Fallujah: Shock and Awe
By Ken Coates
Editorial: The Spokesman no.84, Journal of the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation (www.russfound.org)
It was on April 26th 1937 that the name of Guernica was immortalised. A little town, home to 7000 people, Guernica was the local market place for a cluster of hill villages. It straddled a valley only ten kilometres from the sea, and thirty from Bilbao. It was a cultural centre for the Basque country, with a hallowed oak tree upon which for centuries the public power in Spain has been obliged recurrently to affirm an oath to respect the rights of the Basque people.
April 26th was a Monday, market day. It went ahead peaceably, although the Civil War was raging thirty kilometres away. The air raid was not announced (by an urgent call from the Church bells) until half past four in the afternoon. Ten minutes later Heinkels arrived, scattering their bombs across the town, and then machine gunning the streets. Following the Heinkels came the Junkers. The German Air Force was celebrating a major practice run. When the people ran away, they, too, were machine-gunned. One thousand six hundred and fifty-four people were killed, and eight hundred and eighty-nine were wounded. The town centre was destroyed, and Europe received its first baptism of aerial bombardment on a modern scale.
The shock reverberated far beyond the Basque country. Spain was not a remote colony like Iraq, from which news could take an age to travel. Within a week Picasso began his painting, his masterpiece which is at present installed in a special gallery attached to the Prado. In preparation for this, he feverishly prepared a desperately poignant series of sketches and cartoons, one of which we feature on our cover. Picasso gave us a portrait of naked horror. Europe was soon to learn the face of that horror at first hand. It is said that when some German officers visited Picasso in his studio in occupied France, they said of Guernica, drawings from which were hung in the room, “Did you do this?” The master is said to have replied: “No, you did”.
But it was not only the German Air Force which tore away at the fabric of European cities. Coventry and London pale into insignificance when compared with Hamburg and Dresden. It was an American soldier, Kurt Vonnegut, who was to create a memorial to Dresden, in his extraordinary work Slaughterhouse Five. Slaughterhouses, since, we have seen in profusion. Before the incineration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there was the massive “conventional” air raid on Tokyo which killed many tens of thousands of people. Then we lived through the Cold War, and the nuclear arms race, until we entered, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, into the age of Full Spectrum Dominance from Washington. Now the centre of that domination sits in Iraq, and for the time being the carnage radiates out from the city of Falluja.
We are told that Falluja had to be destroyed, in order to carry out elections to an Iraqi constituent assembly on the 27th January 2005. We will see whether any elections take place. There are those among us who doubt whether such elections were actually intended in any more than a fictional exit strategy for the purposes of another election, in the United States. Mr. Bush has won that, and may not need the one in Iraq. It is greatly to be doubted whether the conditions for an election exist in the aftermath of the destruction of Falluja.
Kofi Annan warned Bush, Blair, and their puppet, Iyad Allawi, that elections required “a broader spectrum of Iraqis to join the political process” and the persuasion of “elements who are currently alienated from, or sceptical about, the transition process”. He expressed his “increasing concern at the prospect of an escalation in violence, which I fear could be very disruptive for Iraq’s political transition”.
Kofi Annan was entirely specific.
“I have in mind not only the risk of increased insurgent violence, but also reports of major military offensives being planned by the multinational force in key localities such as Falluja. I wish to express to you my particular concern about the safety and protection of civilians. Fighting is likely to take place mostly in densely populated urban areas, with an obvious risk of civilian casualties … The threat or actual use of force not only risks deepening the sense of alienation of certain communities, but would also reinforce perceptions among the Iraqi population of a continued military occupation.”
