US commanders have indicated they will launch an all-out assault on the rebel Iraqi city of Fallujah shortly after the November 2 US presidential election. In preparation for this assault, on October 26 the US military tightened its cordon around the city of 340,000 residents.
The Reuters news agency reported that "witnesses said US tanks and armoured vehicles cut off the main highway to Jordan that runs just north of Fallujah, as warplanes criss-crossed the skies. Troops took up positions in empty buildings on the Sunni Muslim city's southern perimeter ... Only one road leading northwest out of the city, which lies 50 kilometres (32 miles) west of Baghdad, remained open to civilian traffic, the witnesses said."
On October 27, 850 British troops began to be deployed from southern Iraq to the outskirts of Baghdad, to free up US troops to attack Fallujah. That same day, the US-based Iraq Body Count website published the results of a detailed analysis of the civilian death toll in the US military's three-week assault on Fallujah in April. According to the IBC's analysis, of the approximately 800 residents of Fallujah who were killed during the US assault, between 572 and 616 were non-combatants, with at least 300 of these being women and children.
In early February, Iraqi resistance fighters forced US Army paratroopers to withdraw from Fallujah. In early April, US commanders set siege to the city with a force of 4500 marines, backed by air strikes, artillery shelling and tank attacks. The rapidly escalating civilian death toll provoked massive protests in Baghdad, including a three-day general strike.
The explosion of Iraqi anger rapidly swelled the ranks of the armed resistance. In an October 22 article in the British Guardian, Peter Graham, a journalist who worked in Iraq from November 2002 until August 2004 for the British Observer and the New York Times, recounted how he had travelled with a translator from Baghdad to Fallujah during the US marines April assault. "We had to pass through resistance lines to get to the marines and then through insurgents to get into the city. It was the marines who were surrounded, not the rebels", Graham noted.
At the end of April, Washington ordered the marines to end their assault on Fallujah. On May 1, US commanders announced that they had handed over security in the city to a group of former Iraqi Army officers, who set about recruiting resistance fighters in Fallujah — many of whom were Iraqi Army veterans — into a military force they called the Fallujah Protection Army.
By late September US commanders declared the 3000-strong "Fallujah Brigade" disbanded, admitting that it was actually part of the Iraqi anti-occupation resistance.
Since then, the US military has been preparing for another major assault to reoccupy Fallujah, with a campaign of nightly air strikes.
US officials claim that Fallujah is the main base for an assortment of non-Iraqi Arab fighters who are allegedly led by Jordanian-born Abu Musab al Zarqawi, said to be Al Qaeda's top operative in Iraq — a claim fiercely denied by leaders of the resistance council that administers Fallujah.
In a letter sent on October 14 to UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, Kassim Abdullsattar al Jumaily, writing on behalf of the Fallujah Shura Council, stated: "It is obvious that the Americans are committing acts of terror against the people of Fallujah for one reason only: their refusal to accept the occupation...
"Your Excellency and the whole world know that the Americans and their allies devastated our country under the pretext of the threat of WMD. Now, after all the destruction and the killing of thousand civilians, they have admitted that no weapons were found. But they have said nothing about all the crimes they committed. Unfortunately everybody is now silent, and will not even dignify the murdered Iraqi civilians with words of condemnation...
"We know that we are living in world of double standards.
In Fallujah, they have created a new vague target: Al Zarqawi. This is a new pretext to justify their crimes, killing and daily bombardment of civilians. Almost a year has elapsed since they created this new pretext, and whenever they destroy houses, mosques, restaurants, and kill children and women they said 'we have launched a successful operation against Al Zarqawi'...
"The people of Fallujah assure you that this person, if he exists, is not in Fallujah and is probably not anywhere in Iraq...
"At the same time, the representative of Fallujah, our tribal leader, has denounced on many occasions the kidnapping and killing of civilians, and we have no links to any groups committing such inhuman behaviour...
"[W]e appeal to you to urge the UN agencies in Iraq to take an active role in protecting civilians and preventing the new massacre which the Americans and the puppet government are planning to start soon in Fallujah, as well as many parts of our country".
In an October 18 BBC News Online dispatch from Fallujah, its reporter in the city wrote: "I am not aware of any foreign fighters in Fallujah... Foreigners used to frequent the city in the past, but many of them were forced to leave under a deal the city's leaders struck with the [US-appointed interim Iraqi] government. Ninety-nine per cent of the fighters here are Fallujans."
On the impact of the US cordon around the city, the reporter commented: "Hospitals have all but run out of supplies and most people know this. Hospital workers clean the floor after receiving fresh casualties. But still the injured are being taken there — just so that they can be near the doctors and receive some comfort. The Iraqi health ministry has not sent any extra supplies. Food supplies are also running out."
While the White House and the Pentagon claim that "foreign terrorists" are the chief source of armed attacks on the US-led "multinational forces", US commanders in Iraq admit that the anti-occupation insurgency is overwhelmingly a domestic Iraqi phenomenon.
The October 22 New York Times reported that in recent interviews with the paper US commanders "said the most significant challenge to the stabilization effort came from domestic Iraqi insurgents, and not from foreign terrorists, despite the violence of attacks organized or carried out by foreigners".
Support for Fallujah
The October 18 Boston Globe reported that support for Fallujah against a US invasion is an issue that cuts across any religious differences among Iraqis. It noted that "the network of [Sunni and Shiite] mosques that mobilized donations of food and blood during the April fighting are preparing a campaign of civil disobedience across the country if an all-out battle erupts in Fallujah".
The report went on to note that "the prospect of a full-scale confrontation between US forces, backed by the Iraqi government, and the constellation of militants in Fallujah, has galvanized even those Iraqis who consider the Fallujah resistance to be dominated by foreign jihadis and criminals".
In his October 22 Guardian article, Graham also warned that an all-out US assault on Fallujah would lead to an explosion of anti-occupation anger among Iraqis. He wrote: "The Americans have more than enough troops to attack Fallujah, but as soon as they do the area will once more erupt, and it will take everything the Americans have to control the surrounding villages of Habbaniya, Khaldiya and Al Kharma. According to Iraqi President Ghazi al Yawar, there is a good chance that when the marines hit Fallujah again, even Mosul, home to three million Sunnis, will explode. Unlike the US Army, Yawar knows what he is talking about and understands the way the tribes are grouped in northern Iraq, an intricate web of families that runs through the Sunni triangle. If Mosul is pushed over the edge, holding the north will be like trying to keep the lid on a pressure cooker by hand."
"I have spent time with both resistance fighters and the US Army, and there is no question the marines can take the city. But the US has developed a habit of winning engagements while losing the war", Graham added.
From Green Left Weekly, November 3, 2004.
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