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This is what it’s like to be under assault in Fallujah

Rahul Mahajan teaches at New York University. He has been to Iraq twice and reported from Fallujah while it was under siege in April. This article is an extract from his weblog, Empire Notes. The full version is at www.empirenotes.org

Issue No. 1927

THE ASSAULT on Fallujah has started. It is being sold as liberation of the people of Fallujah. It is being sold as a necessary step to implementing “democracy” in Iraq. These are lies.

I was in Fallujah during the siege in April, and I want to paint for you a word picture of what such an assault means.

Fallujah is dry and hot. It is an agricultural area only by virtue of extensive irrigation.

It has been known for years as a particularly devout city. In the mid-1990s, when Saddam wanted his name to be added to the call to prayer, the imams of Fallujah refused.

US forces bombed the power plant at the beginning of the assault. For the next several weeks Fallujah was a blacked-out town.

The atmosphere was one of pervasive fear, from bombing and the threat of more bombing.

After initial instances in which people were prevented from leaving, US forces began allowing everyone to leave—except for what they called “military age males”, men usually between 15 and 60.

Of course, if you assume that every military age male is an enemy, there can be no better sign that you are in the wrong country, and that in fact your war is on the people, not on their oppressors, not a war of liberation.

The main hospital in Fallujah is across the Euphrates from the bulk of the town. Right at the beginning the Americans shut down the main bridge, cutting off the hospital from the town.

Doctors who wanted to treat patients had to leave the hospital, with only the equipment they could carry, and set up in makeshift clinics all over the city.

The one I stayed at had been a neighbourhood clinic, with one room that had four beds, and no operating theatre. Doctors refrigerated blood in a soft drink vending machine.

In addition to the artillery, and the bombers, and the murderous AC-130 Spectre gunships that can demolish a whole city block in less than a minute, the Marines had snipers criss-crossing the whole town.

Snipers fired indiscriminately. Of 20 people I saw come into the clinic I observed in a few hours, only five were “military age males”.

I saw old women, old men and a child of ten shot through the head. But there was one thing that snipers were very discriminating about—every single ambulance I saw had bullet holes in it.

The best estimates are that roughly 900 to 1,000 people were killed directly, blown up, burnt, or shot. Of them, my guess is that between two thirds and three quarters were non-combatants.

The first assault on Fallujah was a military failure. This time the resistance is stronger, better armed, and better organised. To “win” the US military will have to pull out all the stops.

There will be international condemnation, as there was the first time. But our government won’t listen to it.

Aside from the resistance, all the people of Fallujah will be able to depend on to try to mitigate the horror will be us, the anti-war movement.


Military families speaking out

RELATIVES OF the Black Watch soldiers participating in the US’s assault on Fallujah have spoken out against the occupation of Iraq and called for British troops to be brought home.

“Blair sent us in to do the Americans’ dirty work in a war we shouldn’t be fighting,” said Craig Lowe, a serving Black Watch soldier whose brother Paul was killed in a bombing on Thursday of last week.

Paul Lowe was opposed to the war, added Craig: “He thought they shouldn’t be there. He thought George Bush was an arsehole for starting a war over money and oil.”

Last week defence secretary Geoff Hoon branded the anger of the Black Watch families as “unjustified”.


Military Families against the War was launched this week by the relatives of British soldiers who have died in the war.

On Wednesday this week they planned to deliver a wreath to Downing Street, hold a meeting with MPs, and then lead a vigil and rally in Parliament Square.


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Sat 13 Nov 2004, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1927
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