Until some months ago, few in the world had heard of Falluja, the main city of the Iraqi province of Anbar, even though it was famous as a city of minarets and a summer resort for Iraqis.
Until some months ago, few in the world had heard of Falluja, the main city of the Iraqi province of Anbar, even though it was famous as a city of minarets and a summer resort for Iraqis. In the last few months, however, the people of Falluja have established a record of resistance that will ensure that the name of Falluja will always be as symbolic of the US occupation of Iraq as Sarajevo is of the Serbian genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina barely a decade ago.
Falluja first leapt to international attention in April this year, when its people were subjected to such an intense US attack that more than 60,000 of its 300,000 people fled the city for safety elsewhere. Despite turning the full force of their massive military fire-power on the city, the Americans were unable to enter it, and were forced to accept a compromise settlement by which control of the city was handed over to a proxy Iraqi force commanded by a former Ba’athist. This solution did not last long, however, because the townspeoples’ fervent anti-Americanism asserted itself and control of the city was taken over by the resistance again.
As we go to press, US forces appear to have begun the early manoeuvres of what is expected to become another all-out assault on the city, this time as part of their efforts to crush the resistance before sham elections, which are due to be held in January. As long as major towns remain no-go areas, the US knows that elections can have no credibility whatsoever. Elsewhere, particularly in the Shi’i areas of Iraq, they have disarmed the resistance – metaphorically if not literally – by giving Iraqi leaders a role in Iraq’s political future. (Exactly what Muqtada al-Sadr has agreed to remains to be seen.) In Falluja, they know that such an approach will not succeed unless the resistance is first crushed militarily, regardless of the damage and suffering inflicted in the process.
In April, Falluja briefly threatened to become the rallying point of a countrywide uprising, uniting all of Iraq’s various communities. Since then, the US has worked hard to divide them in order to make it easier rule them. A part of their strategy has been the promotion of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian militant associated with kidnappings and the execution of hostages, as the supposed leader of the resistance in Falluja. In fact, al-Zarqawi is a shadowy figure with perhaps no more than a few dozen foreign followers; it is the Iraqi people of Falluja, under the leadership of their ulama, who have been responsible for running the city, dealing with the Americans, and mobilising support for the local resistance movements.
In the next few days and weeks, Falluja is likely to be subjected to an attack that will dwarf the one of last April, destructive as that was. This time, they will try to do it far from sight of the world’s media, and without people elsewhere even realising what is happening. But the Muslims of Falluja are possibly facing a time as grim as those ever suffered by Muslims in Bosnia, Chechnya or Palestine. No one should have any illusions about the true nature of the US occupation or of the state responsible for it.