Monday, March 24, 2008

Falluja- Now a Model City

The U.S. military showcases Fallujah as a model city where U.S. policies are finally paying off and is spending hundreds of millions of dollars in the region to promote the rule of law and a variety of nation-building efforts.


Fallujah today is sealed off with blast walls and checkpoints. Residents are given permits to enter the city. All visitors and their weapons are registered, and police check every car. The U.S. military has divided the city into nine gated communities, each with its own joint security station staffed by U.S. troops and Iraqi police. It also has been buying the loyalties of former Sunni insurgents, paying them $180 a month to join a neighborhood force that works with the police.


But the security that has been achieved here is fragile, the result of harsh tactics recalling the rule of Saddam Hussein, who was overthrown five years ago. Even as they work alongside U.S. forces, [Fallujah’s police chief, ex-Sunni insurgent fighting against the U.S., Col. Faisal Ismail al-]Zobaie's men admit they have beaten and tortured suspects to force confessions and exact revenge.

In Zobaie's world, to show mercy is to show weakness. In a land where men burn other men alive, harsh tactics are a small price to pay for imposing order, he said.

"We never tortured anybody," he said. "Sometimes we beat them during the first hours of capture."


"The city is like a big jail," said Abu Ahmed, a well-known doctor who asked that his nickname be used because he has treated people who were brutalized by Zobaie's men.


The story of Zobaie and his police force opens a window onto the Iraq that is emerging after five years of war. American ideals that were among the justifications for the 2003 invasion, such as promoting democracy and human rights, are giving way to values drawn from Iraq's traditions and tribal culture, such as respect, fear and brutality.


"Since Saddam Hussein until now, Iraq obeys only the force," [Cpt. Mohammed] Yousef said. "We are practicing the same old procedures."

Abu Rahma, 43, a taxi driver and father of four, was a victim of that approach. He was taken into custody last March and tortured in Fallujah's jail. "They kept beating me to force me to confess," he said. "I told them I am not with al-Qaeda, and neither is my brother. They beat me everywhere on my body. . . . Some of my nails were taken out."


Once a member of Hussein's elite Republican Guard, Zobaie is driven by allegiance neither to the United States nor to Iraq's Shiite-run central government. He wants U.S. troops to leave Iraq. But for now, he needs the United States to bolster him with military muscle and funds. And the U.S. military today depends on men such as Zobaie to help bring about the order and security in Iraq that could eventually lead to the end of the American occupation.

"I have realized that Americans love the strong guy," Zobaie said.


Same values?

Zobaie has asked the U.S. officers to help obtain more aid for the city from the regional and central governments. Already, the U.S. military is employing street cleaners, building schools and putting up $9 million worth of solar street lights. But some U.S. officers question why insurgents once determined to kill them have so quickly embraced them.

"Every time they talk to you there's an agenda," said Miller, the captain who works closely with Zobaie. "You have to figure out what they want right now. If it is this easy, it begs the question: What are we giving them that we don't know that we're giving them?"

What Zobaie wants is for the U.S. military to hand over full control of Fallujah. He believes Iraq's current leaders are not strong enough. Asked whether democracy could ever bloom here, he replied: "No democracy in Iraq. Ever."

"When the Americans leave the city," he said, "I'll be tougher with the people."

Model city.

If you like, you can read all the background on Falluja from previous YWA posts here (always available from a link in the sidebar), and some other collected links here (with apologies for maintenance neglect).

P.S. I wonder what has become of these two little girls, from my blog post November 14, 2004.

Little Fallujan girls
Photo courtesyAljazeera