The failed siege of Fallujah

AMMAN, Jordan – After two devastating sieges of Fallujah in April and November of 2004, which left thousands of Iraqis dead and hundreds of thousands without homes, the aftermath of the US attempt to rid the city of resistance fighters in an effort to improve security in the country continues to plague the residents of Fallujah, and Iraq as a whole.

Simmering anger grows with time among Fallujans who, after having most of their city destroyed by the US military onslaught, have seen promises of rebuilding by both the US military and Iraqi government remain mostly unfulfilled.

“There are daily war crimes being committed in Fallujah, even now,” said Mohammed Abdulla, the executive director of the Study Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Fallujah (SCHRDF). His organization works within the destruction of Fallujah, trying to monitor the plight of residents, bring them reconstruction aid, and document the war crimes and illegal weapons that were used during the November siege.

“Now we have none of the rebuilding which was promised, which people need so desperately in order to get their lives back in order,” said Abdulla during a recent interview with Asia Times Online in Amman.

Doctors working inside the city continue to complain of US and Iraqi security forces impeding their medical care. Along with the continuance of strict US military checkpoints, residents in the city say the
treatment they receive from both the US military and Iraqi security forces operating inside Fallujah is both degrading and humiliating. This treatment is also being perceived by most as intentional.

“The checkpoints are too obstructive,” said Dr Amer Ani, who volunteers at Fallujah General Hospital. “Fighting has resumed inside the city, because in the last two weeks there have been man-to-man clashes in different districts of the city. This has caused ambulances to have difficulty entering and exiting the city, especially the main hospital.

“I work in the refugee camp on the border, and because of the checkpoint on the outskirts of the city, no patients from that camp can enter the city,” said Ani. “Thus, they are forced to go to another clinic 14 kilometers from them, whereas the closest treatment in the city is less than one kilometer from them.”

Ani went on to add that the main hospital and several primary health clinics in the city need rebuilding, but the building materials are being prevented from entering by US forces.

Dr Riyad al-Obeidy, who works in Ramadi, is also currently volunteering inside Fallujah. “Previously, the Ministry of Health was delivering aid into the city, but now this is prohibited, for unknown reasons,” he said.

“Thus, now there are shortages of external fixators, surgical sets for operations, and trauma equipment. There is really a humanitarian health problem. People are living as refugees inside their city, living in tents – so we have lack of clean water and hygiene, so there is rampant spreading of typhoid. With summer coming, this will all get worse.”

Promises made prior to the siege by the Iraqi government and US military to assist in reconstruction of the city appear to have fallen flat.

According to SCHRDF’s Abdulla, “There is some reconstruction, but this is only being done by Fallujans and because the government of Iraq is only helping just a little.”

That point was also made by Dr Abrahim Aziz (last name changed to protect identity), who works as a volunteer inside Fallujah. “There is a little rebuilding happening now, electric wires are being replaced,” he said during a phone interview from Fallujah. “But the hospitals and clinics have only been painted and the holes in the walls closed up.”

Dr Fawzi, an engineer who owns a cement factory in Fallujah, said the southern districts of Fallujah remain closed, and only 10% of the buildings and homes destroyed have been rebuilt by residents themselves.

Fawzi was involved in negotiating compensation for residents of the city, and presented a figure of US$600 million to the US military, who agreed to pay the amount. But the Iraqi government did not agree.

“We went to Baghdad but the [then-premier Iyad] Allawi office told us we could have only $100 million, and they couldn’t promise anything because everything would change with the elections [of January],” said Fawzi. “We disputed this amount, and the government said they would give us 20% of the $600 million, which we refused because this was not enough. At this meeting were Americans, military and civilian both, and members of the Iraqi government.”

Dr Aziz said that only 10% of the promised compensation had been paid out to date, and added that the health situation was “horrible, we are now having cholera outbreaks”.

Recent drinking water tests performed by SCHRDF found that there was no potable water available inside Fallujah. “Everybody knows this, and this is why we are making announcements for people to boil their water for 10 minutes,” said Abdulla.

According to him, two-thirds of the city lacks electricity because so many electrical wires were cut, and any reconstruction occurring at the moment is only being carried out by the residents of Fallujah, with no outside help. “There is little financial aid coming from the government, if any at all.”

Dr al-Obeidy said the same. “There are some payouts being made, but it is a small amount. But then recently the Iraqi government stopped all the compensation payments. So now the people are very angry about this, especially because the Americans promised to give each family $500, but there is nothing until now,” he said. “So if a house is completely destroyed, how can $500 be enough? It cannot.”

While it is estimated that 80% of the residents of Fallujah have returned home, roughly 60% of the houses and buildings inside the city sustained enough damage to make them inhabitable. Most people continue to live in tents, or amid the rubble of their homes. Curfews remain in the city, with residents not allowed on the streets past 9pm, and entire districts remain without power.

