Fallujah, the Guernica of Our Times Part 6: Cruel November Arrives By Mac McKinney
A Native American Parable: A Native American grandfather was talking to his grandson about how he felt. He said 'I feel as if I have two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is the vengeful, angry, violent one. The other wolf is the loving, compassionate one.' The grandson asked him, 'Which wolf will win the fight in your heart?' The grandfather answered: 'The one I feed.'
By October of 2004, while the Bush Administration was focusing on winning the November elections, the American military was not so quietly finalizing preparations for a second assault on Fallujah, which some analysts were predicting would not occur until after Bush was re-elected, so as not to jeopardize Bush's compassionate conservative campaign image. However, bombing runs against alleged insurgent safe-houses and meeting places, such as restaurants, were now occurring daily, coupled with ongoing reports of related civilian casualties. American officials once again trumpeted their sophisticated use of "smart" bombs and missiles to unerringly obliterate the "bad guys", although forensic evidence on the ground has time and again painted a picture of this ordnance as neither terribly bright at times nor terribly discriminating. And on the ground, Marines were also engaging in almost daily and nightly firefights along the city's perimeter with the Mujaheddin. On October 14, 2004, CNN reported, quoting from Wikipedia, "that the US offensive assault on Fallujah had begun and broadcast a report from a young Marine outside Fallujah, 1st Lt. Lyle Gilbert, who announced that 'troops have crossed the line of departure.' Hours later, CNN reported their Pentagon reporters had determined that the assault had not, in fact, begun." The Los Angeles Times would later report that "the Marine's announcement was a feint--part of an elaborate 'psychological operation' (PSYOP) to determine the Fallujah rebels' reactions if they believed attack was imminent." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/US_occupation_of_Fallujah ) There was no doubt that the American military was eager to finish what it had started in April, like a hungry lion stalking an escaped and wounded prey, still game, but slowly tiring. The generals had also convinced themselves that Fallujah was the heart of all their troubles in Iraq. Conquer the city and the insurgency would be broken, like a Jihadist Napoleon meeting his Waterloo. Set a harsh example, as the Romans once taught their legions, and the other cities of Iraq would fall in line. But first the November 2nd presidential election had to come and go, so everything was to be put into place in the meantime, the new order of battle completed and the ever pliable, interim Allawi government's authorization to attack officially secured.
Operation Phantom Fury
The pending operation was officially named Phantom Fury and, according to GlobalSecurity.org, an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 Marines and U.S. Army troops, as well as 2,000 of Allawi's Iraqi Security Forces, would be deployed, backed by all manner of weaponry and aircraft, against some 2000 to 3000 hardcore Mujaheddin. Residents of Fallujah, once a vibrant city of some 300,000 to 350,000 people, were being warned by the military to flee the coming onslaught, the Americans accenting this by cutting off food and water supplies. Thus a vast, unorganized exodus into the desert and neighboring towns and cities began. Think of the evacuation of New Orleans just before Katrina struck to imagine the scale of confusion and hardship for tens of thousands of Iraqis who now had to huddle in chaotic tent cities with sparse food, water and medical support. Typhoid fever and other diseases would quickly break out. Not everyone in Fallujah could or would leave the city and their homes though, just as in New Orleans. Perhaps as few as several thousand to as many as 50,000 civilians stayed behind, but no one will ever know now, in the aftermath. The frightening thing about this was that the Americans would soon declare parts of the city "weapons free" once the attack began. This means, in combat jargon, that GIs are free to kill anything that moves. Another term for this is "free-fire zone", a phrase made infamous in Vietnam, as entire swaths of territory would fall under that designation, giving the American military and its allies carte-blanche to slaughter thousands upon thousands of "gooks". On November 2, 2004, George Bush won re-election. Reports immediately began surfacing that a second major assault on Fallujah was now imminent. On November 7, ominously, the Iraqi interim government declared a 60 day state of emergency across Iraq. The following morning of November 8, Prime Minister Allawi formally authorized Operation Phantom Fury, later to be called Operation al-Fajr (the Dawn) by his Defense Minister. Allawi's stated goal was "to liberate the people" and "clean Fallujah from the terrorists". That same day the new offensive began, on what was also Laylat e-Qadr, the most important and holy night of the year for the Islamic world, the assault commencing with coordinated heavy air strikes, artillery, infantry and armor. But there was an immediate glitch. The CENTCOM commander, Gen. George Casey, had to acknowledge that a number of the Iraqi forces, apparently hundreds of them (possibly upset about killing humans on a holy day), had failed to show up. However, this was not a strategic setback, because the Iraqis had no major, independent responsibilities anyway, but the White House had wanted to give the assault as prominent an Iraqi face as possible. Onslaughts from the North, the Southeast and the West began simultaneously, with the highest priority given to storming the city's western outskirts, where Marines and Iraqi Security commandos raced to secure two bridges across the Euphrates River and seize Fallujah General Hospital. Why, we must ask, was the hospital such an important target, especially when it is against the Geneva Conventions to target hospitals at all?
