Foreign fighters and acts of terrorism
Whilst US atrocities receive little mainstream coverage and virtually no acknowledgement from commentators, they are documented nevertheless. Tom Engelhardt's "Icarus (Armed with Vipers) Over Iraq" , a brilliant article on the unreported aerial bombardment of that country, which Juan Cole described as "a seminal piece of anti-war journalism", is essential reading. The work of Dahr Jamail, a brave unembedded journalist who has over the last two years brought the west many vivid reports of the war as experienced by ordinary Iraqis, should be compulsory reading for everyone of voting age in Britain and America. In "Stories from Fallujah", he delivers a gruesome account of US atrocities committed against civilians in that blighted city.
Also worth noting, when assessing the competence of the occupying forces to provide security, is the well documented practice of sexually torturing prisoners. One of the most chilling stories to emerge has been that of resistance figures broken during interrogation by being forced to watch their children undergoing torture. Such methods can hardly be described as those of a benign protector. What they can be guaranteed to do however is to inspire feelings of hatred and revulsion amongst the friends and families of the victims and, in some, the resolve to take up arms against the rapist murderer, torturer and oppressor - former ally of Saddam Hussein - and drive them from the homeland for good.
To add to this untold side of the story I offer two pieces, written last year before I started The Democrat's Diary. The first, "Let's not be naïve", was written just before the famous "handover of sovereignty", when power in Iraq was passed from a US proconsul to a group of US-installed Iraqi notables. It described how American atrocities were damaging the reputation of the occupiers, and the efforts being made to maintain control of the country in spite of this. The second piece, "The Costs of War" describes the siege of Falluja as it unfolded; one of the ugliest episodes in our recent history. During the siege Lieutenant Colonel Paul Newell, battalion commander with the US Forces, told the New York Times ''This is the first time since World War II that someone has turned an American armored task force loose in a city with no restrictions". Newell also said that the best chance for an overall US victory would be if the residents of other cities were to conclude, "this is what happens if you shelter terrorists". If that was indeed the hoped-for outcome then this, together with the "no restrictions" approach Newell describes, is as good a definition of terrorism as you'll find in any dictionary.
Bringing the crimes of the occupiers into the spotlight is essential for two reasons. Firstly, unless we are hypocrites, we concern ourselves with our own crimes before those of others. Secondly, as long as we accept the false premise described above - that the current US role is that of protector of innocent Iraqis - then we will continue to be seduced into prolonging an occupation that is a major part of the problem, not the solution, to the disaster that is Iraq.
Let's not be naïve.
As our glorious leaders thoughtfully remind us, the day of "full sovereignty" for Iraq draws ever closer. 30 June 2004 - Mission Accomplished. But with Iraq so tantalisingly close to nirvana it seems there are still those who would seek to vilify the Forces of Liberation.
The US Military reports that on May 19, during an operation near the Syrian Border, its forces "took ground fire and returned fire" at the Iraqi village of Mogr el-Deeb. The source of the "hostile fire" was located and a gang of jihadists at a "suspected foreign fighter safe house" was put to the sword. Thanks to the US military, Iraq was another step closer to peace.
Sadly, as is becoming so depressingly familiar, the victory was being called into question even before the smoke had cleared. Doctors on the scene claimed that there were large numbers of women and children among the dozens of casualties. Video footage obtained by Associated Press appeared to depict a wedding celebration before and after the battle. Several of those seen celebrating in the first half of the film are shown lying dead in the second. One of then was Hussein al-Ali, a popular Iraqi singer. Alleged survivors spoke of how they had been targeted one by one, of how their friends and relatives had been torn to pieces by gunfire. Among these was Haleema Shihab, who described holding her crying seven-month old son in her arms as a laughing soldier kicked her to see if she was still alive. Pictures filmed by al-Arabiya showed a headless child lying next to the corpse of his or her mother.
Responding to these ridiculous allegations Major General James Mattis, commander of the 1st Marine Division was understandably exasperated. "How many people go to the middle of the desert . . . to hold a wedding 80 miles from the nearest civilisation? These were more than two dozen military-age males. Let's not be naive."
These points are worth underlining. Are we really saying that groups of Arabs are to be found in the deserts of the Middle East? Are we really saying that when more than twenty four men aged late-teens to mid-forties are assembled in one place they aren't quite obviously terrorists? This was such a significant gathering of militants that they'd even hired one of Iraq's most popular singers to help celebrate the occasion. Let's not be naïve.
