“It’s difficult to believe that in this day and age, when people are blogging, emailing and communicating at the speed of light, a whole city is being destroyed and genocide is being committed – and the whole world is aware and silent. Darfur, Americans? Take a look at what you’ve done in Fallujah.”
– Female Iraqi blogger Riverbend

The Fallujah offensive has virtually disappeared from the news cycle. But history – if written by Iraqis – may well enshrine it as the new Guernica. Paraphrasing Jean-Paul Sartre memorably writing about the Algerian War (1956-62), after Fallujah no two Americans shall meet without a corpse lying between them: the up to 500,000 victims of the sanctions in the 1990s, according to United Nations experts; the up to 100,000 victims since the beginning of the invasion of Iraq, according to the British medical paper The Lancet; and at least 6,000 victims, and counting, in Fallujah, according to the Iraqi Red Crescent.

The new Guernica

Fallujah is the new Guernica. The residents of the Basque capital in 1937 were resisting the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. Fallujah in 2004 was resisting the dictator Iyad Allawi, the US-installed interim premier. Franco asked Nazi Germany – which supported him – to bomb Guernica, just as Allawi “asked” the Pentagon to bomb Fallujah. Guernica had no air force and no anti-aircraft guns to defend itself – just like Fallujah. In Guernica – as in Fallujah – there was no distinction between civilians and guerrillas: the order was to “kill them all.” The Nazis shouted “Viva la muerte!” (“Long live death”) along with their fascist Spanish counterparts before bombing Guernica.

Marine commanders said on the record that Fallujah was the house of Satan. Franco denied the Guernica massacre and blamed the local population – just as Allawi and the Pentagon deny any civilian deaths and insist “insurgents” are guilty: after all, they dared to defend their own city, hiding inside their hundreds of formerly intact mosques.

Fallujah has been reduced to rubble, and thousands of civilians have died. But Asia Times Online sources in Baghdad confirm that according to residents, the southern – and larger – part of Fallujah is still controlled by the resistance; the Americans control only the north and some eastern spots. Small groups made up of five to 20 mujahideen still conduct hit-and-run attacks. More than 15,000 refugee families may be living in sordid makeshift shelters around Fallujah – not to mention the upwards of 200,000 residents who escaped the city before it was leveled.

Talking to al-Jazeera television network this past weekend, Sheikh Abd as-Salam al-Kubaysi, chief of the public relations department of the powerful Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars (AMS) confirmed that “until now, more than half of Fallujah is in the hands of the resistance.” Al-Kubaysi added that “the Americans are entrenched in Fallujah but cannot get out and on to any street or alley in more than half the city, whether that be in Jolan, Shuhada or the industrial zone, or Nazal, or in many places.”

Dr. al-Kubaysi is an unimpeachable source. A native Fallujan and university professor of Islamic Sharia, he represents the AMS outside Iraq and lived in Fallujah until before the invasion of Iraq. AMS clerics in Baghdad also confirm Iraqi Red Crescent estimates, via its spokesman Muhamad al-Nuri, that more than 6,000 people – mostly civilians – may have died. Nuri confirms “bodies can be seen everywhere and people were crying when receiving food parcels. It is very sad, it is a human disaster.”

Another Halabja?

Fifteen years ago in Halabja – at a time when Washington was an enthusiastic supplier of chemical weapons to Saddam Hussein – thousands of Kurds were gassed. Even the US Central Intelligence Agency has disputed Saddam’s responsibility, blaming Iranians instead. Assuming Saddam did it, and did it deliberately, the US may have done the same thing in Fallujah. As Asia Times Online has reported, Fallujah doctors have identified either swollen and yellowish corpses without any injuries, or “melted bodies” – victims of napalm, the terrifying cocktail of polystyrene and jet fuel. Our sources confirm testimonies by residents who managed to escape the Jolan neighborhood of bombing by “poisonous gases.” A resident called Abu Sabah told of “weird bombs that smoke like a mushroom cloud … and then small pieces fall from the air with long tails of smoke behind them. The pieces of these strange bombs explode into large fires that burn the skin even when you throw water over them.” This is exactly what happens to people bombed with napalm or white phosphorus. The UN banned the bombing of civilians with napalm in 1980. The US is the only country in the world still using napalm.