Guernica was struck down out of a clear sky, and none of the victims expected it. But Falluja was planned in great detail for months before the culmination of the American election made it possible to risk the criticism of domestic public opinion. Indeed the British allies were redeployed to seal off what was eloquently described as the “rat run” from Falluja, in spite of the consternation in Scotland, whose Black Watch soldiers were put at very dire risk. All that took time. It took time, up to two months, to cut off the water supplies to Tall Afar, Samarra, and Falluja. We publish in our dossier a careful report by Cambridge Solidarity with Iraq, which describes how this was done, in breach of international humanitarian law, and without consultation with any of the allies. Towards the end of a week of remorseless bombing and bombardment, the Red Crescent succeeded in sending a convoy of food and medicines into the outskirts of Falluja. American forces denied them the right to move beyond a hospital on the outskirts of the town.
As happened before, during the invasion by coalition forces, news has been comprehensively and carefully managed, so that we cannot tell what the true level of casualties has been. At the end of the first week, the Americans were reported as having sustained 38 deaths and to have suffered 275 other casualties. They also claim to have killed, variously, 1000 or 1600 insurgents and to have captured between 450 and 550 others. But the insurgents claim vastly smaller casualties. Al-Dulaimi said that the number of Falluja’s defenders, “martyrs who were killed”, did not exceed 100. “We lost 15 of our men”, he said. Nobody, but nobody, can offer any credible figures about the civilian death toll. We shall not be able to calculate anything approaching the true mortality for some time, just as it took more than a year before The Lancet was able to publish research about the true human cost of the occupation.
What is absolutely clear is that large swathes of Falluja have been literally pulverised, ground to powder by the kind of destructive machine that Hermann Goering could hardly imagine. Just as we do not know how many innocents have been massacred, neither do the Iraqi people. But they know about the moral depth of this atrocity. They know that Iraqi lives do not count for the coalition, nor for its servants in the Iraqi detachments of American intelligence, who now call themselves Ministers.
The highest Shia authority in Baghdad, Shaikh Muhammad Mahdi al-Khalissi, condemned the assault on Falluja as an “aggression and dirty war”, and said:
“No matter how powerful the occupation forces are, they will be driven out of Iraq sooner or later. The current savage military attack on Falluja by US occupation forces and the US appointed Iraqi Government is an act of mass murder and a crime of war”.
The Association of Muslim Scholars, a Sunni powerhouse, proclaimed a Fatwa prohibiting Iraqis from joining in the American attack. Muqtada al-Sadr withdrew the support of his movement for the January elections. His aide declared:
“There has been a chance for a peaceful solution, but the Government always chooses the military solution because the United States wants that”.
Meantime, open insurgency rages in Kirkuk, Tikrit, Samarra, Baiji, and in Iraq’s third largest city, Mosul. Other towns have given refuge to fighters fleeing from Falluja itself, as has Ar Ramadi.
The official story put out by the coalition is that strong contingents of foreign fighters and supporters of the old regime constitute tightly knit minorities who can be hunted down, to the relief of the majority of peace loving Iraqis. The destruction of Falluja will destroy this myth. The American occupation stands revealed, red in tooth and claw. It does not intend to go away It would like to establish economically viable bases, for sure, and to withdraw many soldiers for deployment elsewhere. But it does not intend to relinquish control of the resources it had thought it had won. Oil remains very high on the agenda.
Quite why Tony Blair supports these brigands is very difficult to understand. There may not be many spoils of war for him. But he has earned a due share of the opprobrium which attaches to war criminals. A brave attempt to impeach him has been made on the initiative of Plaid Cymru’s MP Adam Price, and we have published the magisterial indictment prepared by Glen Rangwala and Dan Plesch. The impeachment concerns the lies that were told in preparation for the invasion. More lies are following all the time, and they are more desperately told, as the truth about this illegal war, and this incredibly brutal occupation, begins to make itself plain. Unlike President Bush, the Prime Minister’s election is in front of him. It is difficult to see how anyone with a conscience will be able to support the renewal of his mandate.
The date posted here is due to our website rebuild, it does not reflect the original date this article was posted. This article was originally posted in Yonip on November 23rd, 2004