “there will be nothing left of Fallujah by the time they finish.”
Baghdad is swirling with rumors and conspiracy theories and many people do not know the extent of the horror in Fallujah – some blame the Arab media for talking obsessively about Yasser Arafat and forgetting about Iraq. Baghdad airport remains closed. A lot of anger exploded at last Friday’s prayers. At the al-Jilani mosque, Sheikh Mahmoud al-Isawi said that “the start of this war during the holiest nights of the month of Ramadan proves how much they hate Islam and Muslims.” At the Umm al-Qura mosque, the headquarters of the powerful Association of Muslim Scholars, Sheikh Mohammed Bashar al-Faidi told a crowd of thousands that “all of Iraq will turn in the next few days into one Fallujah whether America likes it or not,” adding that any election under the occupation would be illegitimate.
Mosul remains under control of the resistance, which is protecting banks, shops, hospitals, schools and fire stations from looters. The US base in Mosul – a former Saddam Hussein presidential palace – was looted this weekend by local citizens, not by the resistance. Now, apart from the Sunni triangle, even the Shi’ite holy city of Najaf is also under martial law.
An assistant cleric to Sheikh Abdullah al-Janabi, the head of the Fallujah mujahideen shura (council) that controlled the city before Operation Phantom Fury, said that “maybe [the Americans] will take it [Fallujah]. But it is not the end. There are 18 provinces in Iraq and the resistance will continue to grow tougher … America has taken its last breath.” This is something that will never be reported in mainstream US media – which keeps hammering the “humanitarian” approach of the US onslaught. And it won’t be reported in the Iraqi press either, because under martial law everybody has to parrot the interim government’s position – this operation is a major success – or else go to jail.
There were unconfirmed reports last week that al-Janabi was killed by US bombing, but the shura’s cleric insisted that “the sheikh is still in Fallujah leading the resistance.”
Qasim Dawud, interim Premier Iyad Allawi’s version of US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, said for his part that more than 1,000 “Saddamists and terrorists” had been killed, and 200 captured. Of those 200 only 14 are believed to be “foreign fighters,” most of them Iranians. The notion that Shi’ite Iranians would be defending Sunni Fallujah is ludicrous – one more crude neo-conservative plot to implicate Tehran. Later Allawi talked of 400 captured – and a non-specified number of foreigners being mostly Syrians, Saudis, Afghans and Moroccans. As for the elusive, perhaps non-existent, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the alleged main reason for the US razing Fallujah, Dawud said “he has escaped.”
Dawud said that only “malignant pockets” remain in Fallujah. That’s not what the resistance and independent observers are saying. Abu Saad al-Dlimi, the spokesman of the Fallujah mujahideen shura, told al-Jazeera that “US forces are still outside the [northwestern] Julan neighborhood. US forces were not able to gain one meter of this district.” Haza al-Afify, an Iraqi journalist inside Fallujah, confirmed to al-Jazeera that “fighting is also raging in the southern and southeastern neighborhoods, particularly al-Shuhada and the industrial quarter.” Al-Afify added that “if these neighborhoods are mere pockets, Fallujah will be harboring so many pockets.”
Al-Dlimi insisted that “if the US forces mean by calling the neighborhoods of al-Askari, al-Shuhada, al-Sina’i, al-Jughayfi, al-Wihdah and al-Jumhuriyah … pockets [of resistance] which they do not control thus far, I tell you that Fallujah consists only of all these neighborhoods.” The resistance story contradicts the United States’ spin. Al-Dlimi said no more than 100 “martyrs” were killed: with most victims “defenseless civilians, including those who were run over by the US forces’ tanks.”
The US won’t be pleased by his suggestion that “if [the Americans] say they have wrapped up operations in Fallujah, we are telling them to allow all satellite networks to enter the city … so the world can see what is really happening in the streets of Fallujah.”
On Saturday the Iraqi Red Crescent sent seven trucks and ambulances, 53 volunteers and three doctors to Fallujah to distribute food, blankets, water-purification tablets and medicine to hundreds if not thousands of families caught in the crossfire. But the US has prevented them from entering the city: the Red Crescent was held at Fallujah’s general hospital, “captured” by the Americans early last week, on the left bank of the Euphrates River. Abu Fahd, one of the volunteers, said that “none of the injured residents is being allowed to come to the hospital, while those outside are not allowed to go into town.”
The Iraqi Red Crescent knows as much as anyone in contact with Fallujah that the city has no medicine, no ambulances, no shelters, no power, no water, practically no food, and that the wounded are left to die while the streets are already littered with the dead. But although the Americans now insist they control 80% of the city, they have blocked the Iraqi Red Crescent because for them there are no Iraqi civilians trapped inside. The Iraqi resistance is a shadow army: the US military machine bombs it to oblivion, but rarely sees it. The thousands of civilians caught in the crossfire in Fallujah are also invisible – but they have even been denied their existence.
The horror faced by Fallujah’s civilians has hardly begun to emerge, although precision-strike democracy has started to be denounced by some who managed to escape Fallujah in these past few days.
Blood on the tracks
Not only “invisible” civilians are dead and buried in Fallujah – but the Geneva Convention as well. “Capturing” a major hospital and turning it into a military target; preventing civilians and noncombatants from escaping from, and forcefully returning them to, a war zone: these are war crimes, according, among others, to James Ross, senior legal advisor to Human Rights Watch.
Add to these rules of engagement the bombing of three small clinics – in one of them the medical staff and the patients were killed; highly-trained American snipers “shooting anything that moves,” according to eyewitness accounts in Fallujah to families and friends in Baghdad; entire Fallujah neighborhoods reduced to rubble by at least two weeks of air strikes – killing residents even before Operation Phantom Fury began; the bombing of the only telecom center linking Fallujah to the rest of the world; and the scandal of water to Tall Afar, Samarra and Fallujah being cut off during US attacks in the past two months, affecting up to 750,000 civilians – a case fully documented by the Cambridge Solidarity with Iraq and a serious contravention of international humanitarian law.
The .50-caliber machine-gun has became a free-for-all (its use on human targets is specifically forbidden by the Geneva Convention). Most private cars in Fallujah have been destroyed (they could be used for suicide bombings). And ambulances have been grounded.
Tangled up in war
Dr. Zafir al-Ani, an Iraqi political scientist, in an extensive interview with al-Jazeera, has laid out the extent of Sunni anger: “There is now a general Iraqi agreement that resistance is the only way … I say that the Iraqi government is pushing towards a real civil war in Iraq against the Sunni and the pan-Arab current … There are many exclamation marks lingering over the stance of the authority of holy Najaf regarding what is happening in Iraq, at a time when the Association of Muslim Scholars – and everyone remembers this – condemned and renounced what happened to our brethren in Najaf, Karbala and Sadr City. This authority is now also trying to quell the Shi’ite pan-Arab current. Ayatollah al-Hasani was detained because he called for boycotting the elections [in January]. There have also been preparations for some time to oppress the [Muqtada] al-Sadr current and to contain dealings with the government through a few known parties. The Iraqi government is oppressing the Shi’ite pan-Arab current and the national Sunni current.”