“Submit or Die”: The Siege of Fallujah and Beyond

by Voices in the Wilderness, UK
April 13, 2004

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Roughly 800 Iraqis have been killed in the latest escalation of US/UK repression and killing in Iraq. In the first of series of emergency updates Voices UK looks at what’s likely to happen next and the mind-set of some of the US soldiers fighting in Iraq.


Though a fragile ­- and incomplete – “cease-fire” is apparently still in place in Fallujah (AP, 12 April), on Sunday the New York Times reported that “American commanders are preparing for a prolonged campaign to quell the twin uprisings in Iraq . . . retaking the cities around Baghdad, if necessary block by block against an entrenched Sunni foe” and conducting “a series of short, sharp, local strikes at small, elusive bands of Shiite militia in southern cities, continuing until the militia was wiped out.” (11 April)

However also on Sunday -- in what the LA Times described as “a significant tactical shift” -- US officials announced that they were “seeking ‘political’ solutions to pacify [Fallujah]” and disband firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s militia “[a]s guerrillas appeared to extend their influence closer to [Baghdad] … shooting down an Apache helicopter about 3 miles from Baghdad's airport and cutting off communications between military posts on a key road leading west from the city.” (12 April) At the same time “additional U.S. forces have been maneuvering into place, and the military has warned it will launch an all-out assault on Fallujah if talks there between pro-U.S. Iraqi politicians and city officials … fall through.” (AP, 12 April)


Noting that, “not a single American journalist has investigated the links between the Israeli army's ‘rules of engagement’ -- so blithely handed over to US forces on Sharon's orders -- and the behavior of the US military in Iraq,” veteran Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk reminds us that, “[i]n besieging cities -- when they were taking casualties or the number of civilians killed was becoming too shameful to sustain -- the Israeli army would call a ‘unilateral suspension of offensive operations.’ They did this 11 times after they surrounded Beirut in 1982.” (The Independent, 11 April). It is possible that this is what we are seeing right now: on Monday the top US commander in the Middle East “called for at least two more brigades -­ up to 10,000 troops -­ to be sent to help quell the upheaval -­ and the most senior US general in Iraq declared that “the mission of US forces is to kill of capture Moqtada al-Sadr.” (Guardian, 13 April)

However even if negotiations “succeed” they are likely to provide only a temporary reprieve. According to the New York Times, “Pentagon policy makers and military officers … are worried that without a successful political process … the current military operations to restore order [sic] throughout restive Sunni and Shiite cities may have to be repeated in months to come.” (12 April)  “[U]nless the political side keeps up, we’ll have to do it again after July 1 [when ‘sovereignty’ is nominally being transferred to an Iraqi Interim Government] and maybe in September and again next year and again and again,” a military officer told the paper. However, since the US continues to pursue what the Financial Times’s Middle East editor correctly identified as its “desire to control Iraq’s political transition while making it appear that it is driven by Iraqis,” the prospects of “a successful political process” are, to put it mildly, bleak. (January 17)


According to the Washington Post US marines are “eager to plunge back into the fray” in Fallujah. Lt. Col. Brennan Byrne, who commands the 5th Marine Battalion there told the paper that “Given the virulent nature of the enemy, the prospect of some city father walking in and getting Joe Jihadi to give himself up is pretty slim … That’s fine, because they’ll get whipped up, come out fighting again and get mowed down ... Their only choices are to submit or die.” (11 April)

To be sure, the men, women and children of Fallujah do appear to have been “mowed down” in large numbers. On Sunday the director of the town’s general hospital, Rafie al-Issawi, estimated -­ on the basis of figures gathered from four clinics around the city as well as the hospital itself -- that more than 600 people had been killed and that “the vast majority of the dead were women, children and the elderly.” (Guardian, 12 April)


Lt. Col. Byrne denies this, stating that, “95% of those were military age males that were killed in the fighting.” Indeed, according to Lt. Col. Byrne, “the marines are trained to be precise in their firepower … [and are] very good at what they do.” (Guardian, 12 April)

Those who have managed to flee the city have been able to give some examples of this precision. For example, Mohammed Hadi, who told the Telegraph that, “US marines snipers had taken up position in the minarets of a local mosque and shot dead his neighbour.” “He was just on his way to buy tomatoes,” he told the paper. And 17-year-old Hassan Monem, who claimed that two of his friends “were shot as they stood in my yard.”

Likewise, Ali, 28, who had managed to escape with part of his family, related how “one man in an Opel drove his wife and children to the bridge so they would walk over. As he drove back to town, an American sniper killed him.” (The Guardian, 12 April) Meanwhile US author Rahul Majahan, who managed to get into Fallujah during the “ceasefire”, found “[a]n ambulance with two neat, precise bullet-holes in the windshield on the driver's side, pointing down at an angle that indicated they would have hit the driver's chest” and “another ambulance again with a single, neat bullet-hole in the windshield” (EmpireNotes.org weblog, 12 April entry)


The US has come up with a novel method for dealing with the PR problems associated with killing large numbers of Iraqis civilians. Asked on Sunday, what he would tell Iraqis about televised images “of Americans and coalition soldiers killing innocent civilians,” Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the senior military spokesman in Iraq answered “Change the channel.”’ (NYT, 12 April). “[S]tations … showing Americans intentionally killing women and children are not legitimate news sources,” he asserted. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it does not appear to be working.


