It’s too soon for the US press to give up on the war in Iraq.
All this week, the major US papers and TV news channels have blocked most coverage of the massive uprising in northern and central Iraq; the unrest is so widespread now that it’s touched even a few of the Shiite cities in the south, including Kerbala and Amarah.
Yet the average American has to log on to the Internet and search for Reuters wire service photos, French Press Agency articles, and the BBC to get eyewitness accounts of the what’s going on in Fallujah, Ramadi, Samarra, Mosul, Hit, Qaim, Tal Afar, Baqubah, Baiji, Taji, and dozens of other towns and cities that have fallen totally or partially into the hands of the insurgents.
Some of the best reporting in the US is coming from the alternative press, including Znet (http://www.zmag.org/ZNET.htm), which runs reprinted articles from The Independent newspaper (UK), Pepe Escobar’s articles from Asia Times Online, and occasional excerpts from blogs by Iraqi reporters and civilians. CounterPunch’s website (http://www.CounterPunch.org) also runs a regular stream of articles on what’s happening in Iraq. Watch for the “Website of the Day” links, which can take you to new resources on the Internet. AntiWar.com (http://antiwar.com) is also one of the most comprehensive sites for news and views that are critical of the war in Iraq.
But nowhere are we able to find an accurate summation of the invasion of–and destruction of–Fallujah and its impact on Fallujah’s residents.
All summer and fall, the US military has been dropping bombs on Fallujah. Nominally “pinpoint bombing,” these aerial attacks have destroyed houses, restaurants, and in some cases, whole city blocks inside Fallujah and driven hundreds, if not thousands of people, to leave. Most of those people went to live with relatives in Baghdad and other towns and villages outside of Fallujah. But some became refugees.
More refugees–approximately 250,000 by some estimates–were created by the US invasion and destruction of Fallujah over the past two weeks. Notably, just before the attack, US troops warned civilians in the city that, if they wanted to survive and be safe, they had to leave the city. Most of them went to outlying towns: 102,000 to Amiriyah, 21,600 to Karma, 18,000 to Nieamiyah, about 15,000 to Saklawiya, and at least 12,000 to Habbaniyah. An unknown, but very large number are sitting in makeshift camps on the southern and western outskirts of Fallujah.
They escaped the fighting, but are still victims of the deteriorating security situation in Iraq. In the industrial city of Amiriyah, for example, shelter is scarce. In the tourist town of Habbaniyah the lack of clean drinking water and overcrowding is particularly dire. With 7 families living in one room, and up to 300 people waiting in line to use one toilet, the risk of disease is high. But there are no aid groups available to bring them food and medicine or provide adequate shelter. Insurgent attacks against aid workers have driven nearly all of the major aid agencies out of the country: World Vision, CARE International, Doctors Without Borders, Oxfam. Even the UNHCR is unable to help; with no staff in the country, it can only do estimates from afar of the situation and the needs of Fallujah’s refugee population.
The major aid organization still operating in Iraq is the Red Cross/Red Crescent Society, which attempted to bring supplies into Fallujah last week, but was stopped by the US military. The head of the Red Cross in Iraq has said that the situation is too dangerous and, unless they can obtain a guarantee from the insurgents that they won’t attack Red Crescent trucks or workers, nothing will be done to bring supplies to Fallujah’s civilian population. Of course, the insurgents’ leadership–if there is one–is not available for teleconferencing, and so the situation grows worse by the day.
The civilians who remained in the city throughout the US attack are in the worst situation of all. The Red Cross estimates that at least 800 civilians died in the US assault, a “low” estimate based on interviews of refugees and residents still trapped in the city who have access to cellphones. These people have described the US’s use of cluster bombs and, horribly, the spraying of white phosphorus, a banned chemical weapon that burns like napalm. Having survived shrapnel wounds, a week of starvation, several days without water (see Nature & Politics, this issue), and the itchy trigger fingers of US snipers, these civilians are now emerging from their hiding places to find US troops unable and unprepared to care for them.
There is, literally, not much left of the city of Fallujah. The Marines sent their civil affairs officers into the city to estimate the damage from the US assault. Said Sgt. Todd Bowers of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment: “It’s incredible, the destruction. It’s overwhelming. My first question is: where to begin?” Reporters embedded with US troops have described whole neighborhoods flattened or burned to the ground. In addition, US troops are taking a page from the Israeli military: instead of searching houses by entering through the front doors, US troops have been knocking huge holes in the walls–sometimes with bulldozers–and passing from one house to the next in that fashion.
US officials originally said it would take about $50 million to fix up Fallujah. Then they raised their estimate to $70 million. Now they’re saying at least $100 million will be necessary. But no reconstruction work can begin until the fighting is over inside the city…if it will ever end. As of this past weekend, the guerrillas were still staging attacks against US troop positions in Fallujah.
Meanwhile, the destruction of Fallujah and the abuse of its civilian population has played widely on media channels all over the world, except for here in the US, where we most need to see the effects of our own apathy and our government’s supreme idiocy.
“Escape from Fallujah: refugees flood nearby towns,” Kim Sengupta, The Independent (UK), 11/18/04
“Fallujans in Flight: Transit Camps Are Not Much Safer Than Siege They Left,” Richard A. Oppel, Jr., New York Times, 11/17/04
“US marines struggle to care for civilians stranded in Fallujah,” French Press Agency, 11/17/04
“The Roving Eye: Counterinsurgency run amok,” Pepe Escobar, Asia Times Online, 11/18/04
“Fallujah, a City in Ruins,” Michael Georgy and Kim Sengupta, The Independent (UK), 11/16/04; Dahr Jamail’s Iraq dispatches at http://dahrjamailiraq.com
“The Other Face of US ‘Success’ in Fallujah,” Dahr Jamail, Interpress Wire Service (IPS), 11/15/04
“Red Cross: Fallujah Too Violent to Enter,” Alexander G. Higgins, Associated Press, 11/15/04
“Marines Look to Fallujah Reconstruction,” Edward Harris, AP, 11/15/04
“Iraqi City Lies in Ruins,” Patrick J. McDonnell, LA Times, 11/15/04
“US, Iraq Plan Major Falluja Rebuilding Program,” Will Dunham, Reuters, 11/19/04.