Two Mainstream Press Reports on Fallujah

U.S. Massacre Brings Huge Wave of Protest and Anger in Iraq and Arab World

[For the information of readers, we reprint two reports from the mainstream press dated April 13, 2004.

[Again these reports illustrate the urgency for the labor movement and all opponents of the Iraq war to demand: “Stop the U.S. Massacres in Iraq! End the Occupation! Bring the Troops Home Now!”—The Editors, Labor Standard.]

[The first article is from The Independent (London) and was written by Patrick Coburn in Baghdad. The second is from the Washington Post and was written by Karl Vick and Anthony Shadid in Baghdad.]

Report 1:
“Do we look like fighters?” ask Fallujah families with their disabled, their old, and their children

In an abandoned air-raid shelter in west Baghdad, people from Fallujah crouch in semi-darkness. Their voices tremble as they recall how they survived the week-long siege.

Not all did. In a tent outside relatives were mourning for Mushref Mohi, aged 70, who died of exhaustion during the eight hours that his family was kept waiting at U.S. checkpoints as they fled the city.

“There was nothing much wrong with him and he usually liked to walk everywhere instead of driving,” said his brother, Rabbia Mohi Maloud al-Daraji. “But they kept us waiting from 10 am to 6.20 pm because they searched every car for half an hour, and he could not take the strain.”

By yesterday morning 88 people from Fallujah had crowded into Shelter No. 24, a disused bunker painted green and white in an attempt at camouflage in the Amariyah district of Baghdad. Beds lined both sides of the dark entrance corridor, dimly illuminated by a few bulbs that flicker out during the frequent electricity cuts.

“Do we look like fighters?” asked Milouq Abbas, a middle-aged woman in a black robe, pointing to her three children. Like other survivors, she was outraged by the claim by the U.S. Marines that the 600 dead and 1,200 wounded in Fallujah were mostly armed insurgents.

Although the families in Shelter No. 24 are very poor, they had scraped together enough money to hire a mourning tent, traditional in Iraq, for Mushref Mohi, so that his relatives could be comforted over his death.

In one corner of the tent, wearing a white hat and staring sightlessly in front of him, was Abdul Salaam, aged about 20 and blind since birth. “I heard the roar of the bombing and I was frightened,” he said. “I cannot read but I know a lot of the Koran by heart and I started reciting it to myself.”

We were taken to the families in the shelter by Dr Abed al-Illah, a specialist in internal medicine who is also a representative of the Iraqi Islamic Party, which is part of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council. He had just visited Fallujah hospital. He said: “About 350 out of the 600 dead were women and children. One was only eight months old. Many died from simple wounds and could have been saved if they had medical attention.”

The anger and bitterness of Iraqis such as Dr Illah, a veteran opponent of Saddam Hussein, over the slaughter of civilians in Fallujah shows how few friends the U.S. has left in Iraq. He said: “The Americans claim that all the wounded are fighters and will not let us take them away. Families cannot escape because of their snipers.”

Outraged national feeling

On the gate into the Iraqi Islamic Party headquarters in Amariyah is a poster of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, killed by an Israeli missile last month. Inside other members of the party, almost all Sunni Arabs, a party officially allied to the U.S. in Iraq, spoke in terms of outraged nationalism.

“We are looking after 400 families from Fallujah,” said Muneeb al-Durubi. Reflecting on the more general impact of the crisis, he said: “The most important thing these days is a kind of marriage between the Sunni and the Shia. The Americans gamble on dividing us, but the Shia are providing food, medicine, and weapons. They have opened their homes to refugees.” He thought only the Kurdish leaders were really loyal to the Allies.

An important development over the past week is that, because of the attack on Fallujah and the offensive against the cleric Muqtada Sadr, there are decreasing numbers of Iraqis on whom the U.S. can rely. A central aim of the U.S. is to build up Iraqi security forces, but when the 620-man 2nd Battalion of the U.S.-trained new Iraqi army was ordered to Fallujah last week they refused to go.