Upwards of 250,000 Fallujans at least had the chance to escape: instead they became Fallujah refugees. Practically not a single word from them about the massacre is to be found in US corporate media. This is yet one more extreme, bitter irony of the war: President George W. Bush and the neo-conservatives invaded Iraq based on “intelligence” supplied by five-star refugees like Ahmad Chalabi and Allawi – but refugees nonetheless.

The counterinsurgency blueprint

The defining image of Fallujah – for Iraqis, for the Arab world, for 1.3 billion Muslims – is the summary execution of a wounded, defenseless Iraqi man inside a mosque by a marine. This execution, caught on tape, suggests “special” rules of engagement were applying. Marine commanders have been on the record telling their soldiers to “shoot everything that moves and everything that doesn’t move”; to fire “two bullets in every body”; in case of seeing any military-aged men in the streets of Fallujah, to “drop ’em”; and to spray every home with machine-gun and tank fire before entering them. These “rules” are all confirmed by residents of Fallujah who managed to escape.

The counterinsurgency blueprint in Iraq is a 182-page field manual distributed to each and every soldier and issued in October by the Pentagon. It’s very enlightening to confront its provisions with the reality on the ground in Fallujah – and also take into consideration the fact that the rules of engagement became even “looser.”

Counterinsurgency missions must achieve the end state established by the president. All leaders must keep in mind the purpose of their operations and the criteria of success used to assess them. Achieving success in counterinsurgency operations involves accomplishing the following tasks:

  • Protect the population.
  • Establish local political institutions.
  • Reinforce local governments.
  • Eliminate insurgent capabilities.
  • Exploit information from local sources.

By any standards, the whole mission was a political disaster. Fallujah’s population was not protected: it was bombed out of the city and turned into a mass of thousands of refugees. Political institutions were already in place: the Fallujah Shura was running the city. No local government can possibly run a pile of rubble to be recovered by seething citizens, not to mention be “reinforced.” “Insurgent capabilities” were not eliminated; the resistance dispersed around the 22 other cities out of control by the occupation, and spread up north to Mosul; and the Americans remain without intelligence “from local sources” because they antagonized every possible heart and mind. All this to achieve the “end state” established by Bush.

On armed action:

This course favors violence rather than mass mobilization and normally results in an inverted pyramid, with the combatants themselves the bulk of the movement. This was the approach taken by [Fidel] Castro in Cuba during the 1950s and may be an approach some insurgents in Iraq have taken against the post-Saddam government, although some efforts to mobilize have been reported.

Wrong. The combatants are not “the bulk of the movement”: they are an armed vanguard representing the widespread Sunni struggle against the occupation. Whole cities are mobilized against the occupation. Whole sectors of Baghdad – for the first time since April 2003 – are totally out of the Americans’ control. Many in the Sunni triangle told this correspondent one year ago they were at the tipping point of joining the armed resistance. They’ve already crossed the line long ago.

Security of the populace is an imperative. This is security from the influence of the insurgents initially. The population is then mobilized, armed and trained to protect itself. Effective security allows local political and administrative institutions to operate freely and commerce to flourish.

Sunnis simply don’t trust US-trained security forces, period: they are identified as collaborationists, just as in Nazi-occupied France, or in Algeria fighting French colonialism in the early 1960s. The resistance has widely infiltrated the US-trained Iraqi forces. Additional proof is that hundreds deserted and joined the resistance immediately before the Fallujah offensive.

As quickly as possible, though, HN [host nation] military and police must assume the primary combat role. A long-term US combat role may undermine the legitimacy of the HN government and risks converting the conflict into a US-only war. That combat role can also further alienate cultures that are hostile to the US. On the occasion when the threat to US interests is great and indirect means have proven insufficient, preemptive US combat operations may be required. Direct use of US combat forces in counterinsurgency operations remains a policy option for the president, and army forces provide it when required.

The majority of Iraqis know this has always been a US-only war; they have been “alienated” for a long time now, if not downright hostile. Fallujah was indeed a “preemptive US combat operation,” so this means an indigenous resistance was a “great” threat to US interests; this also means, according to the Pentagon itself, that the responsibility for the Fallujah massacre is ultimately Bush’s.