When asked to comment on footage of a child's corpse being lowered into a grave Mattis said, "bad things happen in wars. I don't have to apologise for the conduct of my men". Quite right too. Why should he? And who, on hearing this, can now question the moral courage of the Forces of Liberation? If the US hadn't thwarted this sinister alliance of women, children, musicians and military-age males who knows what horrors might have been unleashed on the ordinary people of Iraq.
And this has not been the only attempt to smear the liberators. Elsewhere the slander came, shockingly, from a former soldier. Jimmy Massey had served 11 years with the US Marines, received honourable discharge and full severance, and plainly had an axe to grind. Massey spoke of innocents being murdered and of corpses being robbed and desecrated. He said that as Baghdad fell last year Iraqis were told "'Just throw up your hands, lay down your weapons'. That's what they were doing, but we were still lighting them up [killing them]. They weren't in uniform. We never found any weapons. I talked with my commanding officer. I said, 'today is not a good day. We killed a bunch of civilians'. He goes: 'No. Today was a good day.'". Most outrageously, when referring to the murder and mutilation of four US security contractors by Iraqis near Falluja, Massey said "we did the same thing to them".
Massey's superiors rightly described him as a "wimp". Who knows why someone would discard their patriotism and their loyalty to the values they were fighting for. What we do know is that such outbursts are far from helpful.
It is clear to any right-thinking person that the US military will have to stay in Iraq for the time being in order to safeguard the population, and of course to defend America. It is therefore unfortunate that this torrent of slander has given the occupation a bad name. How should the leaders of the free world deal with this problem? Let's return to those end-of-occupation announcements and consider the draft resolution put forward by the US and the UK. The current resolution (UNSCR 1511) states that the military occupation will cease "in any case....upon the completion of the political process", meaning the formation of an elected government. The new draft proposes something rather different. Generously the Iraqis have been granted the right to ask the occupying forces to leave. But sensibly the final decision will rest with the security counsel, where the US holds the power of veto. In addition, occupying forces will be immune from prosecution under Iraqi law and will of course operate under their own command.
So, while the end of occupation and the transfer of full sovereignty has been announced to great fanfare, in fact the occupiers wish their stay to be indefinite and "full sovereignty" to remain a joke. Some may call this duplicitous. But consider, on the one hand, the unreasonable view Iraqis have taken of US military actions and the effect the allegations of traitors like Massey might have on western public opinion. Consider, on the other hand, the ongoing security threat posed by "weddings" on the Iraq-Syria border and the general need to protect Iraqis from themselves. Isn't it the height of responsible governance to try to soothe the bewildered western public and the excitable Arab "street", whilst at the same time standing firm to defend innocent Iraqis from harm? There will of course be those who affect disgust at seeing brutal subjugation being dressed up as a gift of freedom, with shameless mendacity and pseudo-moral rhetoric. Those of us who are less naïve will take the realistic view. Western public opinion has been pacified and the Iraqis, like those in Mogr el-Deeb, remain safe under our protection. We're doing the right thing, and the world will respect us for it.
The Costs of War
"There are more and more dead bodies on the streets and the stench is unbearable"
The above quote is from the BBC News website where Fadril Badrani, an Iraqi journalist and resident of Falluja who reports for Reuters and the BBC, described the effects of the US assault, now a week old.
"There are dead women and children lying on the streets. People are getting weaker from hunger. Many are dying from their injuries because there is no medical help left in the city whatsoever. Some families have started burying their dead in their gardens."
Associated Press reported the experiences of its photographer, Bilal Hussein, another resident of the beleaguered city.
"Heavy bombing raids and thunderous artillery shelling turned Hussein's northern Jolan neighbourhood into a zone of rubble and death. "I saw people lying dead in the streets, wounded were bleeding and there was no one to come out and help them. There was no medicine, water, no electricity nor food for days. US soldiers began to open fire on the houses...so I decided that it was very dangerous to stay". Hussein planned to escape across the Euphrates river. "I decided to swim...but I changed my mind after seeing US helicopters firing on and killing people who tried to cross the river". He watched horrified as a family of five was shot dead as they tried to cross."
Perhaps two-thirds of Falluja's 300,000 residents were able to evacuate. In all probability that would have left the sick, the poor, the elderly and generally the most vulnerable at the mercy of a massive aerial and artillery barrage, plus the ground assault which began a week ago.