U.S. officers reportedly estimate that 20 to 25 per cent of the Iraqi security forces have disappeared, changed sides, or declined to cooperate with the U.S. Iraqis working with foreigners of any kind are increasingly fearful of being accused of being collaborators.

Report 2:
Fallujah Gains Mythic Air
Siege Redefines Conflict for Iraqis in Capital

The U.S. Marine siege of Fallujah, designed to isolate and pursue a handful of extremists in a restive town, has produced a powerful backlash in the capital. Urged on by leaflets, sermons, and freshly sprayed graffiti calling for jihad, young men are leaving Baghdad to join a fight that residents say has less to do with battlefield success than with a cause infused with righteousness and sacrifice.

“The fighting now is different from a year ago. Before, the Iraqis fought for nothing. Now, fighters from all over Iraq are going to sacrifice themselves,” said a Fallujah native who gave his name as Abu Idris and claimed to be in contact with guerrillas who slip in and out of the besieged city three and four times daily.

He spoke in a mosque parking lot emptied moments earlier of more than a ton of donated foodstuffs destined for Fallujah—heavy bags of rice, tea, and flour loaded into long, yellow semitrailers by a cluster of men who, their work done, joined a spirited discussion about the need to take the fight to the enemy. They included a dentist, a prayer leader, a law student, a lieutenant colonel in the Iraqi police, and a man who until 10 days earlier had traveled with U.S. troops as a member of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps.

“Our brothers who went to Fallujah and came back say: ‘Oh, God, it is heaven. Anyone who wants paradise should go to Fallujah,’” Abu Idris said.

The lopsided battle 35 miles to the west—where 2,500 Marines have been deployed—has had a profound impact here, redefining for many in Baghdad the nature of the campaign against U.S. troops.

Deepened vein of nationalism

Intense, sympathetic, and often startlingly graphic coverage on Arab channels has deepened a vein of nationalism, stirred in part by still unconfirmed reports of high civilian casualties. Over the weekend, in the living room of a decidedly secular family, a woman wept over the images on a screen she finally leaned forward and kissed.

Headlines in Iraq's newly free press reinforce the video images: “Fallujah Wakes to a Grave Massacre” read the banner in Monday's edition of the daily Azzaman. Fresh graffiti sprayed in sweeping Arabic letters is turning up across the city. On one wall in the southern Baghdad neighborhood of Jihad, the messages were spaced 10 yards apart: “Long live Fallujah’s heroes,” “Down with America and long live the Mahdi Army,” a Shiite militia. Then: “Long live the resistance in Fallujah.” And finally, “Long live the resistance.”

The popular response—of Shiite and Sunni giving aid, shelter to refugees and even volunteers to the fight—has pushed fears of an Iraqi civil war to the background. The fighters in Fallujah are said to include Mahdi Army militiamen loyal to the radical cleric Moqtada Sadr. A housewife in Baghdad's Salaam neighborhood told of a passionate argument with her husband, a Shiite who insisted on joining friends volunteering to fight in Fallujah.

“This is jihad,” she quoted him as saying. She added: “It was the first time he ever slapped me.”

Some here are already speaking with the sense of history—that powerful, deeply symbolic myths are being created.

Popular rebellion

“What is striking is how much has changed in a week—a week,” said Wamid Nadhmi, a political science professor at Baghdad University. “No one can talk about the Sunni Triangle anymore. No one can seriously talk about Sunni-Shiite fragmentation or civil war. The occupation cannot talk about small bands of resistance. Now it is a popular rebellion and it has spread.”

“I think it will be bigger than Karameh,” he added.

For a generation, the battle of Karameh created the myths that propelled a movement. On March 21, 1968, an Israeli force of 15,000 struck at the Jordanian village of Karameh. The raid was retaliatory—guerrillas had staged attacks from the village, just across the Jordan River. But in a rare success, Palestinian guerrillas forced an embarrassing Israeli withdrawal with the help of Jordanian artillery and armor.

