FALLUJAH — The city that was mostly destroyed by the U.S. military operation Phantom Fury in November 2004 has been under curfew for over two weeks, with no signs of relief.
Located 70 kms west of Baghdad, the city made headlines when four Blackwater USA security mercenaries were killed and their bodies horrifically mutilated on Mar. 31, 2004.
That April the city was attacked by the U.S. military, but resistance fighters repelled occupation forces. That set the stage for the November siege which left approximately 70 percent of the city destroyed and turned a quarter of a million residents into refugees.
A recent spike in attacks against Iraqi and U.S. forces in and around the city has prompted harsh measures by the U.S. military, including imposing curfews, limiting movement in and out of Fallujah, and setting up more checkpoints throughout the city — moves which have greatly angered residents.
On May 19, most of these measures, perceived by many people here as a form of collective punishment, began to be more strictly enforced.
“Americans and their Iraqi collaborators are blaming us for their failure in controlling the city and the whole country,” Ahmed Alwan of the Sunni religious group the Muslim Scholars Association told IPS. “This kind of collective punishment only means slow death to the people of the city and is adding to their agonies that have continued since April 2003.”
Referring to the sieges of Fallujah along with the ongoing checkpoints, curfews, restrictions and clashes, Alwan added, “The Americans have proved themselves to be the cruelest human beings ever by such shameful crimes against humanity.”
As the U.S. occupation continues with no end in sight and the level of violence and chaos increases daily, the disconcerting trend of more people believing violence against occupation is the solution has become more prevalent.
“Day by day we find more people believe in violence as a best solution to face American war crimes,” a human rights activist in Fallujah, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IPS. “To impose a curfew in a city that was already destroyed more than once is indeed a major crime against humanity.”
Many people in Fallujah believe the harsh tactics are revenge tactics by U.S. troops and the George W. Bush administration for the city’s attitude against the occupation.
“We know what they are doing and why they are doing it,” a local community leader, also speaking on condition of anonymity because he feared U.S. reprisals, told IPS. “They hate this sacred city because it was the first to stand against their dirty occupation since it started.”
On a side street of Fallujah, a man with his face covered by a kefiyeh scarf, commonly worn by resistance fighters to hide their identity, stopped an IPS reporter and said he wanted to “deliver a message to the sleeping world.”
“Fallujah City has become a symbol for all Iraqis and all good people in the world who decided to fight this monstrous American occupation and no siege will stop the great victorious resistance that represents the voice of all Iraqis who believe in Allah and in the dignity of Iraq,” he said. “We can see the world is sleeping while America is conducting a dirty plan to enslave all the human beings on earth.”
Residents told IPS how their lives are being affected by the ongoing U.S.-Iraqi government crackdown.
“They [Iraqi security forces] are dividing the city into sections in a way that does not allow people to move and make their living,” said Jabbar Amir, a shopkeeper in the main market area. “It takes me four checkpoints to reach my shop and most of the week I cannot make it there. This new security force is worse than the Americans — who give them full support regardless of what they do to people.”
The U.S. military brought in members of the Shi’ite Badr militia and the Kurdish Peshmerga militia to run patrols and checkpoints throughout the city after the devastating November 2004 siege. Many residents believe that this was an act of provocation and an attempt to foment sectarian conflict.
Concrete walls have been set up by the U.S. military to partition the city into small areas, possibly in advance of a new wave of raids by occupation forces.
The U.S. military are now supported by an Iraqi security force known as the “Anbar revolutionary force,” which is accused of carrying out dozens of executions during the past months as well as detaining hundreds of young men for no obvious reason.
“Human life is worth nothing in Fallujah these days,” said Jameel Nassir , a 21-year-old university student. “The government soldiers executed so many young men, just like what happened in Haditha, and the new security force conducted massive killings against us while Americans pay both armies millions of dollars to do the dirty work for them.”
This sentiment is common now in Fallujah.
“All army and security forces in Fallujah are monsters,” Bilal Ibrahim, a journalist in training in Fallujah, told IPS. “I watched one of their inhuman acts today and realised how brutal they really are. A young man jumped in the river for a swim near the hospital, but he was swept by the current and he was screaming for help. We were ready to save his life, but soldiers started shooting at us and they were laughing at the drowning guy until he died.”
IPS learned that the young man’s name was Mohammed Hikmet and he was a member of a well-known family in the city.
“They know this will fail in stopping armed attacks against them just like all their failures, but they want to plant the seed of division among people in the city and Anbar province,” a city councilman, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IPS. “Now our sons are killing each other in vain while Americans dream of moments of peace that they will never get as long as they do not show clear signs of intentions to leave the country for its people.”
The man was referring to the numerous attacks against U.S. and Iraqi forces during the curfew. Many U.S. and Iraqi soldiers have been killed by car bombs, suicide bombers and mortars that appear to underscore the failure of imposing more drastic security measures.
On May 31, a suicide bomber attacked a police recruiting centre in Fallujah, killing at least 25 people and wounding 50.
As has become the norm in Fallujah, civilians continue to pay the highest price despite the security measures that are supposed to be protecting them.
(*Ali, our correspondent in Baghdad, works in close collaboration with Dahr Jamail, our U.S.-based specialist writer on Iraq who travels extensively in the region.)