Monday, January 31, 2005

Falluja - a city destroyed

A couple of weeks ago a documentary was made in Falluja for a joint UK Guardian and Channel 4 News report, by an Iraqi doctor, Ali Fadhil, who compiled the first independent reports of Falluja after U.S. operations in November. I posted a link to the transcript at that time. Here's the video of the documentary (courtesy Journeyman TV), which is much more powerful simply by virtue of being visual.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Falluja update

Although there has been resounding silence about the humanitarian disaster in Falluja, the true cost to the civilian population is emerging. Preliminary estimates are as high as 6,000 Iraqis killed, a third of the city destroyed, and over 200,000 civilians living as refugees. It is estimated that it could be months before people are allowed to return to what is left of their homes. According to a UN emergency working group on this humanitarian crisis, there are shortages of food items and cooking fuel. The temperatures have dropped, underscoring an urgent need for winterization items and appropriate shelter. The International Committee for the Red Cross reported on December 23 that three of the city's water purification plants had been destroyed and the fourth badly damaged.

Aid organizations have repeatedly been denied access to the city, hospitals, and refugee populations in the surrounding areas. Sporadic fighting continues as some insurgent forces return. Iraqi National Security Advisor Qassem Daoud has warned of explosive ordnance still hidden in debris and on the streets. Residents seeking to return are required to go through intense security checks before being allowed to re-enter Falluja.


As firefights continue in Falluja, Iraq's third-largest city, Mosul, has become a new front line in the ongoing war. Suicide bombs and car bombs, firefights, kidnapping, targeted assassinations, and citywide curfews compound the violence.


Violence is claiming an increasing number of Iraqi civilians - an estimated 100,000 civilians had been killed before the November Falluja attack. During the months of October and November, 338 Iraqis associated with the "new" government or with Americans were assassinated.


As the US relies on Shia Muslim combatants to join with US forces on the siege of Sunni-inhabited Falluja, and Kurds to help rein in the violence in Mosul, surely an argument can be made that civil war is being fostered by the occupation.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

The "catastrophic success" of Falluja

Even before the attack, the U.S. promised that a newly liberated Falluja would be spectacularly reconstructed -- "a feat of social and physical engineering… intended to transform a bastion of militant anti-Americanism into a benevolent and functional metropolis."


Unfortunately, the only success in the Fallujan campaign so far has been in demonstrating "the consequences" that would accrue to cities that harbored guerrillas. Falluja was gutted. Two months after the invasion, Erik Eckholm of the New York Times described the city as "a desolate world of skeletal buildings, tank-blasted homes, weeping power lines and severed palm trees." At least a quarter of its homes were fully destroyed, and virtually all the others were severely damaged. Blown out windows, wrecked furniture, three-foot blast holes in walls, and disintegrated doors demonstrated that American troops had relentlessly applied what they jokingly called the "FISH" strategy (Fighting in Someone's House), which involved "throwing a hand grenade into each room before checking it for unfriendlies." Since (in the words of Lt. Gen. Sattler) "each and every house" was searched, very few remained livable.


After eight weeks of this, one leader who remained taunted the occupation by conducting a cell-phone interview with Washington Post reporter Anthony Shadid from inside the city, claiming the fighting "would continue for months."


A January UN dispatch reported that only nine of 27 neighborhoods were safe enough for medical teams to enter; and that reporters were not being permitted in the city "for their own safety." A Los Angeles Times report referred just to "occasional firefights" in the city, but then declared that "only certain parts of Fallouja are considered safe enough for residents to return" and that temporary U.S. bases within the city bore signs with the peculiar but unambiguous warning: "STOP Or U.S. Military Will Shoot Fire."


A sense of the ongoing fighting is reflected in a report from a refugee describing his first and only night back in the city ("Report from Falluja Refugee Camp," Free Speech Radio News, Jan. 6, 2005): "The houses around mine have all been destroyed. Our house was full of smoke. It was a mess. We cleaned up the house and spent the night there. But the bombing started at seven in the evening and lasted until the morning. There were all sorts of bombs. My children could not sleep." Because there was "no real end of the fighting in sight," they chose to leave once again and focus on "day-to-day survival" as refugees.