Abu Nawaf, a 42-year-old businessman who lives near the Jolan quarter of the city, said in a recent phone interview from Fallujah, “There is no rebuilding happening here at all and the Americans and Iraqi National Guard [ING] are patrolling all the time, even the side streets.”

Abdulla commented on the volatile situation: “There is no law in the streets, and there was a case of an ING killing an Iraqi policeman and people asked for an inquiry.” He added: “Americans were inside with the ING who are peshmerga [members of the Kurdish militia]. The ING inside now are all peshmerga and Badr forces [Shi’ite militia of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution] who are doing the same humiliations and bad treatment that the Americans are doing.”

The SCHRDF has reported that US soldiers currently occupy seven primary schools in the city, causing children to study in tents.

Meanwhile, Nawaf continues to look for his three brothers who remain missing. The US military painted on his home that three bodies were found there, but Nawaf has been unable to locate them and insists they remain missing.

Recent clashes and roadside bombs in Fallujah have greatly impeded any return to normalcy within the city, along with ongoing complaints from residents of harassment and poor treatment from the security forces. Thus reconstruction, as important as it is for the city, remains in the background for residents who continue to testify of alleged war crimes during the most recent siege, as well as seething resentment over the destruction and lack of rebuilding in their city.

“There are plenty of women in Fallujah who have testified they were raped by American soldiers,” said Abdulla. “They are nearby the secondary school for girls inside Fallujah. When people came back to Fallujah the first time they found so many girls who were totally naked and they had been killed.”

As Nawaf’s situation shows, the number of missing people remains one of the larger concerns. “We don’t have a total number of people killed because so many people are missing … this makes it impossible for now to get an accurate count of the dead,” said Abdulla.

Another Iraqi doctor who is a member of an Iraqi medical team that also investigates human-rights issues, reported that his group estimates that 60,000 Iraqis are in detention facilities throughout Iraq. During the interview in Amman, he said the US military had only registered the names of 17,000 detainees; they are being held without charges and their whereabouts unknown, even to their families. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the doctor said, “Of course this only pushes people more towards the resistance, because people are eventually left desperate enough to begin fighting the Americans. People can only take so much.”

Dr Fawzi, who is also reporting to the SCHRDF, expressed concern about the number of people missing from Fallujah. “For deaths, we counted over 750 at first,” he commented. “There are so many missing people and it is so difficult to have the figures of dead and detained, even though we know so many more were killed. People are afraid to admit their son might be detained because the Americans might arrest or retaliate against the rest of the family.”

Thus, the suffering of the residents of Fallujah continues as fighting simmers once again within the devastated city and the drastic heat of summer approaches.

“The Americans have committed a very big massacre to the people of Fallujah. The crime of Fallujah is the greatest crime ever,” Abdulla said sternly. “This will remain as a black spot in American history forever.

Whatever the American people will do, even if they get rid of those liars who are in their government, they will need a long time for people to forget what they have done in Iraq and in Fallujah in order for us to deal with them as a civilized people who have humanity.”

Abdulla, like residents of the city, wondered why the US military will not let unembedded media into Fallujah. “Why have they not let the media inside Fallujah,” he asked. “If America says she is right, then why did she stop two UN investigators from getting inside Fallujah?”

With the initial justification for the siege of Fallujah being that the military operation was conducted in order to bring security and stability for the elections of January 30, it is clear that this goal was not
obtained. Scores of Iraqis died on that day alone, and the situation throughout Iraq has only continued to deteriorate since.

More recently, since the latest interim government in Iraq was sworn in in April, well over 750 Iraqis have been killed in violence that continues to spread throughout the war-torn country.

Thus, rather than improving security and stability in Fallujah and Iraq, the siege of Fallujah has accomplished nothing more than devastating the city and spreading the Iraqi resistance into other cities, such as Qaim, Beji, Baquba, Mosul, Ramadi, Latifiya and many areas of Baghdad.

It could easily be argued now that the siege of Fallujah accomplished the exact opposite of its stated goals – rather than bringing increased security and stability, it has inflamed tempers, deepened sectarian rifts and spurred the Iraqi resistance into levels of attack rarely seen prior to the siege.

Abdulla paints a dismal picture with his final comments on the situation in Fallujah: “The mood is that people will never forget what was done to them and their city. I don’t think we’ll see the end of this. People will never forget to have their revenge on the American troops, but they would like to prepare themselves for another attack. This is what the Fallujan negotiators had warned the Americans of. Lack of security, which is ongoing in Iraq now, is one these results.”

Dahr Jamail is an independent journalist from Anchorage, Alaska. He has reported from inside occupied Iraq for eight months. He is currently reporting from Amman, Jordan.

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