To the left is a segment of Picasso's famous painting, Guernica, which is every bit as applicable to Fallujah today as an eternal testimony to the evils of war. This April has marked the third anniversay of the first of two American-led military assaults culminating in the massive destruction of most of the ancient Iraqi city of Fallujah. Consequently, I am republishing my account of this event here on Mosquito Blog, lest we forget. It was first published by the Southern I in print form, and later at OpEdNews.com, the web-link to which site you can access by clicking on this article's title above. Here is Part 4, which details the end of the first siege in May of 2004, and also marks the suspension of this series until the Fall, to then commemorate the final destruction of Fallujah by the Americans in the November assault:
Part 4: An Uneasy Truce
By Mac McKinney
Around noon on April 9, the Marines, at the direction of Paul Bremer, the top American official in Iraq, unilaterally suspended combat in Fallujah. The rationale was not only to relieve the hospitals in Fallujah, but also to facilitate meetings between the Iraqi Governing Council and both the local Sunni and insurgent leadership in Fallujah, as well as permit the delivery of crucial humanitarian supplies to its citizens, and to allow them to treat their wounded and bury their dead.
The Marines also allowed thousands of frightened women, children and elderly residents to now leave Fallujah for safer ground, as well as allowing, apparently, males of military age to leave, something they would not permit in later hostilities. Meanwhile, the bulk of Coalition forces pulled back to the outskirts of the city while local Fallujan leaders reciprocated the ceasefire to a degree, but fighting did not end completely. A sort of low-intensity, tit-for-tat combat routine developed, with guerrillas conducting hit-and-run raids on Marine positions and supply convoys, and the Marines counterattacking, patrolling and conducting smaller scale operations without the continuous air support. And Marine snipers were still actively engaged.
A large influx of aid from throughout Iraq now began flowing into the city, after passing through hastily setup Marine checkpoints. To quote form the Associated Press:
"Up to 100 vehicles have been ferrying aid into Fallujah every day since Friday, when U.S. forces halted major attacks on Sunni Muslim insurgents after five days of fierce fighting, (Marine 1st Lt. David) Denial said. U.S. forces have set up checkpoints on all roads leading to the city, 35 miles west of Baghdad.
"Iraqis, many outraged by the bloody Marine siege of the city, have been sending donations of food, fuel, medical supplies and other aid in convoys organized by relief organizations, religious groups and private individuals.
"But rebels have been exploiting the relative calm to smuggle in the supplies they will need if fighting resumes, Marines say. Inside the city, insurgents have been using ambulances to transport weapons between neighborhoods, Marine Lt. Col. Brennan Byrne said.......'We have to be careful because ambulances are being used for legitimate purposes, but we are also treating them with suspicion,' Byrne said.
"Troops at the roadblocks barred many military-aged men from entering, fearing they were coming to join the battle against Marines as the fight for Fallujah becomes an anti-American rallying cry......Most people waiting at the roadblocks to get into the city were there to bring much-needed supplies to Fallujah's residents.
"Jamah Abdullah, 42, an ambulance driver for the Red Crescent Society, said he had been into the city several times in the past few days delivering aid.
"'There are many people dead. Many wounded. Houses destroyed, damaged. I am doing this to help,' he said.
"More than 600 Iraqis, mostly civilians, have been killed in the past week of fighting in Fallujah and scores more wounded, according to Rafie al-Issawi, the head of the city's hospital. At least five Marines have been killed, the military says."
(From a report by Lourdes Navarro, Associated Press Writer, 4/12/2004)
The embedded, corporate media did not focus much on the suffering inside Fallujah during the siege other than via film footage shot by Al Jazeera, the independent Arab broadcasting organization the White House demonizes daily for presenting less than flattering news about the American occupation of Iraq. The rest of the reporting was under the umbrella of the American military and was somewhat limited, to say the least, reflecting the military's main talking-point that civilians were being respected and only "bad guys" being slain. Only embedded reporters were officially permitted in Fallujah at all and they were certainly not allowed to wonder around unattended in off-limits areas.
Embedded reporters are basically on a leash, figuratively speaking. To become embedded in the first place, they all have to sign a Pentagon form agreeing to have their reporting censored, "if necessary", by the military, which already plants subtle inhibitions in reporters' minds before they even pick up a mike or pen. So whether or not a command officially censors anything, reporters already basically know there are limits. Then there is the innate self-censorship many corporate reporters have to practice to meet the expectations of their editors and publishers as well, who may or may not want to confront or embarrass the official Cheney/Bush/Rumsfeld cartoon versions of reality. If you work for Fox News, which has an obvious pro-Administration bias, you are not going to be interviewing many Iraqis who condemn the American occupation. This will usually not get through Fox's top-down censorship.
So how do we know anything about the other side of the story in Fallujah? Because it is, first of all, pretty hard to censor several hundred thousand people who want and need to tell their stories, for the truth will always out eventually, and secondly, because a few independent, unembedded reporters actually managed to sneak into the city either just before or during the siege. Two of these were Al Jazeera correspondent, Ahmed Mansur, and his cameraman, Laith Mushtaq, who both stole into the city on April 3, 2004. It was Mushtaq's shocking images that were being broadcast to the world during the first week of the siege. Predictably, this brought down the wrath of both Gen. Mark Kimmitt, official military spokesman in Iraq, who excoriated Mansur by name, and Secretary Rumsfeld, who waxed indignant at Al Jazeera's purported villainy as propagandists. One of the first conditions of the ceasefire, believe it or not, was that Mansur and Mushtaq leave the city, so antithetical were their images to the sanitized Pentagon version of events.
