FALLUJAH — Fallujah is quiet these days. After all the fighting and destruction of 2004, U.S. and Iraqi forces call this success. Many residents are not so sure.
Fallujah, 60km west of Baghdad, produced some of the strongest resistance yet to U.S. forces and their Iraqi collaborators. These forces led two severe assaults on the city, in April and November of 2004. Three-quarters of the city was destroyed, massive numbers of people were killed.
There has been little by way of reconstruction.
The city sees no more of the kind of resistance attacks of old, and no more of the 2004 kind of crackdown. “We are so happy that our city is peaceful and quiet after all the battling that killed thousands of our citizens,” a captain in the local police force of Fallujah, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IPS. “We can patrol the streets without fear now, and arrest any person that we suspect to be a terrorist.”
There has been a good deal of this, residents say. Hundreds of suspected resistance fighters are now held at the Fallujah police station. Many have been killed on the streets; the police speak of finding “unidentified bodies”.
Several of those found dead had been arrested earlier, eyewitnesses and families of several of the men killed have said.
“This is fascist behaviour that shows the brutality of the Americans and the so-called Iraqi government,” a former member of the Fallujah city council who asked to be referred to as Mahmood told IPS. “Those young guys were executed without any trial. This brutality was not known in our city before this occupation began.”
Journalists inside the city are also quiet after a few of them were arrested and held for several days.
One of the detained journalists spoke with IPS on condition of anonymity. Visibly shaken, he said that a major in the Fallujah police force had told him that freedom of the media had been misused and that the police would not allow it any more. He said the major told him that “the news you transmit to the world will be what we tell you, not what you pick up from the street”.
Residents speak of other reasons why the city is relatively quiet.
“But of course the city is quiet,” Rahemm Othman, a high school teacher, told IPS. “They are banning car movement, and that would make it as quiet as the dead. We are being subjected to slow death here, and the world is so happy about it.” The local police and the U.S. military banned car movement in May.
Everything is costlier as a result. “A jar of propane gas costs over 20 dollars, and the groceries are too much for us to afford,” Um Muhammad, a mother of four whose husband was detained four months ago told IPS. “I have no income, and people who used to help me are not able to do so any more. Everybody is getting poor because people cannot go to work.”
Medical services also continue to suffer under the vehicle ban. Doctors at Fallujah General Hospital told IPS that the government in Baghdad is not supplying them with medicines and medical equipment.
“The officials of the Ministry of Health tell us we are terrorists, and so we do not deserve their support,” a doctor said. “As if they own Iraqi money and it is up to them whether to give it or not.”
The Ministry of Health was headed by Ali al-Shemari from the group of Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr until Sadr withdrew from the government Apr. 16.
“To say Fallujah is quiet is true, and you can see it in the city streets,” said Shiek Salim from the Fallujah Scholars’ Council. “The city is practically dead, and the dead are quiet.”
One after another, residents spoke of Fallujah finding the quiet of the dead. The streets are empty except for the occasional person walking to clinic, or at some of the few markets still open. Most shops remain closed, others open only a few hours.
Residents say unemployment is above 80 percent. Most of the rest who have some work are government employees. The huge industrial area has been closed by U.S. and Iraqi Army units.
“After sacrificing thousands of our beloved, Americans and their tails want to kill the rest of us,” said a 50-year-old woman at the football field that was turned into a graveyard following the April 2004 U.S. siege of the city, in which residents say at least 700 were killed.
Intent on demonstrating progress in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, is expected to recommend removing U.S. troops soon from several areas where commanders claim security has improved, including Fallujah.
But resistance has not died altogether. Five U.S. soldiers were killed when their helicopter was shot down Aug. 14 near al-Taqaddum airbase on the outskirts of Fallujah.
At least 20 U.S. soldiers were killed in al-Anbar province to the west of Baghdad in July, several of them in Fallujah area. According to the U.S. Department of Defence, 1,257 U.S. soldiers have died in al-Anbar province, more than in any other Iraqi province.
(*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)