Since the rubblized terrain that is now Falluja can probably hide guerrillas indefinitely, the fighting might only end with an American withdrawal. In the meantime, with so many front-line troops fighting in, or occupying Falluja, the American military has only been able to mount half-hearted responses to insurgent efforts elsewhere, while remaining vulnerable to IEDs planted along convoy and patrol routes, to the mortaring of bases and of the Green Zone, and to suicide attacks like the one at the army mess hall in Mosul.
  Michael Schwartz at Tom Dispatch (links embedded)

Schwartz discusses the likelihood of Falluja being rebuilt as virtually none.
[T]he Bush administration is unlikely ever to allocate the massive resources needed for such an undertaking. The monetary commitment cited by U.S. officials escalated from a pre-attack $50 million to an early January estimate of $230 million. But this figure, which Hess claimed to be adequate for the job, is actually a fraction of what would needed.


Based on the estimated $400 million cost of repairing the less disastrously damaged Sadr City water systems in Baghdad, the repair of Falluja's sewers and treatment plants would in itself surely exhaust the entire $230 million allocation being discussed. The electrical system, which needed to be "ripped out and rebuilt from scratch," would cost at least as much as the sewers. Rejuvenating the medical system, rebuilding the schools, and clearing and rebuilding the streets, would likely claim another $100 million or more each.

And that's without even considering housing repair. The Iraqi Interim Government promised families from $2000 to $10,000 for each damaged dwelling. With 12,000 to 20,000 of the 50,000 homes in Falluja effectively demolished, this added up to yet another $200 million promise, with another $100 million needed to meet the government's promises to shop owners.

And remember that Falluja, the "city of mosques," now has had an unknown but significant number of its 100 or so mosques more or less annihilated, and well over half damaged. Christian Parenti, a knowledgeable independent reporter, estimated that just two of the mosques would require some $80 million in repairs; the full bill might therefore exceed $1 billion.


Total this up and you discover that the promised allocation for the reconstruction of Falluja is at least $2 billion less than would reasonably be needed. And, given the record of reconstruction funds released by the Americans over the last year, even the $230 million is certainly in question.

In other words, the promise of a "benevolent and functional metropolis" could be seen, at best, as a cruel hoax, vitiated only slightly by the fact that Fallujans never believed it.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

ABC plays military's game

A US soldier was killed in action in the volatile western province of Al Anbar on Tuesday, the military announced in a statement.

"A soldier assigned to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force was killed in action on January 11, while conducting security and stability operations in the Al Anbar province," the military said.

The military gave no further information.

Nor does ABC give further information that "security and stability operations in Al Anbar province" is code for "continued fighting in Falluja". Must allow Americans to think that mission has been accomplished.

Reuters follows the same script, releasing the military's official statement, adding this silly, but true, closing line:

U.S. troops often come under attack from insurgents who want them to leave Iraqi soil.

Speaking of the relatively new "hot" spot, The Australian doesn't sugar coat the news that two bombs in the last two days have killed more Iraqi soldiers.

Mosul was plunged into all-out war between US forces and insurgents in early November.

Indeed. And the "operations" in Falluja still constitute war, too. No matter how they avoid saying so.<

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Returning to Falluja

They took prints of all my fingers, two pictures of my face in profile, and then photographed my iris. I was now eligible to go into Falluja, just like any other Fallujan.

But it was late by then, somewhere near 5pm (the curfew is at 6pm). After that anyone who moves inside the city will be shot on sight by the US military.

Guardian article

I guess pushing you into a river isn't so bad, then is it?

The approach to the checkpoint was covered in pebbles so we had to drive very slowly. The soldiers spent 20 minutes searching my car, then they bodysearched Tariq and me. They gave me a yellow tape to put on to the windscreen of the car, showing I had been searched and was a contractor. If I didn't have this stripe of yellow, a US sniper would shoot me as an enemy car.

How easy will it be to counterfeit a yellow tape? Will you want to drive with one, tempting an 'insurgent' to shoot you for your 'legal' car?

Falluja used to be a modern city; now there was nothing. We spent the day going through the rubble that had been the centre of the city; I didn't see a single building that was functioning.

The Americans had put a white tape across the roads to stop people wandering into areas that they still weren't allowed to enter. I remembered the market from before the war, when you couldn't walk through it because of the crowds. Now all the shops were marked with a cross, meaning that they had been searched and secured by the US military. But the bodies, some of them civilians and some of them insurgents, were still rotting inside.