For an Arab world accustomed to humiliating defeats, a draw can assume mythic proportions. Repelling the Israeli army amounted to the guerrillas’ biggest victory up to that time and energized Palestinians.

Fallujah is producing a mythology of its own. In the parking lot of the former Mother of All Battles Mosque, now renamed for the sacred shrine in Mecca, Abu Idris told of a Saudi who came to Fallujah to fight. Hearing that a Marine was sniping from a minaret, the Saudi asked for a sniper rifle of his own, “and whenever a man came to stand on the minaret, he killed him,” Abu Idris told the assembled crowd.

The account inverts the reports from the Marine side of the front, where U.S. officers warned infantry of insurgents’ efforts to draw fire to the mosque towers. But veracity may be a secondary concern in a capital preoccupied by the belief that Fallujah is undergoing an unjust collective punishment for the mutilation of four American security contractors by a handful of men two weeks ago.

“It’s natural that many fighters from Baghdad want to go to Fallujah and fight,” said Abdulqadir Mohammad Ali, prayer leader at the modest Great Mosque in Baghdad’s Washash neighborhood. A Sunni mosque in a mixed neighborhood, it displayed a Sadr poster on one wall.

Ali’s office smelled like a bakery, so fresh were the cookies young men poured into the dozen bulging bags that crowded the room, more food for Fallujah. The imam spoke over the din of the Koranic verses that have been booming out of the mosque’s loudspeakers since the siege began more than a week ago. On a bench beside a window, an elderly man read a battered copy of the holy book and occasionally sobbed. Abdullah Hussein Othman, a 70-year-old ethnic Kurd, explained he had two daughters in Fallujah.

“The exact image I want to give you is the young men heading to fight in Fallujah are more [numerous] than the refugees coming out of Fallujah,” Ali said. “We cannot control the feelings of the young.”

The fighters, he added, reject the label “fedayeen,” the name for deposed president Saddam Hussein’s most zealous fighters, who, like the new insurgents, favor black attire. “We say ‘mujaheddin,’ " he said, Arabic for sacred combatants.

Slang has also evolved. Many Shiites recall a slogan they saw written on the barrel of an Iraqi tank dispatched to crush a 1991 Shiite uprising: “No more Shiites after today.” In the tumultuous aftermath of Hussein’s fall a year ago, new slogans went up across cities in Shiite-dominated southern Iraq: “No Baathists after today.”

Monday, in the Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiya, there was another variation: “No occupation after today.”

The resistance also recently acquired a logo. Two fingers form a victory sign over an image of Iraq on posters that appeared in Baghdad on Monday. The words “No to the occupation” appear over the date Baghdad fell: April 9, 2003. Sadr makes the same gesture in a poster of his own.

“I don't think any honorable Iraqi could stand by and do nothing when he sees women and children killed,” said Abu Ali, a merchant in the once avowedly pro-Hussein neighborhood of Karrada. “An Iraqi must either fight or leave the country. It is better for him to be hosted by the graves than just watching and doing nothing.”

How many Iraqis are volunteering to fight in Fallujah cannot be easily determined. The Baghdad man who quit the Civil Defense Corps because of Fallujah said he could name 30 friends who have joined the fight. But the man, who gave his name only as Ahmed, also spoke of Saudi fighters recently arrived in the city “to sacrifice themselves,” and of word passing through the resistance that Abu Musab Zarqawi, the Jordanian blamed by U.S. officials for many suicide bombings, is sending a group into the country.

“There is no number to count the army that will fight the Americans,” Ahmed said. “It’s so big, it’s limitless.”

Abu Idris said some Fallujah natives insisted that they did not need help, leaving many volunteers to roam the region between the city and the capital. The area has become a no-go zone in recent days, with several journalists kidnapped and convoys attacked.

“Mujaheddin are just killing the agents who are supplying the Americans,” said a teenager who gave his name as Abu Hanifa. He smiled, then scampered into the back of a blue truck with the other volunteers. Calling out for a photograph, they laughed and held up two fingers in a victory sign.

As the truck pulled away, the teenager called out: “We will defeat you, God willing.”