Linsey Hilsum reporting from the ground for Channel Four News said that nearly every building she's seen is seriously damaged and that returning residents will be "horrified" by the sight that awaits them. "Falluja is a ruined town, of that there is no doubt".
Some of the most harrowing testimony can be found on Aljazeera's English language website.
"Asma Khamis al-Muhannadi, an assistant doctor who witnessed the US and Iraqi National Guards raid into Falluja hospital told Aljazeera that the medical staff received threats from the Iraqi health minister who said if anyone disclosed information about the raid, they would be arrested or dismissed from their jobs."
"We were tied up and beaten despite being unarmed", al-Muhannadi said. "The hospital was targeted with bombs and rockets. I was with a woman in labour. The umbilical cord had not yet been cut. At that time, a US soldier shouted at one of the National Guards to arrest me and tie my hands while I was helping the mother to deliver. I will never forget this incidence in my life. The troops dragged patients from their beds and pushed them towards the wall. We exited from the hospital on the second day of the attack, but we could not return as the main junction was controlled by the US troops .We saw around 150 women, children and the elderly attacked by aircraft fire," she said. "All of us were subject to intense inspection; the soldiers even examined children's diapers. Two female doctors were forced to totally undress.""
Summarising the news on his blog "Empire Notes", writer and activist Rahul Mahajan reported that all military aged males (aged 15-55) trying to escape the city are being sent back in by the US Marines. He mentioned one instance where male refugees were tested for any residues left by the handling of high explosives, tested negative, and were sent back anyway.
The Red Crescent arrived with a convoy of desperately needed medical aid. The aid agency described the situation in Falluja as a "humanitarian catastrophe". However, Reuters reported that the Marines would not allow the aid to be brought into the city for "security reasons". Abu Fahd, a member of the relief convoy, told Aljazeera, "the US forces have said they control 80% of the town. [Yet they] have prevented us from entering the town claiming it is not safe. There are no medicines or ambulances...none of the injured residents are being allowed to come to the hospital, while those outside are not allowed to go into the town".
As for the security concerns preventing the Red Crescent from entering the city, it seems that trucks carrying mail for the US troops are having no trouble getting through.
The Guardian quoted Col Mike Shupp of the Marines claiming that he's not heard of any civilians being trapped in the city himself. One can only suggest that he gets himself an internet connection or turns on the TV.
On BBC Newsnight a few days ago, the reporter Mark Urban cited a senior coalition source as saying that the lesson of Iraq was "to make examples, rarely and unforgettably". By flattening the city, slaughtering civilians, denying them medical treatment, starving them, forcing refugees back into the bloodbath or simply shooting them as they try to escape, and then pretending that you haven't heard of any civilians being trapped in this hellhole, what sort of rare and unforgettable example is the US trying to make of Falluja? Is it trying to demonstrate to Iraqis the cost of resisting their new masters? And if so, is the strategy working?
Channel Four News reports insurgent attacks on oil facilities in Kirkuk and Baiji. Insurgents have also mounted fierce attacks in Baquba, Ramadi, Mosul, and Baghdad. Some of these cities have been bombed by the US Air Force in the last 48 hours. The US is having to deny that its lost control of Mosul completely. Dahr Jamail, in Iraq reporting for the US online journal The New Standard, says that "Iraqi rebels are now in control of large areas of Ramadi, Samarra, Haditha, Baquba, Hiyt, Qaim, Latifiyah, Taji and Khaldiyah. Fighting has been reported also in the Shi'ite holy city Kerbala. The [Baghdad] districts al-Dora, al-Amiriyah, Abu Ghraib, al-Adhamiya and Khan Dari are now largely controlled by resistance fighters".
Shia notables are beginning to speak out against the attack on Falluja. Even the US appointed Iraqi President did so last week. There is every indication that the patience of the vast majority of ordinary Iraqis has run out. Iraqi blogger Riverbend summed up the reaction.
"People in Falluja are being murdered. The stories coming back are horrifying. People being shot in cold blood...Iraqis will never forgive this - never. Its outrageous - its genocide and America is responsible. May whoever contributes to this see the sorrow, terror and misery of the people suffering in Falluja."
Its only 10 weeks until the Iraqi elections, and the advent of "western-style" democracy.