Just what did this team see? I quote Mansur from an interview with Amy Goodman of democracynow.org on February 22, 2006 regarding the situation within Fallujah on April 9, 2004, in the hours before any ceasefire was called:
"It was really a disastrous day for us. When we reached the heart of the city at the hospital, I almost lost my mind from the terror that I saw, people going in each and every direction. Laith was with me and also another colleague, and I felt like we need 1000 cameras to grab those disastrous pictures: fear, terror, planes bombing, ambulances taking the people dead. And I was shouting and yelling for Laith and my other colleague, and I was shouting, 'Camera! Camera!' so that we can take pictures here and there.....We were trying to move this picture to the whole world, and we felt that we were responsible for all these civilians being bombed from planes and who are threatened with death...."
Laith Mushtaq, in the same interview, recounted his very first camera shot during the siege:
"And the first shot I took with my camera...., it was for a human being....burned completely. He was a wounded person. His family was transferring him to a hospital, which was close to the U.S. forces position, and it had the Red Crescent symbol and the Red Cross, because they put him in a pickup... and that was under fire. And I saw this person, the wounded person is torched, fired, burned. Even smoke was coming out of him. I was unable to go and see that scenery.
"I left him to go alone, and I stood far, and my sight was really bad and terrible because on that day, when we went to the hospital, there was a lot of children in the hospital that were wounded. Some children were brought and their families were dead already....That day made a terrible shock to me and shocked me extremely. I covered many wars, but every time you cover a war and you see corpses and dead people and children, believe me, every child I looked at, I remember my younger daughter."
Wounded girl in pain. Photo Source: (http://dahrjamailiraq.com/gallery/view_photo.php?set_albumName=siege_of_falluja&id=falluja_wounded_girl)
An independent journalist, author, blogger and sometimes educator at New York University, Rahul Mahajan, who runs the website, Empire Notes (www.empirenotes.org) as well, also made it into Fallujah with several compatriots during the tenuous ceasefire. He describes, in his April 12 Report from Fallujah - Destroying a Town in Order to "Save" it, dreadful scenes of carnage, of a bombed out power plant, an ambulance shot at while his friends delivered the wounded in it, of bleeding and dying civilians. To quote Rahul:
"During the course of the roughly four hours we were at that small clinic, we saw perhaps a dozen wounded brought in. Among them was a young woman, 18 years old, shot in the head. She was seizing and foaming at the mouth when they brought her in; doctors did not expect her to survive the night. Another likely terminal case was a young boy with massive internal bleeding. I also saw a man with extensive burns on his upper body and shredded thighs, with wounds that could have been made from a cluster bomb....."
Regarding George Bush's depiction of the insurgents, Rahul states:
"Among the more laughable assertions of the Bush administration is that the mujaheddin (an Iraqi term for resistance fighters) are a small group of isolated 'extremists' repudiated by the majority of Fallujah's population. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Of course, the mujaheddin don't include women or very young children, old men, and are not necessarily even a majority of fighting-age men. But they are of the community and fully supported by it. Many of the wounded were brought in by the muj and they stood around openly conversing with doctors and others."
Rahul also estimated that over 600 Iraqis had been killed, roughly 200 of them women, over 100 of them children, with many more wounded. According to the manager of Fallujah General Hospital's latest figures, 736 Iraqis died in the April siege, some 60% of those being women, children, and the elderly. Marine Corps casualties overall were around 40 slain during Operation Vigilant Resolve.
The intense political pressure to end the bloodshed finally led the Marine Corps to announce a formal ceasefire in early May. By now the Marines had tacit control over roughly half of the city, but General Conway of the Corps decided to take a risk and agreed to a brokered deal to hand over authority to an acceptable former Iraqi general, Major General Muhammed Latif, who was to lead the Fallujah Brigade, a new formed force of some 1000 or so Iraqis tasked with securing Fallujah for the Coalition forces, disarming the insurgents, and preventing attacks on nearby American bases. A Traffic Control Point would also be established on the eastern side of the city, to be jointly manned by Marines and Iraqi National Guardsmen. So the Marines, in essence, stepped back from the city, to watch and wait. Operation Vigilant Response had drawn to an end.
Inside Fallujah, emotions now ran high as the ominous threat of daily death and destruction abated. Mosques began proclaiming victory over the occupiers. "Allahu Akbar", "God is great!" rang out. Celebratory banners were unfurled, the mujaheddin parading around in trucks. Politically, a new dynamic had emerged in the city. The tribal elders' Civil Management Council and Mayor's office were a thing of the past. A militant, Islamist atmosphere openly defiant of the Americans now vibrated throughout Fallujah, born of the harsh conditions of the siege. The new Fallujah Brigade faced a tremendous challenge in trying to bring this new dynamic under control. And yet the future of the city depended upon it.
Cruel November Approaches