According to Jonathan Steele, “Hundreds of families have driven out of Falluja over the last two days … The stories they tell have a common theme: how the Americans used to be good when they first arrived in Falluja, how arrogance and in sensitivity gradually alienated people, and how now under the pressure of so many deaths almost everyone supports the resistance, the mojahedin.” (Guardian, 12 April)

One such, Adnan Abid, a 35-year-old taxi driver from Fallujah, explained to the Telegraph that “I used to believe it was a good thing the Americans came to Iraq. Now I have lost all hope until the occupation ends.” (12 April) His wife, Hakima, added “There was little resistance in Fallujah before this week . . . Now everyone belongs to the resistance.” Outside a Fallujah school 16-year-old Soran Karim told the New York Times that “killing Americans was not just a good thing”: “It is the best thing. They are infidels, they are aggressive, they are hunting our people.” (11 April)


“Falluja captured the world’s headlines,” the Guardian’s Jonathan Steele notes “but all over the Sunni areas there have been mini-Fallujas for months. US troops respond to attacks with artillery fire and air strikes, clumsy house-to-house searches, and mass arrests. In the process they create more enemies and provoke a desire for revenge.”

“We have even lost our right to get undressed for bed," a businessman in the town of Muqdadiya,” told him “recount[ing] how American troops had burst into his home after dark, handcuffed him in his night clothes in front of his terrified wife and children, and taken him away … His ordeal was short compared with the torture he suffered … under Saddam … but he said it left a deeper wound.” “Under Saddam they summoned you to the security police headquarters, and that was where the torture began. They didn't humiliate you in sight of your family,” he explained. (Guardian, 11 April).

Abdul Razak al-Muaimy, a 32-year-old laborer, told the New York Times that American soldiers had humiliated him in front of his children: “They searched my house. They kicked my Koran. They speak to me so poorly in front of my children. It's not that I encourage my son to hate Americans. It's not that I make him want to join the resistance. Americans do that for me.”  (11 April).


Similar stories abound. Thus David Blair notes the “gleams of loathing” lighting up the eyes of two Iraqis, who had been found, unarmed in Central Baghdad and were now “squatting in the dust their hands tied by plastic restraints.” (Telegraph, 10 April) “We picked up these guys for wearing black,” explained one soldier from the 1st Armoured Division. “All of Sadr's guys wear black. It's like a Viet Cong thing.” “Gunmen loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shi'ite leader, do indeed wear black,” Blair notes”But so do Shi'ite pilgrims -- and hundreds of thousands are now converging on … Najaf and Karbala for the Shi'ite festival of Arba'een. Saddam Hussein's regime … rounded up pilgrims around the time of Arba'een by the simple expedient of arresting men in black.”

Plus ca change.


In an e-mail quoted in the New York Times, Maj Gen James N. Hattis, commander of the First Marine Division, states that “We will always be humanitarian in our efforts. We will fight him on our terms. May God help them when we’re done with them.” (11 April)

Others are less sanguine about the US approach. For example, a senior UK army officer, who has told the Sunday Telegraph that “when US troops are attacked with mortars in Baghdad they use mortar-locating radar to find the firing point and then attack the general area with artillery, even though the area they are attacking may be in the middle of a densely populated residential area … They are not concerned about the Iraqi loss of life in the way the British are,” “they view [Iraqis] as untermenschen [the Nazi expression for “sub-humans”]. Their attitude towards the Iraqis is tragic, it’s awful.” (11 April).

Based on “statements on individual incidents by the US military, Iraqi police and hospital officials” Associated Press estimates that “‘about 880 Iraqis [have been] killed around the country” over the past week (AP, 12 April) whilst The Independent on Sunday estimates the Iraqi civilian death toll for the period 4-10 April at 541, with over 1370 civilians injured. (11 April) By contrast US military deaths were placed at 36, and non-US military deaths at 16.


Last October Kofi Annan observed that “as long as there’s an occupation, the resistance will grow.” (International Herald Tribune, 15 Oct) “[US] commanders say they have no doubt they can achieve [military success], given their force’s superior strength and enough support from Washington and the American people” (NYT, 11 April, emphasis added). We can and must deprive the US (and the British) Government of that support for without an end to the US/UK military occupation the future for Iraq’s people looks grim indeed.

Voice in the Wilderness UK has been working with its American sister group since 1998 to provide information and raise awareness about US/UK policy on Iraq, and to help organize and promote grassroots activism in the UK in solidarity with the Iraqi people. http://www.voicesuk.org/.




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