The Razing of Fallujah

War Crimes of the Occupation

Revolutionary Worker #1260, November 28, 2004, posted at

Driving down Highway 10. through the heart of Fallujah, is like entering a film that is set sometime on the other side of Armageddon. Cars sit on the roofs of buildings. Lamp posts lie at odd angles on the street. Just south of the highway, a minaret has been snapped off near the base like a pretzel stick, and another minaret is missing a huge chunk. Fire has blackened the facade of building after building.

Robert F. Worth in New York Times

Every night we said good-bye to one another because we expected to die. You could see areas where all the houses were flattened, there was just nothing left. Even those of us who do not fight, we are suffering so much because of the U.S. bombs and tanks. Can’t they see this is turning so many people against them?

Ahmed, survivor of the U.S. attack

"Everyone needs to understand there are consequences for not following the Iraqi government."

Captain P.J. Batty, overseeing the mass burial of dead Iraqis in Fallujah
Associated Press
, November 16

"We have liberated the city of Fallujah."

Lieut.-Gen. John Sattler, commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, November 14

Fallujah was once, not long ago, an industrial center, also known as "the city of 1,000 mosques." It sat along the busy highway that connected central Iraq to the outside world. Its truck yards and warehouses used to buzz with traffic.

Fallujah was once home to 300,000 people.

The people of Fallujah defied the U.S. occupation. For over a year, they simply refused to be conquered. Last April, the people here stared down a threatening U.S. army, they held up under bombing, they refused to hand over the resistance fighters in their midst. In June, they openly rejected the new U.S. puppet government headed by Ayad Allawi.

Fallujah became a symbol for the whole of Iraq, and for the whole world.

And so, through ten ugly days in November, Fallujah became the target of a vengeful and ruthless punishment. And the U.S. authorities have openly announced a list of 21 other Iraqi cities and towns that face similar assault if they do not capitulate.


Observers who dare to enter Fallujah now use words like "wasteland" and "utter ruin." The once crowded city lies empty and broken. Most of its population was forced out—first by a tightening military blockade, then the cutting off of water and food, then by the mounting threats of invasion, and finally by the assault itself. Where are the people of this ghost town? About 200,000 people fled the city before and during the fighting—and are scattered throughout central Iraq, often in sprawling, unplanned tent cities where there are already outbreaks of diseases like typhoid.

Inside the city, many are dead. Reporters describe desperate dogs and cats feeding on corpses in the streets.

Everyone knows that there are many more dead buried under the rubble. U.S. military leaflets ordered everyone to remain in their houses. But then, during the attack itself, U.S. troops used infra-red "thermal sights" to detect bodies and other "hot spots" inside buildings—to be targeted and destroyed.

Much of the city is impassable: Crushed cars fill the streets and intersections. Sewage pipes broken and spewing lakes of filth. Power and telephone lines snarl into spaghetti-like tangles.

Everything lies covered in layers of soot and debris. This makes the ruins look ancient—as if they had been abandoned and untouched for years. But the heavy dust is only days old, dropped from a fiery sky filled by explosions and the thick smoke of a burning city.

The northern neighborhoods were flattened in the fury and flames of the opening attack. The southern industrial districts were leveled in the fierce fighting of the attack’s last days. The city’s huge northern rail station—once a major transfer point for all of Iraq—was obliterated forever by a single earth-shaking 2000-pound bomb.

Much of the deserted city seems ghostly quiet after ten days of fighting—until renewed artillery fire and rifle shots suddenly shatter the silence. Despite everything, the resistance has clearly not stopped.


The U.S. answered a year of defiance by flattening a city, killing thousands and ruining the lives of many more.

Scattered snipers were answered with heavy artillery fire and white phosphorus. Everything that moved was marked as an enemy. Building after building was shattered, their walls tumbling down like waterfalls, so the invaders could feel safe enough to advance.

The Nuremberg Charter, in Article 6(b), lists the "wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages" as a war crime. The U.S. government helped write that Charter, right after World War 2, as a legal basis for executing Germany’s Nazi leadership. Now the U.S. government insists that such international laws do not apply to them or their "war on terrorism."

The U.S. is saying they have "liberated the city" but the real story of U.S. war crimes against the people of Fallujah is coming through in the difficult personal stories of survivors and outside observers.

One Night Along the River

Bilal Hussein is an Iraqi photographer for the Associated Press. He stayed inside Fallujah during the invasion, and planned to photograph the advance of U.S. troops from that side.

But once the bombing and artillery started to flatten his Jolan neighborhood, Hussein realized he was facing death. "U.S. soldiers began to open fire on the houses... Destruction was everywhere. I saw people lying dead in the streets, wounded were bleeding and there was no one to come and help them,’’ he said. "There was no medicine, water, no electricity nor food for days.’’

