Ramadi caught in US street fight

US forces are taking to collective punishment of civilians in several cities across al-Anbar province west of Baghdad, residents and officials say.

“Ramadi, the capital of al-Anbar province, is still living with the daily terror of its people getting killed by snipers and its infrastructure being destroyed,” said Ahmad, a local doctor who withheld his last name for security purposes. “This city has been facing the worst of the American terror and destruction for more than two years now, and the world is silent.”

Destroying infrastructure and cutting water and electricity “for days and even weeks is routine reaction to the resistance”, he said. “Guys of the resistance do not need water and electricity, it’s the families that are being harmed, and their lives which are at stake.”

This month, a classified report written by the chief of intelligence for the US Marine Corps in Iraq concluded that the United States had lost control of Anbar, at least politically.

Students and professors at the University of Anbar say their campus is under frequent attack. “Nearly every week we face raids by the Americans or their Iraqi colleagues,” a professor speaking on condition of anonymity said. Students said that US troops occupied their school last week.

“We’ve been under great pressure from the Americans since the very first days of their occupation of Iraq,” a student said.

Such raids are being reported all over Ramadi. “The infrastructure destruction is huge around the governorate building in downtown Ramadi,” said a 24-year-old student who gave his name as Ali al-Ani. “And they are destroying the market, too.”

Inter Press Service (IPS) reported on September 5 that the US military was bulldozing entire blocks of buildings near the governorate to dampen resistance attacks on government offices. Such US action seems most severe in Anbar province, where resistance is strongest, and which has seen the highest US casualties.

The city of Hit, 80 kilometers west of Ramadi, was surrounded by US troops for several days this week. Several civilians were killed and at least five were detained by US forces. Checkpoints are in place at each entrance to the city after the US military lifted the cordon around it. This has stifled movement and damaged local businesses.

“There was an attack on a US convoy, and three vehicles were destroyed,” a local tribal chief who gave his name as Nawaf said. “It wasn’t the civilians who did it, but they are the ones punished. These Americans have the bad habit of cutting all of the essential services after every attack. They said they came to liberate us, but look at the slow death they are giving us every day.”

In Haditha, a city of 75,000 on the banks of the Euphrates River in western Anbar, collective punishment is ongoing, residents say. This was the site of the massacre of 24 civilians by US marines last November.

“The Americans continue to raid our houses and threaten us with more violence,” a local tribal leader who gave his name as Abu Juma’a said. “But if they think they will make us kneel by these criminal acts, they are wrong. If they increase the pressure, the resistance will increase the reaction. We see this pattern repeated so often now.”

Abu Juma’a added: “I pray that the Americans return to their senses before they lose everything in the Iraqi fire.”

In Fallujah, police say residents have turned against them because of the collective-punishment tactics used by US forces. “The Americans started pushing us to fight the resistance, despite our contracts that clearly assigned us the duties of civil protection against normal crimes such as theft and tribal quarrels,” a police lieutenant said. “Now, 90% of the force has decided to quit rather than kill our brothers or get killed by them for the wishes of the Americans.”

At least one US vehicle is reported destroyed every day on average in the face of mounting US raids and a daily curfew. The scene is one of destruction of the city, not rebuilding.

“Infrastructure rebuilding is just a joke that nobody laughs at,” said Fayiq al-Dilaimy, an engineer in Fallujah. He was on the rebuilding committee set up after the November 2004 US-led operation that destroyed about 75% of the city.

“People of this city could rebuild their city in six months if given a real chance,” Dilaimy said. “Now look at it and how sorrowful it looks under the boots of the ‘liberators’.”

Many of the smaller towns have been badly hit. “Khaldiyah [near Fallujah] and the area around it have faced the worst collective punishments for over two years now,” said a government official in Ramadi. “But of course most cities in al-Anbar are being constantly punished by the Americans.”

Samarra and Dhululiyah towns, both north of Baghdad, have also faced collective punishment from the US military, according to residents.

“Curfews and concrete walls are permanent in both cities, which makes life impossible,” said Ali al-Bazi, a lawyer who lives in Dhululiyah and works in Samarra. “There are so many killings by American snipers. So many families have lost loved ones trying to visit relatives or even just stepping outside of their house.”

While Baghdad is not in Anbar province, occupation forces have used similar tactics there. In January 2005, IPS reported that the military used bulldozers to level palm groves, cut electricity, destroy a fuel station and block access roads in response to attacks from resistance fighters.

A US military spokesman in Baghdad did not comment on specific cases, but said the US military “does its best to protect civilians from the terrorists”.

A freelance journalist reporting from Iraq who, being an Iraqi himself, often has free access to areas and situations avoided by Western journalists