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Brutal assault by US stokes the resistance

This article is over 20 years, 1 months old
The last week has seen serious fighting across Iraq as US troops tried to crush resistance to the occupation. Some of the heaviest fighting was in Fallujah, west of Baghdad. Rahul Mahajan managed to get inside the town
Issue 1898

CURRENT REPORTS say something like 500-600 people have been killed in Fallujah, including estimates of 200 women and over 100 children. There are no women among the mujahideen (resistance fighters)-so all of the above are non-combatants. Many of the men who were wounded told us they were just going about their business.

When the assault on Fallujah started the power plant was bombed. Electricity is provided by generators and usually reserved for places with important functions. There are four hospitals currently open in Fallujah. This includes the one that we visited, which was actually just a minor emergency clinic. Another one of them is a car repair garage. Things were very frantic at the hospital.

We depended for much of our information on Makki Al-Nazzal, a lifelong Fallujah resident who works for a humanitarian organisation, Intersos, and had been pressed into service as the manager of the clinic. All the doctors were busy, working around the clock with minimal sleep.

A gentle, urbane man who spoke fluent English, Al-Nazzal was beside himself with fury at the Americans’ actions. When I asked him if it was all right to use his full name, he said, “It’s okay. It’s all okay now. Let the bastards do what they want.”

With the “ceasefire” heavy bombing was rare. The primary modes of attack were a little bit of heavy artillery and a lot of snipers. Al-Nazzal told us about ambulances being hit by snipers, and women and children being shot. Describing the horror that the siege of Fallujah had become, he said, “I have been a fool for 47 years. I used to believe in European and American civilisation.”

I had heard these claims about ambulances before coming into Fallujah, but was sceptical. But I saw for myself: an ambulance with two neat, precise bullet-holes in the windshield on the driver’s side-pointing down at an angle that indicated they would have hit the driver’s chest.

Another ambulance again with a single, neat bullet-hole in the windshield. These were deliberate shots to kill the people driving the ambulances. The ambulances go around with red, blue or green lights flashing and sirens blaring. In the pitch-dark of a blacked-out city there is no way they can be missed or mistaken for something else.

In the four hours we were at that small clinic we saw perhaps a dozen wounded brought in. Among them was a young woman-18 years old-shot in the head. She was having a seizure and foaming at the mouth when they brought her in. Doctors did not expect her to survive the night.

Another likely terminal case was a young boy with massive internal bleeding. I also saw a man with extensive burns on his upper body and wounds in his thighs that might have been from a cluster bomb. There was no way to verify this in the madhouse scene of wailing relatives, shouts of “Allahu Akbar” (“God is great”) and anger at the Americans.

Among the more laughable assertions of the Bush administration is that the mujahideen are a small group of isolated “extremists” repudiated by the majority of Fallujah’s population. Nothing could be further from the truth. They are of the community and fully supported by it.

Many of the wounded were brought in by the mujahideen and they stood around openly conversing with doctors and others. One of them was wearing an Iraqi police flak jacket. We learned that he was a member of the Iraqi police. The mujahideen are of the people, in the same way that the stone-throwers in the Palestinian intifada are. I spoke to a young man, Ali, who was among the wounded we transported to Baghdad. He said he was not a mujahideen but, when asked his opinion of them, he smiled and stuck his thumb up.

Al-Nazzal told me that, during the invasion, the people of Fallujah refused to resist the Americans just because Saddam told them to. The fighting for Fallujah last year was not particularly fierce. He said, “If Saddam said work, we would want to take three days off. But the Americans had to cast us as Saddam supporters. When he was captured, they said the resistance would die down, but even as it has increased, they still call us that.”

Nothing could have been easier than gaining the good will of the people of Fallujah if the Americans not been so brutal. Now a tipping-point has been reached. Fallujah cannot be “saved” from its mujahideen unless it is destroyed.

  • For more from Rahul Mahajan, go to

    ‘The past few weeks have proved to me that Americans are occupiers and liars. They are killing innocent Iraqis, women and children. I am 100 percent with the resistance now, both Sunni and Shi’ites. They are giving their lives to free our country.’

    SALMAN DAOUD, Baghdad shop owner

    Uniting against occupation

    ‘We want Bush and the British devil Blair out of our country’

    DIVIDE AND rule was an old motto of the British Empire. It was used to good effect when Britain occupied Iraq in the 20th century, setting Iraq’s Sunni and Shia Muslim communities against each other. Saddam Hussein’s regime continued that approach. And over the last year too the US occupiers have sought to cement their hold on Iraq by playing on rivalries between Sunni and Shia.