Excessive or indiscriminate use of force is likely to alienate the local populace, thereby increasing support for insurgent forces.

The Pentagon describes Fallujah, even before it happened.

The American way of war has been to substitute firepower for manpower. As a result, US forces have frequently resorted to firepower in the form of artillery or air any time they make contact. This creates two negatives in a counterinsurgency. First, massive firepower causes collateral damage, thereby frequently driving the locals into the arms of the insurgents. Second, it allows insurgents to break contact after having inflicted casualties on friendly forces. A more effective method is to attack with ground forces to gain and maintain contact, with the goal of completely destroying the insurgent force. This tactic dictates that military forces become skilled in pursuits. The unit that makes the initial contact with the insurgent force requires rapid augmentation to maintain pressure against the fleeing force, envelop it, and destroy it. These augmentation [reaction] forces should be given the highest priority.

The “American way of war” once again messed up in Fallujah, whatever the method. “Massive firepower” indeed caused widespread “collateral damage”; and reaction forces failed to “maintain pressure against the fleeing force.” The resistance is reorganized all over the Sunni triangle, as well as in Mosul, and still controls at least 60% of destroyed Fallujah itself.

The successful conduct of counterinsurgency operations relies on the willing support and cooperation of the populations directly involved. Greater priority and awareness is needed to understand the motivations of the parties involved in the conflict and the population as a whole. The understanding of the background and development of the conflict into which US forces are intervening is of particular significance. This requires a detailed understanding of the cultural environment and the human terrain in which the US forces will be operating and thereby places a heavy reliance on the use of HUMINT.

HUMINT, human intelligence, was the first casualty in Fallujah. When you have marine commanders justifying an attack on a whole city because it is the house of Satan, any “detailed understanding of the cultural environment” had already been buried in the desert sands.

Failure to recognize, respect, understand and incorporate an understanding of the cultural and religious aspects of the society in which US forces are interacting could rapidly lead to an erosion of the legitimacy of the mission.

In fact, this whole scenario started playing out as early as April 2003, when the resistance movement was born at the Abu Hanifa Mosque in Baghdad and when marines opened fire on a peaceful demonstration in Fallujah.

The mission of PSYOP [psychological operation] is to influence the behavior of foreign target audiences to support US national objectives. PSYOP accomplishes this by conveying selected information and advising on actions that influence the emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of foreign audiences. Behavioral change is at the root of the PSYOP mission.

The record shows that the majority of world public opinion does not support “US national objectives” in Iraq, regardless of whatever extensive PSYOPs they have been subjected to.

Deny insurgents access to the population and resources. Deny the enemy the ability to live. Cut them off from food, water, clothing – everything. Identify and prioritize population sectors and resources to be secured and protected. Unify and coordinate all civil and security forces and assets within the community with special attention given to around-the-clock security, intelligence collection, PSYOP and civil affairs. Include HN forces in security-related plans and operations to the maximum extent possible. Mobilize, arm, and train the local population to provide their own local community security. Structure security force activity and actions to lead to the populace overtly picking a side. However, these activities and actions must not be abusive. Establish leverage. Use advice, equipment, and money to attempt to change people’s attitudes and behavior positively.

This is the same old “starve the water and the fish will die” tactic, already analyzed in a previous article (Counterinsurgency run amok , Nov 18). Once again it has been an abject failure, as the “fish” keep breeding, the “water” is no less than the whole Sunni triangle, and nobody is able to identify a single tangible benefit of life under occupation.

Typical objectives for a population and resources control operation include the following: Sever any relationship between the population and insurgents. Identify and destroy insurgent support activities within the community. Identify and destroy insurgent organizational infrastructure. Identify and eliminate the insurgent political apparatus (communications). Institute harsh penalties for those caught supporting the insurgents. Create a secure physical and psychological environment for the population, one in which people are free to go about their business and prosper without worrying about insurgents taking their freedom and prosperity from them. Counteract enemy propaganda. Conduct a national IO campaign strategy with interagency planning and resources that distributes its message and is responsive to current events to ensure relevancy.

