Month: November 2004

The Disappearing War

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 (, 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 ( 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. ( 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

“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.

Welcoming the Idiot King

Now that it’s more than a week after Black Tuesday, we can take stock of what’s happened and decide if anything good has come out of this election disaster. In fact, two very positive things have come from the re-ascension of the Idiot King.

During the campaign, I was continually shocked by how many people were suddenly and inexplicably interested in politics and political issues. Co-workers, family members, friends, people riding the bus–even folks who had never watched a TV news show before, much less read a newspaper–were now talking at length about George Bush vs. John Kerry. And they weren’t just wanting to make a choice between the two and leave it at that, either. They were asking important questions about issues that concerned them: conservative supreme court justices, civil rights, access to abortion, the war in Iraq, the economy, outsourcing of jobs to overseas companies, you name it.

A window of opportunity has opened. With Bush’s slim win at the polls, the 49% of us who voted for one of the other guys adds up to a total of about 55 million angry people with a lot of concerns about our future. That’s a lot of pairs of hands and a lot of energy that can go towards work on issues that we care about, whether it’s preserving Social Security or pushing for electoral reform. If 55 million people volunteer an hour or two of their time each week–each month, even–then we ought to be able to guarantee women access to safe and legal abortion. Or end torture and illegal imprisonment at Guantanamo Bay. Or acknowledge that this country needs a new civil rights movement and soon. Or bring alternative media to a wider audience, because, if we’ve learned nothing else from this election, it’s that you can get as many voters to the polls as you want, but if they’re not informed voters, it won’t make much of a difference in the end.

So amid the blue moods and whispered conversations around the water cooler, we should say to each other and to the people who’ve recently discovered that politics matter: there’s something you can do. Choose what’s most important for you and then work on it.

The things that George Bush wants to do in his next four years (really two years, considering that the next national Congressional elections could change the balance of power in Washington DC) are so divisive that they’ll serve as a lightening rod for protest. More tax cuts for the rich, privatization of Social Security, a marriage amendment to the constitution, the pillaging of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, more workers without health insurance, etc., etc.–all issues that will galvanize the Left and literally push liberals and moderates into our camp. We have to be ready, to start now, to get talking to these folks. We also need to listen, hear their frustrations and their priorities, and help them connect their anger to something positive and action-oriented. There’s only one kind of change that’s ever made a real difference: the kind that comes from the ground up.

The other positive thing to come out of a George Bush win is this: with an incompetent, reactionary administration in power tied up with domestic dissent and a grinding war in Iraq, some breathing space will open up for good things to happen in the rest of the world. For example, if the Bush administration had not been sidetracked by September 11th and the war in Iraq, Hugo Chavez would have long ago been deposed or assassinated in Venezuela.

Think about it. A competent Republican administration in Washington DC would have had its heel on Latin America inside of a year. Instead, on George W. Bush’s watch, left-leaning regimes have come to power across most of South America. Attempts to revive the WTO have been a failure, with the Bush administration alienating most of the European Union over the war in Iraq. The Kyoto Treaty, recently ratified by Russia, is now coming into force across the world, with other nations getting a jump on the US in setting up a pollution-credit trading system. China and Japan, brought together by the Bush administration to solve the “problem of North Korea,” are now in talks with other nations in Southeast Asia to set up a regional trading bloc–one that cuts the US out of the loop, and one that could eventually serve as a stepping stone to a united Asian economy similar to the European Union.

Tightly focused on an incompetent, ideological intervention in the Middle East, the Bush administration is isolating the US Empire from the rest of the world, and the rest of the world is organizing as fast as it can to take advantage of this.

And if the rest of the world can organize against the Bush administration, then we can, too.

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