As the U.S. forces entered his neighborhood, Hussein fled in total panic. He decided to escape by crossing the Euphrates River along the western side of Fallujah. Hussein stuck to the shadows, dodging the gunfire, moving house to house, toward the river. He says, "I decided to swim... but I changed my mind after seeing U.S. helicopters firing on and killing people who tried to cross the river.’’ In shock, he watched a family of five shot dead in the water. He helped bury a man by the river bank, digging with his hands.

"I kept walking along the river for two hours and I could still see some U.S. snipers ready to shoot anyone who might swim. I quit the idea of crossing the river and walked for about five hours through orchards.’’ A peasant family gave him shelter in their house, so he survived to tell what he had seen.

All along the western and southern outskirts of the city, people tried to escape. Estimates by foreign relief teams suggest that about 5,000 people may have fled during the fighting. According to several accounts, U.S. snipers and helicopters executed everyone trying to cross the river by boat or swimming. In the south, U.S. roadblocks separated the men from the women, and forced all men between 15 and 55 to return into the battle zone, unarmed, and on foot.

Brig. Gen. Dennis J. Hejlik, of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, was touring his positions along the Euphrates River. He was asked how fighting was going and replied: "This is what we do. This is what we do well."

Execution at Point Blank

On Saturday, November 13, Marines entered into a mosque in the heart of Fallujah. A videoclip, taken by NBC newsman Kevin Sites, shows several wounded Iraqi men with heavily armed U.S. Marines standing over them. The captives had already been searched for weapons the previous day and had been left helpless, sprawled on the floor overnight.

One marine can be heard saying: "He’s fucking faking he’s dead."

This soldier then raises his rifle and fires right into the man’s head. Blood splatters onto the mosque wall. A second marine says, "Well, he’s dead now."

At least two more wounded Iraqi men may also have been executed there that day. They appear in the Sites video with what NBC calls fresh fatal gunshot wounds.

People in the U.S. have generally only seen a brief, heavily censored excerpt of this film that stops before the execution. U.S. viewers don’t see the kill-shot or the splattering of blood. TV descriptions often don’t mention this happened inside a mosque.

But everywhere else in the world this video is shown in full. It has shocked and enraged millions of people—and has taken its place alongside the torture photos of Abu Ghraib as the symbol of the U.S. methods and morality.

The execution of a wounded captive is a war crime by any standards, including the Geneva Conventions of international law.

Here in the U.S., oppressed people have a lot of experience with how the authorities deal with such videos. After the brutal videotaped beating of Rodney King in 1992, everyone was told over and over that the cops were justified, that King had threatened them, that everything was "by the manual." The cops were investigated, tried, and initially found innocent. If it had not been for the 1992 L.A. rebellion, that would have been the end of the story. And this same kind of standard-operating-procedure is in full effect around this cold-blooded execution in Fallujah.

U.S. authorities claim it is only an isolated incident. Iraqi puppet-president Allawi expressed "concern." U.S. ambassador Negroponte expressed "regret." Marine Lt. Gen. John Sattler said: "The facts of this case will be thoroughly pursued to make an informed decision and to protect the rights of all persons involved."

The U.S. media "cautions" people to not "draw conclusions," while so-called experts say the execution may have been an act of "self-defense" or the prisoner may already have been dead.

And above all, people are told that other marines want everyone to accept such murder: because soldiers were "under stress," because their enemies are "bad guys," and because that is what war is like. In short, the argument is that "supporting the troops" means actively expecting and supporting war crimes like this.

Meanwhile, Kevin Sites, the NBC cameraman who shot the scene, is getting death threats. Rightwing message boards are packed with comments about "save a bullet for the newsman" and "wait til Sites comes back to California."

One congressman asked Marine generals in a hearing if it wasn’t time to remove embedded newsmen from the frontlines.

Shutting Down the Hospital

No one knows how many people stayed behind in Fallujah during this attack. Estimates range from 1,000 to 50,000. No one knows how many of them now lie dead on the streets or underneath the heavy concrete rubble of their homes.

U.S. Marine spokesman Colonel Mike Regner was asked how many Iraqis had died in this attack. He answered, "I don’t know."

However, in fact, the U.S. military command has actually worked to hide and suppress any news of civilian casualties.

Their Green Berets attacked and seized the Fallujah General Hospital—before their assault—so that its doctors would not be able to report on casualties. Asma Khamis al-Muhannadi, a doctor who spoke with Al-Jazeera News,said, "We were tied up and beaten despite being unarmed and having only our medical instruments. I was with a woman in labor. The umbilical cord had not yet been cut. At that time, a U.S. 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 incident in my life."