The cumulative US failure is due to well-known reasons: cultural insensitivity; no local human intelligence, because hearts and minds have been alienated by a “circle the wagons” mentality; and total incapacity of creating “a secure physical and psychological environment for the population.” Moreover, counterinsurgency “experts” have no definitive weapons against the democratization of high technology. A marine can call an air strike with a satellite phone? The resistance replies with thousands of engineers, technicians and mechanics able to rig thousands of cellular phones and remote-control doorbells to set up ambushes and booby traps.

Regardless of the legal status of those persons captured, detained or otherwise held in custody by US soldiers, they receive humane treatment until properly released. They are provided with the minimum protections delineated in the Geneva Conventions.

Compare it with Abu Ghraib prison, where abuses took place. And compare it with the leveling of a whole city in order to “save it.”

The facts of the occupation

The “success” of US counterinsurgency efforts can also effectively be measured against the occupation record so far.

  • Dead Iraqi civilians are estimated to be anything from 15,000 to 100,000 (the British Lancet report). Johns Hopkins University is 90% certain there are more than 40,000 dead civilians.
  • The resistance was around 5,000 strong in late 2003. Now it is at least 20,000 strong. Some British generals put them at 50,000 strong – and counting.
  • Of the US$18.4 billion in Iraqi reconstruction funds, Washington/Baghdad has spent only $1.7 billion. Our Baghdad sources confirm the capital has degenerated into a giant, hyper-violent slum, getting worse by the day. There’s 25% less electricity now compared with Saddam times in early 2003 – 66% less in Baghdad.
  • At least 400,000 Iraqi children suffer from chronic diarrhea and have almost no protein, according to a UN development report. Sixty percent of rural Iraqis and 20% of urban Iraqis are forced to drink contaminated water.
  • According to a Gallup poll – taken before the Fallujah massacre – only 33% of respondents thought their lives were better than before the war. Ninety-four percent said Baghdad was more dangerous. Sixty-six percent believed the occupation could degenerate into a civil war. And 80% wanted the occupation over right after the January 30 elections.

One thousand Guernicas

What Americans and US corporate media seem incapable of understanding is that counterinsurgency operations – however massive and deadly – simply are not enough to break the back of wars of national liberation. The Fallujah offensive was a typical demonstration of the power of which Washington “chicken hawks” are fond. But if they had read their Che Guevara (Episodes in the Cuban Revolutionary War) and their General Vo Nguyen Giap (Writings) of the Vietnam resistance correctly, they would have seen that instilling fear and terror is useless as a strategy of capturing hearts and minds. No wonder the majority of Sunnis (the “water”) keep supporting the resistance (the “fish”) with weapons, cash and shelter, and are inclined to boycott the elections.

Much more than grieve over the dead and the rubble to which Fallujah was reduced, they took note of two very important facts. Not a single government agency, be it American or Iraqi, offered any kind of assistance to the 200,000-plus residents who in a flash were turned into refugees: instead they turned off water and electricity in the city. And the UN High Commissioner for Refugees was nowhere to be seen – as well as any other representative of the “international community.” The real story of what happened to Fallujah is being told by these 200,000-plus new refugees, and a few lucky hundreds who managed to escape during the battle. They are the Picassos who will paint the new Guernica for future historians.

As soon as these thousands of refugees return home, so will the bulk of the resistance: after all they are residents of Fallujah themselves, enjoying total local support; and they will certainly attack any US-trained kind of force left behind to protect whatever US-installed puppet government is put in place. So the Americans may leave the “house of Satan,” and then the Fallujah mujahideen Shura (council) that was running the city since last April inevitably will be back to power; or the Americans may stay in Fallujah, and the resistance will continue to wreak havoc in a string of other cities in the Sunni heartland. The result will be the same: the new Guernica sacrificed for nothing.

Nothing? Not really. The iron-clad, not-so-hidden neo-conservative agenda for the Middle East is balkanization of the Arab world – serving the interests of their allies, the Likud Party in Israel. The neo-cons want the Middle East to fracture along ethnic and tribal lines. They want Sunni against Shi’ite. They want civil war in Iraq. They want chaos, as in “the empire of chaos” as formulated by stellar French scholar Alain Joxe. Israel Shahak’s The Zionist Plan for the Middle East details that to survive, Israel must become an imperial regional power by balkanizing all existing Arab states. In this scenario, a major counterinsurgency operation like Fallujah, the new Guernica, may have been the first. It certainly won’t be the last.