Fallujans are suspicious of outsiders, so I found it surprising when Nihida Kadhim, a housewife, beckoned me into her home. She had just arrived back in the city to check out her house; the government had told the people three days earlier that they should start going home. She called me into her living room. On her mirror she pointed to a message that had been written in her lipstick. She couldn't read English. It said: "Fuck Iraq and every Iraqi in it!"

"They are insulting me, aren't they?" she asked.


I tried to figure out who these four men were. It was obvious which houses the fighters were in: they were totally destroyed. But in this house there were no bullets in the walls, just four dead men lying curled up beside each other, with bullet holes in the mosquito nets that covered the windows. It seemed to me as if they had been asleep and were shot through the windows. It is the young men of the family who are usually given the job of staying behind to guard the house.


The US military destroyed Falluja, but simply spread the fighters out around the country. They also increased the chance of civil war in Iraq by using their new national guard of Shias to suppress Sunnis. Once, when a foreign journalist, an Irish guy, asked me whether I was Shia or Sunni - the way the Irish do because they have that thing about the IRA - I said I was Sushi. My father is Sunni and my mother is Shia. I never cared about these things. Now, after Falluja, it matters.

Read more.

Saturday, January 8, 2005

Falluja today

Zeynep hits the nail on the head with this post:

Even amidst all the Pentagon propaganda re-released as news, all the false assumptions, distortions and outright lies, it's hard to not understand what's actually going on in Iraq if one is paying a bit of attention.

This one is from the L.A. Times:

At five heavily guarded entry points to the city [Fallujah], military interrogators are selectively asking returning residents whether they have heard of the upcoming election and, if so, which, if any, candidates they support.
First a foreign occupying army levels your city. Then they tell you that you can't be in your own hometown without I.D cards issued by them and that there will be fingerprinting and retina scans. Then they claim it's so that there can be "elections" free of coercion. Then their military interrogators question you on your vote as you try to return to what's left of your house.

How can something like that be reported just like that, in passing, without much comment? Military interrogators questioning refugees about which candidate they plan to support. If it happened anywhere else in the world, everyone would recognize it for what it was.

People do recognize it for what it is. Some Americans don't. And some just refuse to admit what it is.

Support our troops.

God knows they need something. Maybe a little insight into reality.

"It's kind of bad we destroyed everything, but at least we gave them a chance for a new start," said Navy corpsman Derrick Anthony, 21, of Chicago.
LA Times article

Maybe a freaking lick of common sense would be helpful.

As he navigated his Humvee through rubble-strewn streets, Lance Cpl. Sunshine Yubeta articulated a question key to the Marines' mission here.

"I wonder," said the 23-year-old from Madras, Ore., nodding toward several sullen-looking men on a corner, "if they hate us or like us."

I hope that was rhetorical. On the other hand, if it weren't, maybe it's actually a sign of hope that the ignorant grunts are actually starting to wonder about what's obvious to everyone else on the planet (except the wingnuts back home, of course).

This is how the LA Times is reporting on Falluja - headline:

After Leveling City, U.S. Tries to Build Trust: In Fallouja, Marines are on a 'hearts and minds' campaign to woo residents and help keep rebels from returning.

How nuts. Again, as Zeynep asks, how can something like that be reported without any comment? Is anybody using their brain?

Wait, before you answer that...

Outside the Humanitarian Assistance center tents, Iraqis stand for hours to receive water and food packets stamped with a U.S. flag and the words "A Food Gift From the People of the United States of America." Hands are marked to prevent a return for seconds.


Iraqis gather here not only for aid but for a chance to work in the assistance program, a job that pays about $8 a day.

Gee, Lance Cpl Yubeta, I wonder if they like you.

Maybe it just takes a few years of maturing - or maybe it's a Red State / Blue State thing.

In many ways, the "hearts and minds" tactics are straight from the Marine Corps' "Small Wars Manual," written in the late 1930s to preserve information about successful campaigns against insurgents in South America and elsewhere.

In preparation for Iraq, officers were ordered to reread the manual, particularly the section on insurgencies. One rule it discusses is maintaining moral superiority in the minds of the populace by stressing that the fighting was the insurgents' fault. Amid the destruction here, it is not an easy rule to follow.

