Everything one needed to know about the true, unspinnable foreign policy of the second George W Bush administration is represented by the “capture” of the first strategic target in the assault on Fallujah: the general hospital, on the left bank of the Euphrates, now totally cut off from the city. According to the Bush administration world view, this is the house where Satan lives.
Bush-installed interim Iraqi Prime Minster Iyad Allawi announced with a smile of victory that he personally ordered the capture of the hospital. So maybe it was not the Pentagon: it was an unelected politician asking a foreign occupation army to attack a hospital in his own country and preventing doctors and ambulances from entering a city under siege.
The assault, dubbed Operation Phantom Fury, perversely started on Laylat e-Qadr, the most important and holy night of the year for the Islamic world.
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.
The Pentagon does not do “collateral damage” body counts. But as its relationship with the people of Fallujah now consists of a non-stop barrage of heavy metal, the Pentagon is certainly in a much better position than Fallujah’s doctors to estimate the amount of civilian victims of its own bombing.
The marines are not only occupying a hospital; they even turned it into a military position, as they were using positions around it to attack the resistance.
The Pentagon’s key primary target in Fallujah has been information: doctors in hospitals, telephone lines that people use to tell the world about the civilians’ plight. Most of the world is interpreting Fallujah through embedded, Pentagon-censored reporters and Arab television. The Pentagon line is American “heroes” on the way to “liberate” the people of Fallujah. Iraqis, Arabs, 1.3 billion Muslims, the majority of European public opinion and decent Americans won’t be fooled – again.
Asia Times Online sources close to the resistance say the talk in the streets of Baghdad is that the bulk of the estimated 2,500 mujahideen in Fallujah have already left to Baghdad, Ramadi, Samarra, Haditha, Khaldiya, and even Mosul in the north. Even before the assault on Fallujah, there were more than 100 resistance attacks a day all over the country. The main story playing in the Arab world in the past 24 hours is that of Mohammed Abboud – who saw his nine-year-old son bleed to death of shrapnel wounds when his house in Fallujah was hit because he could not venture out to go to a hospital. Abboud had to bury his son in his own garden.
Terrified Fallujans calling Baghdad tell of A-10 jets raining cluster bombs on the city’s streets. Iraqi (very) black humor qualifies unexploded cluster bombs as the Iraqi version of Toys “R” Us: children get injured or killed because they think cluster bombs are toys. Everyone is talking of “scores of bodies” in streets destroyed by US bombing. There is no power, no water, shops are closed, food is scarce and practically no medical supplies remain, according to Dr Sami al-Jumaili, speaking to al-Jazeera. No more clinics are open throughout the city – and there is no possible way to estimate how many civilians are dead, blown up, burned or injured, although al-Jumaili tells of “scores of injured civilians”. A brand-new clinic funded by a Saudi Islamic relief non-governmental agency was bombed by the Americans during the weekend, as well as a medical dispensary in the city center: this was apparently the last place where anybody could get any medical attention.
Fadhil Badrani, a reporter for the British Broadcasting Corp (BBC) World Service in Arabic, is one of the very few journalists inside Fallujah. He writes that “a lot of the mosques have also been bombed. For the first time in Fallujah, a city of 150 mosques, I did not hear a single call to prayer this morning. I broke my Ramadan fast yesterday with the last of our food – two potatoes and two tomatoes. The tomatoes were rotten because we have no electricity to run the fridge. My neighbors – a woman and her children – came to see me yesterday. They asked me to tell the world what is happening here. I look at the devastation around me and ask – why?”
The mujahideen battle plan
Apart from a maximum of 1,500 “Arab brothers” – as the Iraqis call them – from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Jordan, Syria and Tunisia, most of the remaining mujahideen in Fallujah are nationalist Iraqis whose tribal code mandates that they defend at any cost their homes, their families and their city under foreign attack.
They have been preparing for this onslaught for months. And they do have a battle plan – as it was relayed to Asia Times Online by sources in Baghdad. Former or retired Iraqi army officials have always been serious students of Viet Minh tactics and Che Guevara’s theory of the guerrilla foco (center of guerrilla operations). Now they are applying this to urban warfare. This, in a smaller version, is what the Battle of Baghdad would have been like in April 2003.
The Americans are closing in toward the city center, under fire from mujahideen equipped with only Kalashnikovs and rocket-propelled grenades hidden in clusters of low-roof houses. The Americans are firing back at the houses and at anything that moves. They have been prevented – at least for now – by the resistance from storming any buildings. Their priority is to control the main bombed-out roads.
The mujahideen are operating with small mobile units of five or six or a maximum of 20 fighters, changing positions all the time. As a counter-measure, American snipers are trying to control the rooftops. The mujahideen are trying to attract as many American troops to the city center as possible – so they can unleash what seems to be hundreds of coordinated car bombs and improvised explosive devices.
People in Baghdad are also telling of US$3,000 being offered for any battered old car to be used as part of a counter-offensive coming in behind the US positions once the house-to-house battle in the city center is fully engaged.
Boycotting the election
The US approach in Iraq appears to be a rehashing of the British imperial dictum of “divide and rule”. Dr Harith al-Dhari, secretary general of the powerful Association of Muslim Scholars, says the scheduled January election would be held “over the corpses of those killed in Fallujah and the blood of the wounded”, and has called on all Iraqis to boycott it. The association sides with the people of Fallujah – not Allawi: “We have said we support the resistance since the occupation of this country began. This is our right as Iraqis. Therefore, we don’t need a fatwa on this issue as this matter is clear.”
As yet another measure – if any were needed – of the illegitimacy of the Allawi government, Secretary of Defense Hassim al-Sha’alan recognized on al-Arabiya TV that the resistance won’t be finished, even when the Americans finally take Fallujah, because “they have already prepared to fight in other places”. This only confirms the above-mentioned that the bulk of the mujahideen have already left Fallujah – and are now launching dozens of daily attacks in Baghdad itself, Ramadi, Baquba, Latifiyah, Samarra, Khaldiya, Kirkuk …
Hospitals “captured”, showers of cluster bombs, Fallujah burning, civilians dying, not to mention the more than 100,000 Iraqis killed since the beginning of the invasion-occupation, the country’s infrastructure in tatters, the center of Najaf and a great deal of Sadr City razed to the ground. This is the way Phantom Fury will end: not with terrified Iraqis voting for an Allawi-modeled puppet regime in a sham election, but with a Bush administration forced to deal with Iraqis who are ready to die to achieve real democracy.