Eric Ruder, Chicago
After nearly two months of a savage US offensive, the people of Fallujah are returning to their city — to find heaps of rubble and whole neighbourhoods demolished. Operation Phantom Fury, as the US called its assault, destroyed between 25% and 40% of the city's 50,000 homes, according to one report. The number of civilian dead will likely exceed 10,000.
But hard facts are still difficult to come by, because although Fallujah was declared "pacified" more than a month ago, the US continues to carry out nightly bombing runs and hasn't allowed the Red Cross to mount a major humanitarian operation.
For returning residents, nothing is the same. With winter nights plunging the temperature below freezing, Fallujah is without running water or electricity.
"Even animals, who have no human sense and feelings, cannot live here", said Yasser Satar, with tears streaming down his cheeks, as he surveyed his destroyed home. "What do they want from Fallujah? This is the crime of the century. They want to destroy Islam and Muslims. But our anger and resistance will increase."
Meanwhile, the US is organising a massive "Big Brother" operation with the aim of controlling all movement into and out of the city. Only five roads into Fallujah will stay open, and each will have a heavily reinforced checkpoint. All residents will be photographed, fingerprinted and subjected to retina scans before they are issued ID cards — which they must wear in plain sight at all times.
"Though [US Marine Corps General John] Sattler reassured American reporters that the process would only take 10 minutes, the implication is that entry and exit from the city will depend solely on valid ID cards properly proffered, a system akin to the pass-card system used during the apartheid era in South Africa", wrote Michael Schwartz, a professor at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, in a December 17 article on the Asia Times Online website.
"Over the past year, there has been evidence enough that our whole project in Iraq is hopelessly flawed, that our Western armies — when they are not torturing prisoners, killing innocents and destroying one of the largest cities in Iraq — are being vanquished by a ferocious guerrilla army, the likes of which we have not seen before in the Middle East", wrote veteran journalist Robert Fisk in the December 30 British Independent daily.
"It is difficult, over the past year, to think of anything that has not gone wrong or grown worse in Iraq. The electrical grid is collapsing again, the petrol queues are greater than they were in the days following the illegal invasion in 2003, and security is nonexistent in all but the Kurdish north of the country. The proposal to put Saddam's minions on trial looks more and more like an attempt to justify the invasion and distract attention from the horrors to come. Even the forthcoming elections are beginning to look more and more like a diversion. For if the Sunnis cannot — or will not — vote, what will this election be worth?"
Under conditions like these, it's not surprising that more and more Iraqis have joined the growing ranks of the armed rebels fighting the occupation. But there's now a shocking new estimate of its size from the director of the Iraqi intelligence agency, General Mohamed Abdullah Shahwani.
"I think the resistance is bigger than the US military in Iraq", Shahwani told Agence France Presse on January 3. "I think the resistance is more than 200,000 people."
Not only is this number 10 times larger than any previous estimate given by US officials, but American experts aren't even disputing it. "I believe General Shahwani's estimation, given that he is referring predominantly to active sympathisers and supporters and to part-time as well as full-time active insurgents, may not be completely out of the ballpark", said defence analyst Bruce Hoffman, who was working as an adviser to US occupation forces in Iraq before returning to the US to work for the Rand Corporation.
[Abridged from Socialist Worker, weekly paper of the US International Socialist Organization. Visit <http://www.socialistworker.org>.]
From Green Left Weekly, January 19, 2005.
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