    The US fosters division and then claims it has to stay in Iraq because otherwise Sunni and Shia would clash in civil war, But the brutality meted out by the US in recent weeks has seen those divisions challenged, as Sunni and Shia have united in resistance to the occupation. Up to 200,000 people crowded into a mass prayer rally in Baghdad’s largest Sunni mosque on Friday of last week to denounce the occupation. Many of those attending were Shias.

    The main preacher at the rally was Harith al-Dhari. He told the united rally, “It is a year since America, with its ally, the British devil Tony Blair, launched its attack. A year has passed and where is the democracy they promised? Instead we have terror and censorship and rivers of blood. The Americans consider themselves a safety valve against sectarian conflict, but this is an excuse for extending their stay. Here in this mosque and in this gathering we have the proof that all groups are united. We all want the coalition to leave this country.”

    The previous day thousands of Sunni and Shia had united to force their way through US military checkpoints to ferry food and medical supplies to the besieged Sunni town of Fallujah. A report for the Agence France Press agency described how, “Troops in armoured vehicles tried to stop the convoy of cars and pedestrians from reaching the town. But US forces were overwhelmed as residents of villages west of the capital came to the convoy’s assistance, hurling insults and stones at beleaguered troops. The marchers chanted, ‘We are Sunni and Shi’ite brothers and will never sell our country’.”

    One of the march organisers, Ahmad Abdel Ghafur al-Samarrai, told the agency reporter, “Baghdad residents decided to send initially 90 cars with food and medicines to Fallujah families. We want to express solidarity with our brothers who are being bombed by warplanes and tanks. It is a form of jihad which can also come in the form of demonstrations, donations and fighting. The people who are occupied have the right to fight occupation, whatever the means they use.”

    ‘The people who are occupied have the right to fight occupation.’

    AHMAD ABDEL GHAFUR AL-SAMARRAI, march organiser in Fallujah

    Echoes of another war

    IT IS not just in the Sunni Muslim town of Fallujah that occupying troops are facing resistance. Supporters of the Shia Muslim cleric Moqtada Sadr launched attacks on occupying forces last week. The Bush gang try to portray the resistance as confined to a tiny minority. US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the fighting was the work of “thugs, gangs and terrorists”.

    But US intelligence sources admitted to the New York Times that the “insurgency” goes “beyond Sadr and his militia” and that “a much larger number of Shia have turned against the occupation”. Ghassan al-Attiyah, director of a think-tank set up by the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, admitted, “There is a general mood of anti-Americanism among the people in the streets.”

    Repression is driving people to fight back. Umm Samir is a 62 year old woman who has lived in Fallujah for 37 years. She told journalists, “The mujahideen are our sons. I would become a mujahideen myself.” One of her relatives, Umm Dahlia, added, “My little son is two years old. When he sees the US troops he starts spitting. I didn’t teach him that.”

    The block by block fighting in the city has brought back bad memories for the rulers of the US. Lieutenant Colonel Brennan Burn said, “This is like Hue city in Vietnam.” Hue was at the centre of the “Tet Offensive”-an attack on US forces during the Vietnam War.

  • For more on the Tet Offensive, turn to pages 8 & 9.

    ‘We didn’t start fighting against the Americans until they started fighting against our people. First we were so happy because we thought they would get rid of Saddam and leave immediately. Then they showed their real face. They started killing our relatives and friends and our brothers.’

    MOHAMMED, resistance fighter from Habbaniyah, west of Baghdad

    Mutiny shakes US’s Iraqi force

    THE US military has admitted that a battalion of the new Iraqi army it has been organising last week mutinied against its US commanders and refused orders to support US Marines fighting to capture Fallujah. The incident is part of a growing crisis for the US occupiers. The US paper the Washington Post reports:

    “The 620-man Second Battalion of the Iraqi Armed Forces refused to fight Monday after members of the unit were shot at in a Shi’ite Muslim neighbourhood in Baghdad while en route to Fallujah, a Sunni Muslim stronghold, said US army major general Paul Eaton, who is overseeing the development of Iraqi security forces. The convoy then turned around and returned to the battalion’s post on a former Republican Guard base in Taji, a town north of the capital. Eaton said members of the battalion insisted during the ensuing discussions, ‘We did not sign up to fight Iraqis.’ The refusal of the battalion to perform as US officials had hoped poses a significant problem for the occupation. The cornerstone of the US strategy is Iraq is to draw down its military presence and turn over security functions to Iraqis.

    “Over the past two weeks, that approach has suffered a severe setback as Iraqi security forces have crumbled in some parts of the country. “In recent days perhaps 20 to 25 percent of the Iraqi army, civil defence, police and other security forces have quit, changed sides, or otherwise failed to perform their duties, a senior US army officer said.”

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