Fallujah slaughter, Baghdad anger

Dahr Jamail
11 November 2004

150,000 civilians may be trapped inside the besieged Iraqi city of Fallujah. While street fighting continues to rage around them, accurate death tolls are difficult to obtain – especially since the United States occupation of the main hospital. However, al-Jazeera reports local residents saying that scores have already lost their lives; it is feared that the final number will be in the hundreds at least. This expectation is reinforced by US military claims that they have killed “hundreds” of resistance fighters in its massive strikes on the city over the last few days.

Refugees fleeing Fallujah report horrendous stories. At 3.30am on 1 November, Artica Salim, seven months pregnant, was killed while she slept when two rockets from US warplanes struck her home. “I can’t get the image out of my mind”, says her 45 year-old sister Muna, now in Baghdad. “The other problem is that me and my sister Selma survived only because we were staying at our neighbours’ house that night.”

Muna and Selma Salim have lost their other eight family members, including a 4-year-old child. “There were no fighters in our area, so I don’t know why they bombed our home,” cried Muna. “When this happened their were full assaults from the air and tanks attacking our city, so we left from the eastern side of Fallujah and came to Baghdad.”

The reaction of Iraqis in Baghdad to the events in Fallujah is most often dominated by anger and sympathy for the civilians there. “So many people in Fallujah are poor and cannot leave. Land and houses in Baghdad are both very expensive”, said Aziz Obeidy, an unemployed computer programmer. “The Americans are doing what they did last time - taking control of the main hospital and not letting the hospitals and clinics and ambulances function. They are killing civilians, just like before.”

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Arab media channels such as al-Jazeera and al-Arabia, which most Iraqis rely on for their news, are showing graphic footage of the casualties and destruction inside the “city of mosques”. On 10 November, the Iraqi journalist Fadil al-Badrani reported on al-Jazeera that “almost half of the (Fallujah’s) mosques have been destroyed after being targeted by US air and tank strikes.”

The political ramifications from the siege of Fallujah have been immediate, and detrimental to any democratic process. The new “security law” of Iraq’s US-installed interim prime minister Iyad Allawi includes tough measures: a 6pm curfew on Fallujah, the closure of all highways except for emergencies and government vehicles, and the closure of Iraqi borders with Syria and Jordan except for trucks carrying food and other essentials. The curfew in Baghdad and the sealing off of Baghdad International Airport for two whole days has caused deep resentment throughout the city.

Allawi’s talk of the need to “cleanse” Fallujah in order to prepare Iraq for the January 2005 elections has provoked especial fury from many Iraqis. “I am used to laws and I know how they function”, said Abu Mohammed, a lawyer speaking at a mosque. “The first priority is that who makes the law should be legally authorised. Here in Baghdad, the martial law is genocide against the resistance in Iraq who are against the invasion. The theme of the law is to kill the resistance and to stop people even from thinking. We have to defend our religion and the resistance is legal, insh’allah, the resistance will do their job and rid us of the invaders.”

Another man who asked to be referred to as Sabah, speaking at the al-Ambia’a mosque, said: “The Americans came thousands of kilometres to invade Iraq and kill people, and they should now be punished. Who gave them the right to kill us? We have an illegal interim government, so we have to have our revenge by our hands.”

The influential Association of Muslim Scholars (AMS) has called on people to boycott the national elections. Harith al-Dhari, the association’s secretary-general, has openly supported the Iraqi resistance to the occupation from the beginning. “This is our right as Iraqis”, he said on 9 November. “Therefore, we don’t need a fatwa on this issue, as this matter is clear.”

Also on 9 November, the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party withdrew from the Iraqi interim government. “We are protesting the attack on Fallujah and the injustice that is inflicted on the innocent people of the city”, said its spokesperson Abd al-Hamid. “We cannot be part of this attack.”

Khalid al-Obeidy, an engineer and professor at Baghdad University, echoed this view. “Concerning Fallujah, the Muslims there need to be allowed to live and have their independence”, he said. “Even if the Americans take the city, they will only anger the rest of Iraq.”

The heavy-handed tactics of the US military do little to persuade Iraqi citizens otherwise. “As we tighten the noose around him, he will move to escape and fight another day,” said Colonel Michael Formica, commander of the 1st cavalry division’s 2nd brigade. “I do not want these guys to get out of here. I want them killed or captured as they flee.”

Some horrendous reports from Fallujah, including one from fighters in the Golan area of Fallujah to the al-Quds newspaper, suggest that United States forces are using internationally-banned weapons. Iraqis continue to complain of unexploded cluster bombs throughout cities in Iraq, which are also against the Geneva Conventions when used in residential areas.

The United Nations refugee agency, the Red Cross and the Red Crescent have all expressed fears over civilians’ safety in Fallujah. The Iraqi government itself announced that some of the tens of thousands who have fled the city are ill and living in severely difficult conditions. The humanitarian as well as the political effects of the assault on Fallujah may continue long after the immediate crisis has passed.

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