Fallujah - A Shooting Too Far?
by Felicity Arbuthnot
April 30, 2003
The shooting of protesters outside a school at Fallujah, approximately 30 miles west of Baghdad - where US troops were apparently billeted - by US troops reportedly from the 1st Battalion of 325th Airborne Infantry Division of the 82nd Airborne Division, may be an outrage too far and return to haunt the US and UK troops. Iraq is a country where historical memory is immediate and like Ireland, perceived or actual injustices never fade.
Out of a crowd of two hundred, it seems seventy five were injured and thirteen to fifteen killed - nearly half maimed or dead.
Fallujah was seized by the British under General Stanley Maude on 19th March 1917. He is buried in Baghdad's Rashid Cemetery. More recently Fallujah was provided by the UK, in the 1980's with a fourteen million £ chemical factory to produce chlorine and phenol, named the Tariq plant. The deal was allegedly concealed from Parliament by the then Trade Minister, Sir Paul Channon.
When the Gulf war disrupted production at the Fallujah plant, Iraq successfully claimed three hundred thousand pounds compensation from the UK government"s Export Credit Guarantee Department. However, later Tariq became subject of UN weapons Inspector"s (UNSCOM) scrutiny and accused of producing chemical weapons, was destroyed.
Fallujah is seared into Iraq's collective psyche as completely as the attack on the Ameriyah civilian air raid shelter, bombed by US planes during the Gulf war. Also in 1991, the market in Fallujah was bombed, reportedly by US planes flying very low. Other reports say the UK planes were also involved. When residents ran to help the injured and seek the dead, in a familiar pattern, the planes returned and bombed the rescuers.
Former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark visited shortly after and reported at least two hundred civilian deaths and a stunning five hundred injured.
The attacks also leveled an Egyptian owned hotel and a row of modern, concrete five and six story apartments with a further (estimated at the time) two hundred dead. Military spokespersons later said they were aiming for a bridge, but Human Rights Watch reported that: "All buildings for four hundred meters on either side of the street - houses and market, were flattened."
"The term 'collateral damage' is inapplicable", says Ramsey Clark, pointing out that the attacks were in broad daylight, when much of the area would have been at its most populated. He states that attacks on civilians were stated by the military (then as now) were to "demoralize".
To visit Fallujah is to be shamed - and stoned. The only place in Iraq I have ever experienced hostility. It is a hostility easy to understand. A tour of the re-established market - or anywhere else, reveals traders with amputated limbs who survived the attack - and not a person, seemingly, who has not lost one or more of their family.
The Tariq plant at Fallujah was one of the stated reasons for the slaughter and invasion of Gulf War Two. "Iraq had embedded key portions of its chemical weapons infrastructure" Colin Powell is reported as saying, with Prime Minister Blair faithfully repeating the allegation last Autumn. (How they love that "embedded" word, does the Pentagon/State Department not have a Thesaurus?)
I visited the plant in 1999 and another cited chemical weapon plant at Al Doura in a suburb of Baghdad. Both had been completely trashed by UNSCOM. Days before Colin Powell and Tony Blair made their allegation, Count Hans von Sponeck, a former UN Assistant Secretary General and UN Co-ordinator in Iraq, visited both plants with a crew from German state television. He told this writer: "They are in the same trashed state as when you and I visited in 1999. There is one difference: the undergrowth is higher."
"Hearts and minds" are being lost in Iraq with stunning speed. This further slaughter by an unwelcome, invading force, of a "liberated" crowd, may, I predict, mark the beginning of the end for the "coalition." "They stole our oil, now they are killing our people', said one grieving relative.
Writing this, I remembered the word on the street in Iraq, when I was there little over a month ago. It was encapsulated by a western educated Iraqi graduate of the Sorbonne, an intellectual who speaks numerous languages, a true international. "Let them come", she said "we have been burying invaders for centuries - and we have plenty of spaces next to General Maude."
Felicity Arbuthnot is a freelance journalist who has visited Iraq 26 times since the 1991 Gulf War. She worked as senior researcher on the film Paying the Price—Killing the Children of Iraq, which investigated the devastating effect of United Nations sanctions on people of Iraq.