Al-Muhannadi describes how injured patients were forced from their beds and forced against the walls. She adds, "Two female doctors were forced to totally undress." Such attacks on civilian hospitals are war crimes under the Geneva Conventions.

Punishment to Enforce Domination

In the four Sunni provinces that are in bloody revolt against the U.S. occupation force and the interim government of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, the most important immediate objective is to dissuade Sunni townspeople from joining, supporting or tolerating the insurrection. The price they will pay for doing so is being illustrated graphically in the streets of Fallujah.

Jim Hoagland, Washington Post, November 11, 2004

"Get them by the balls, and their hearts and minds will follow."

Military saying during the failed U.S. attempt to conquer Vietnam, 1960s

We have no intention of creating a vacuum and walking away from Fallujah.

Brigadier General John DeFreitas, senior military intelligence officer in Iraq,
Agence France Press
, November 18, 2004

"Fallujah will be the beginning of the fall of America."

From a poster on a village wall

As we go to press, the U.S. commanders have claimed to control the city for days. But at the very same time, they are still refusing to allow relief convoys of medicine and water from reaching the desperate people and doctors within the city. First they said this was because there were no people in the city. Then they said it was because they were caring well for everyone’s needs. Then, finally, they said it was because there was still fighting going on. Colonel Regner says the resistance groups "are fighting to the death."

The military spokesmen from Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld to his field commanders have claimed for months that the core of this resistance has been "foreign terrorists" who were (supposedly) holding the population in their grip.

Imagine for a moment that their claims are true. Then look at what they did: run out the population of hundreds of thousands, flatten their homes and city, destroy its infrastructure, ruin hundreds of historic mosques, kill unknown numbers of people.all to "bring freedom"? It brings to mind the American officer in Vietnam who claimed: "We had to destroy the village to save it."

And now, of course, the battle of Fallujah has shown that Rumsfeld’s claims were a lie. There were few "foreign fighters" facing the U.S. invaders. The U.S. forces claim to have captured over 1,000 men, and killed up to 2,000 in Fallujah. But they admit that only a few dozen seem to be non-Iraqi. The New York Times’pro-war columnist Thomas Friedman now writes (Nov. 18): "What have we learned from the many insurgents captured in Falluja? A vast majority are Iraqi Sunnis, with only a few foreign fighters. This is an Iraqi Sunni rebellion."

This attack was not about freeing the people, or targeting small bands of "foreign terrorists." It was deliberately launched to punish and crush the people of this city. The U.S. commanders coldly wanted to make Fallujah into an example—to terrorize people across Iraq and weaken their will to resist the long-term domination of their country by U.S. imperialism. It was classic counterinsurgency: "dry up the sea to kill the fish." And inevitably the people themselves become the main target of the oppressor.

The U.S. authorities intend to crush any resistance, kill any opponents they can reach. They intend to use the horrifying example of Fallujah to terrorize the people throughout Iraq. And then, on that basis , hold elections- at-gunpoint—in January, if they can.

In these occupation elections, people will be ordered to elect (read: legitimize) various pro-U.S. political collaborators. It is a rubber stamp for U.S. domination. It is a sham that (obviously) has nothing to do with the will or interests of the Iraqi people.

But the fact is that this neocolonial plan is not going well.

The U.S. command had intended to turn over the control of restless towns and cities to various Iraqi puppet police and military forces. But these forces barely exist, and are wracked by mass desertions.

As a result, the U.S. command has almost no Iraqi forces available to occupy Fallujah or the rest of Iraq. And there is a good chance that elections in January would show the weakness of the U.S.—not its strength.

U.S. authorities now insist they cannot allow Fallujah to slip back into the hands of the insurgency—having destroyed the city, they must now hold it. And they must also gather troops to threaten several cities of central Iraq.

And so, as soon as the conquest of Fallujah was announced, it became a justification for a new, further escalation of the U.S. occupation: the Pentagon announced a plan to expand their own occupation force by delaying the departure of thousands of troops now in Iraq, while bringing in new units.

Meanwhile, the war crimes in Fallujah have further inflamed the people of Iraq and intensified the insurgency in many places. Within the central ministries of the Allawi government, attacks by the insurgency have triggered mass resignations. U.S. control collapsed in key areas over the last weeks. Police stations were raided and destroyed. Armed insurgents now openly man roadblocks and patrols in cities like Mosul and Ramadi.


We are without allies among the Iraqi populace, including those who have benefited from the ouster of Saddam. Across Baghdad, Latifiyah, Mahmudiyah, Salman Park, Baqubah, Balad, Taji, Bajii, Ramadi, and just about everywhere else you can name, the people absolutely hate us.

Unnamed U.S. "security consultant" in Baghdad, Washington Post, November 17