Fallujah again in the line of US fire

FALLUJAH, Iraq – After enduring two major assaults, Fallujah, a key city in the western province al-Anbar, is under threat from US forces again. This coincides with news of a classified US intelligence report that the Pentagon is taking “very seriously” – that US forces are losing control of Anbar.

The report, written by Colonel Pete Devlin, the chief of intelligence for the Marine Corps in Iraq, and cited in the US media, said a shortage of US and Iraqi troops in Anbar and the collapse of local governments had left a vacuum that had been exploited by al-Qaeda in Iraq. It painted a poor picture of security prospects in Anbar, which includes Fallujah and Ramadi, Sunni resistance strongholds. It said that the US had been defeated politically, if not militarily, in the province.

This confirms an article last week citing Iraqi police and residents (see US military ‘loses control’ of key Iraqi province, Asia Times Online, September 7).

In Fallujah, 50 kilometers west of Baghdad, residents are edgy. “They destroyed our city twice and they are threatening us a third time,” said Ahmed Dhahy, 52. “They want us to do their job for them and turn in those who target them.”

Dhahy, who lost 32 relatives when his father’s house was bombed by a US aircraft during the April 2004 attack on Fallujah, said the US military had threatened it would destroy the city if resistance fighters were not handed over to them.

“Last week, the Americans used loudspeakers on the backs of their tanks and Humvees to threaten us,” Dhahy said. Residents said the US forces warned of a “large military operation” if fighters were not handed over.

A US military spokesman in Baghdad said he had no reports of such action.

Fallujah was heavily bombed in April 2004 and again in November that year. The attacks destroyed 75% of the city’s infrastructure and left more than 5,000 dead, according to local non-governmental groups.

But after the heavy assaults, resistance fighters have continued to launch attacks against US and official Iraqi forces in the city. Fallujah remains under tight security, with the US military using biometric identification, full body searches and bar-coded identification cards for residents to enter and leave their city.

“The Iraqi resistance has not stopped for a single day despite the huge US Army activities,” a city police captain said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “The wise men of the city explained to US officials that it is impossible to stop the resistance by military operations, but it seems the Americans prefer to do it the hard way.”

The police captain said anti-occupation fighters had increased their activities in the face of sectarian violence in which Shi’ite death squads have killed thousands of Sunnis in Baghdad. Many residents of Fallujah have relatives in the capital city.

Lack of reconstruction and the US military’s failure to pay due compensation to victims’ families have added to the unrest, the captain said. “There used to be resistance attacks against the US and Iraqi forces in Fallujah daily,” said the captain. “But now they have increased to several per day. Many soldiers have been killed and their vehicles destroyed. So it is clear that the security measures they have taken in Fallujah have failed.”

Several residents said all sorts of killings had been taking place over the past eight months. Religious leaders have been targeted regularly, with no group claiming responsibility. On Sunday, the former chief of traffic police, Brigadier Ahmed Diraa, was shot dead in his car. Residents in Fallujah said Diraa had quit his post a month earlier.

In the face of killings, and now threats of a new attack, residents remain defiant of the occupation forces. The hardships that people have endured seem to have strengthened rather than weakened them.

“There are so many arrests and killings, and collective punishments, such as random shootings, violent inspection raids, repeated curfews and deliberate cutting of water and electricity,” said Mohammed al-Darraji, head of a human-rights group in Fallujah called the Iraqi Center for Human Rights Observation.

“What is going on in this city requires international intervention to protect civilians and to punish those who seriously damaged Fallujah society and committed serious crimes against humanity,” Darraji said. His group has been monitoring breaches of the Geneva Conventions in the city since the April 2004 siege.

“There is a long list of collective punishments that have turned the city into a frightful detention camp,” he said.

Another human-rights campaigner in Fallujah, who asked to be referred to as Khalid, said human-rights activists in Iraq felt betrayed by the United Nations. The UN had played ignorant “by leaving US troops to act alone in the city”, said Khalid, who works with Raya Human Rights, a non-governmental organization in the city. “This was after the media exposed the enormity of the violence and human-rights violations during the last three years.”