First we must recall that during the April siege of Fallujah, bloody reports from the city's hospitals of civilian casualties, along with powerful newscasts by Al Jazeera, were instrumental in turning public opinion against the siege, ultimately leading to a ceasefire. These were lessons learned at the Pentagon. Not surprisingly, Prime Minister Allawi banned Al Jazeera from Iraq altogether in August. A second step would obviously be to silence the hospital staff at Fallujah General. Here are several accounts of what transpired: The official version of events is recounted in the pro-Establishment, GlobalSecurity.org article on Operation Phantom Fury: "In the first stage of their assault, a Marine unit and other troops seized two strategic bridges and a hospital situated on a peninsula formed by the Euphrates River leading to an area that was a possible fall back zone for insurgents driven out of central Fallujah. However, according to MNF-I (Multi National Force-Iraq) the hospital was being used as a center for enemy propaganda to inflate the number of civilian casualties. Iraq's 36th Commando Battalion was placed in charge of Fallujah General Hospital which was kept open to provide medical services to injured civilians. However, according to Defense Tech, the 36th Commando Battalion was originally a 'political' unit drawn from the militias of the five major political parties, but only its Kurdish pesh merga element has really proved reliable." (http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/ops/oif-phantom-fury-fallujah.htm ) Here is a second account from the Canadian journalist, Naomi Klein, dated Dec 4: "The first major operation by US marines and Iraqi soldiers was to storm Falluja general hospital, arresting doctors and placing the facility under military control. The New York Times reported that 'the hospital was selected as an early target because the American military believed that it was the source of rumours about heavy casualties', noting that 'this time around, the American military intends to fight its own information war, countering or squelching what has been one of the insurgents' most potent weapons'. The Los Angeles Times quoted a doctor as saying that the soldiers 'stole the mobile phones' at the hospital - preventing doctors from communicating with the outside world. But this was not the worst of the attacks on health workers. Two days earlier, a crucial emergency health clinic was bombed to rubble, as well as a medical supplies dispensary next door. Dr Sami al-Jumaili, who was working in the clinic, says the bombs took the lives of 15 medics, four nurses and 35 patients....." (http://www.thinkingpeace.com/pages/arts2/arts300.html ) Pepe Escobar, Asia Times' Roving Eye reporter, also had several notes on all of this: 1) "Dr Muhammad Ismail, a member of the governing board of Fallujah's general hospital 'captured' by the Americans at the outset of Operation Phantom Fury, has called all Iraqi doctors for urgent help. Ismail told Iraqi and Arab press that the number of wounded civilians is growing exponentially - and medical supplies are almost non-existent. He confirmed that US troops had arrested many members of the hospital's medical staff and had sealed the storage of medical supplies. "The wounded in Fallujah are in essence left to die. There is not a single surgeon in town. And practically no doctors as well, as the Pentagon decided to bomb both the al-Hadar Hospital and the Zayid Mobile Hospital. So far, the International Committee of the Red Cross has reacted with thunderous apathy." (http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/FK12Ak04.html ) 2) "In terms of the information war, the hospital was indeed the most strategic of targets. During the first siege of Fallujah in April, doctors told independent media the real story about the suffering of civilian victims. So this time the Pentagon took no chances: no gory, disturbing photos of the elderly, women and children - the thousands unable to leave Fallujah in advance of this week's offensive, the civilian victims of the relentless bombing. "But this did not prevent the world from seeing doctors and patients at the hospital handcuffed to the floor - as if they were terrorists. Hospital director Dr Salih al-Issawi told Agence France-Presse that the Americans blocked him and other doctors from going to the center of Fallujah to help another clinic in distress; he also said an ambulance that tried to leave the hospital was shot at by the Americans - just like in April, when all ambulances were targeted. The Geneva Convention is explicit: in a war situation, hospitals and ambulances are neutral...." (http://atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/FK11Ak03.html ) But this is not the military of Dwight D. Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur any longer, a military that honored the Geneva Conventions and the Principles of Nuremberg, whose armies won the affection of civilians in both occupied Germany and Japan after WWII. This is the Rumsfeld military, lost in the dark wilderness of Machiavellianism and murderous egocentrism, marching to the drum beat of a soulless, delusional bureaucrat, enamored with the high technology of killing and oblivious to human suffering.
Next issue, Part 7: Fallujah Becomes Guernica