The US attack on Fallujah last month, in which at least 1,000 people have been killed, thousands more injured and an estimated 60,000 – out of a population of some 300,000 – forced to flee their homes, appears to have been carried out in a similar spirit...
During the US’s war in Vietnam, an American officer was famously quoted as saying of a Vietnamese village that "we destroyed it in order to save it." The US attack on Fallujah last month, in which at least 1,000 people have been killed, thousands more injured and an estimated 60,000 – out of a population of some 300,000 – forced to flee their homes, appears to have been carried out in a similar spirit. As Crescent goes to press, US forces appear to be preparing for another assault on the city, as talks aimed at ending the stand-off appear to have broken down.
Fallujah, the largest town in the Iraqi province of Anbar, which has become known as the ‘Sunni Triangle’, has been a centre of resistance to the US occupation since the US invasion last year. Although the US has succeeded in posting units in the town, and patrolling it, they have never totally controlled it. Its continuing defiance made it a symbol of the US’s problems in Iraq, and the US is thought to have decided that it needed to be ‘pacified’ before the purported hand-over of power to an interim Iraqi government on June 30.
The immediate cause of the US operation was a resistance attack on American ‘contractors’ in the town on March 31, in which four Americans were killed. Pictures of jubilant Iraqis celebrating their deaths were broadcast around the world, severely embarrassing the US government.
The US response was to seal the city and demand the surrender of those responsible. When this was not forthcoming, they then launched an all-out attack on the city on April 5, claiming that their object was to ‘liberate’ it from the control of unpopular anti-American fighters, mainly foreigners, and to arrest those responsible for the attack on March 31. However, they immediately met far greater resistance than they had anticipated. US troops reported meeting far greater resistance than at any time during the invasion last year, and having to fight their way forward street by street. In four days of heavy fighting, during which the US used tanks and armoured vehicles, aircraft and helicopters to attack houses, schools, mosques, hospitals and other buildings, supposedly on the grounds that they were suspected of sheltering resistance fighters. The city’s water and power supplies were also damaged, causing further suffering to its people.
Despite this massive firepower, US troops were unable to advance more than a few kilometres into the city’s industrial suburbs, and they called a unilateral ceasefire on April 9, supposedly to give Fallujah’s people a respite and give the resistance fighters a chance to agree terms for a cessation of fighting. The terms the US offered, however, were little more than a demand for total surrender, including the disarmament of the forces defending Fallujah, which was never likely to be accepted. Observers believe that the original ceasefire may have been called primarily to give US forces a chance to regroup for a renewed assault. However, faced with international outrage at their brutal strategy, as well as growing anger in Iraq, at both the attack on Fallujah and the US’s simultaneous moves to crack down on Shi’i opponents led by Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr, the US appeared for a time to have stepped up efforts for a political resolution to the Fallujah stand-off. However, although some people have been permitted to return to their homes, and talks have taken place with Fallujah community leaders over the ending of the confrontation, resulting in a tentative agreement between local leaders and US officials on April 19, reports as Crescent goes to press are that the US may be preparing for a renewed military assault.
General James Conway, the US officer commanding marines outside the city, was quoted in the New York Times on April 22 as saying that a new attack was planned within "days, not weeks", and another marine officer, not named, was quoted as saying that Fallujah could be turned into "a killing field within a couple of days."
Conway also said: "If the situation comes to it, we will demand that noncombatants leave the city... we’d like the good people of Fallujah, who see that their country has a future, to separate themselves from those who have nothing to live for and are here to die fighting the infidel." In other words, anyone who remains in the city will be regarded as a legitimate military target.
If the US hoped for a decisive assault on Fallujah to end resistance there for once and for all, the strategy has backfired badly. Instead, there has been widespread and increasing support for all resistance movements, be they Sunni or Shi’i, among Iraqis generally, as well as increasing evidence that the two communities are united in opposition to their common enemy. Spokesmen for both Sunni and Shi’i organizations emphasised the unity of the country and the resistance. The US was also shocked to find that Iraqi members of their own security forces refused to fight for them. US sources confirmed on April 23 that only half of all policemen they trained remain in the force, with 40 percent deserting and 10 percent actually switching sides and joining the resistance.
The US atrocities in Fallujah – more details of which are gradually emerging – and developments such as the kidnapping of foreign contractors in Iraq, also had international repercussions, with increasing criticism from people even in countries supporting the US. The new Spanish government fulfilled its pledge to withdraw from Iraq, taking the Honduran troops with them. Calls for withdrawal have also increased in other countries with troops in Iraq, as have demands that the US hand power over to the UN.
The US remains committed to an apparent transfer of power to an Iraqi puppet-regime by the end of June, hoping that a political change will disguise its utter military failure. However, with even members of the Governing Council increasingly wary of being seen to support the US, and popular political forces emerging to challenge them, the US occupation is on very precarious ground indeed.