"It's hard to look these people in the eye after blowing everything up," said Staff Sgt. Travis McKinney, 31, of Vallejo, Calif. "These people were just victims."

Indeed. To maintain moral superiority, you have to have it.

Left I comments on one of the bizarre quotes in the article:

"'Any time we can interact with these people is good,' said Sgt. James Regan, 29, of San Antonio. 'They can see us for what we are. I asked one of them, 'When was the last time the mujahedin gave you water or food?' Never.'"
And when was the last time the mujahedin dropped a 500-pound bomb on your house, or burned it down, or destroyed the water and electricity and sewage systems in your city? Oh yeah, that was "never" also. Jesus. Do these people hear themselves?

No. They're not listening.

Thursday, January 6, 2005

Falluja's inflaming incident has precipitated a lawsuit

Families of four slain security contractors whose bodies were burned and dragged through the streets of Fallujah, Iraq, sued the workers' former company Wednesday.


The workers were sent into Fallujah without proper equipment and personnel to defend the supply convoy they were guarding, according to the civil lawsuit. The lawsuit alleges that one week before the deaths, Blackwater fired a project manager who had insisted that the contractors use armored vehicles.

Kansas City Star article


Monday, January 3, 2005

Fallujans demonstrate

Thousands of Fallujans demonstrated on Saturday in front of the main entrance to the largely abandoned city. They demanded that US military forces leave their city and that basic services be restored so that they could return. One eyewitness reporter called in from the scene an estimate of 30,000 demonstrators. [Cole: I saw footage of the demonstration on Arab satellite television, and agree that it was a big, important demonstration, but I'd say it was only a few thousand strong; I suspect that having 30,000 people out by that gate would be a logistics problem--where did their water come from, e.g.]

Some of the placards announced that Fallujans refused to live under a military occupation. They presented a list of demands, which included the facilitation of their return to the city, speedy return of services, rebuilding of the devastated city, and monetary compensation to its inhabitants. They also protested the US military demand that returnees show identification papers. Many said that such papers got left behind in the city when they fled.


The Fallujah demonstration was big enough to be news, but I couldn't find out anything about it via Western newspapers and wire services.

Juan Cole post

Slight discrepancy

The head of the Iraqi intelligence service has estimated that there are more than 200,000 active fighters and sympathisers in the war-torn country.


"I think the resistance is bigger than the US military in Iraq. I think the resistance is more than 200,000 people," he added.


Past US military assessments on fighter numbers have been increased from 5000 to 20,000 full and part-time members in the past half year, most recently in October.


And in stark contrast to many US assessments of success in Falluja, the spy chief said the November campaign against the town was far from a military triumph.

"What we have now is an empty city almost destroyed and most of the insurgents are free. They have gone either to Mosul or to Baghdad or other areas."

Shahwani stopped short of saying that anti-US fighters were now taking control of the situation in Iraq, but warned: "I would say they aren't losing."

Defence experts have broadly accepted the new assessment as valid.

Aljazeera article

Saturday, January 1, 2005

Alternative methods

It has recently been discovered that US and Iraqi forces have been using a method of demolishing houses in Felluce (Fallujah) that Israelis have also used on Palestinian homes.

An Iraqi soldier told an Agency France Press (AFP) reporter that they set the houses on fire where they encounter pro-insurgence publications or materials. Ismail Ibrahim Shaalan, a 50 year old resident of Fallujah, explained that he saw some soldiers set houses on fire on December 14th even though there were no clashes. A US soldier also admitted that, in some situations, they use ''alternative precautions'' like ''setting fires and bombing'' for houses that are presumed to shelter insurgents. US Sergeant John Cross also said that if they are unable to enter a place, they apply alternative methods.


There are big X letters painted in red on the walls of the houses that have been searched by US troops. Others are either partially burned out or completely ruined.


Many of those who returned to Fallujah are picking up the pieces of what is left of their ruined homes and the corpses of their relatives.


The Halil family is one family that was forced to move out of their home by US soldiers and then found it in ruins when they returned to their home ten days later. US Major Naomi Hawkins says the Halil family can apply to the governor's office or Bagdat (Baghdad) and receive $100 to repair their home.

  Zaman International article

Good old American justice for foreigners.

A reporter in Falluja

The date is not current, but the news is still being suppressed. Via POAC, this link provides a reporter's account of the Fallujan seige, with photos.