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The Hidden Stories of Fallujah


“Success in Fallujah will deal a blow to terrorists in the region.” – Secretary of

Defense Donald Rumsfeld, November 08, 2004.

Shadowed by the 2004 presidential election, the U.S. military’s assault on Fallujah in November
2004 was underreported by the U.S. media. The assertion by Rumsfeld that the assault would
“deal a blow to terrorists in the region” is hardly accurate. What the battle left behind is graphic:
a city and people treated in utter brutality by U.S. forces, whose behavior bordered war crimes.

Media Problems, Faulty Estimates And Total Destruction

There are three reasons why there was barely any U.S. media coverage. Journalists could not get
into the city on many occasions; footage was heavily censored; and many journalists, according
to reporter Robert Frisk practiced “mouse journalism”—staying at the scene of an event long
enough to get a basic story before fighting broke out.

Foreign media was able to get an accurate, uncensored look at the assault on Fallujah, which lies
west of Baghdad, in central Iraq. The U.S. military claims the assault on Fallujah killed between
1,200 to 1,600 insurgents, but London’s The Guardian reported that the bodies of many
insurgents were nowhere to be seen. What could be seen and in grave numbers, were the bodies
of civilians.

Dahr Jamail, an independent reporter whose dispatches have been printed in many mainstream
publications, interviewed a “high-ranking” Red Cross official.

“Our estimate of 800 civilians is likely to be too low,” said the Red Cross official. “The
Americans close their ears, and that is it. They won't even let us take supplies into Fallujah
General Hospital.”

The toll the assault took on civilians stems from the way the U.S. forces conducted the assault.
Warplanes conducted a constant bombing campaign that resulted in one building in every 10
turned to rubble, according to an Agence France-Presse reporter.

Digging Into Vietnam’s History—An Old Weapon Is Put To Use

Aside from constant aerial bombardment, the Pentagon has admitted to using white phosphorus.
The substance is a waxy man-made chemical that spontaneously ignites. It can be momentarily
extinguished with water, but can later reignite. The military refers to by its old Vietnam name
WP or Willy Pete.

While the Pentagon admits to using white phosphorus, it has said it was only used to mark
enemy targets and produce smoke to conceal troop movements. Dahr Jamail, in a dispatch for
London’s The Independent, interviewed several people in Fallujah whose encounters with the
substance do not mirror the Pentagon’s recent statements.

“The people and bodies I have seen were definitely hit by fire weapons and had no other
shrapnel wounds,” said a local doctor, who refused to give his real name for fear of reprisals.

Many residents said the U.S. military was using the chemical as a weapon and trying to cover up
for its use.

“The Americans were dropping some of the bodies into the Euphrates near Fallujah,” said Abdul
Razaq Ismail.

Toby Harnden, a reporter for The Telegraph, said that white phosphorus was “openly used as a
weapon of war” by the U.S. forces.

The use of incendiary weapons is prohibited for attacking civilians according to Protocol III of
the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. However, the United States is not a signatory
to Protocol III, so there is no international legal barricade to stop the United States from
continued use of the chemical.

Blurring The Lines—“Killers, Not Murderers; Warriors Not War Criminals”

Perhaps more disturbing is the actions of many U.S. soldiers during the assault on Fallujah.
Before troops entered the city, they were told by commanders to treat anyone as any enemy.

“The enemy can dress as a woman, the enemy can be faking to be dead,” said one company
commander in an Al-Jazeera article. “So shoot everything that moves and everything that doesn’t

A photographer embedded with a unit that went into Fallujah provided details on engagement
rules: “From that point on, the rule was the so-called ‘double tap’: two bullets in every body.”

Troops were told to shoot any male on the street between the ages of 15 and 50, regardless of
whether they were welding a weapon, according to Al-Jazeera.

Once troops entered the city, U.S. snipers enforced this rule to an extreme extent. A Lebanese
cameraman told Dahr Jamail that U.S. snipers stationed themselves on top of a local hospital,
shooting everyone indiscriminately. He also said that snipers shot civilians swimming across the
Euphrates River trying to escape the war torn city.

As U.S. forces entered the city and conducted house-to-house searches, Al-Jazeera reported that
hundreds of bodies were in the streets and being fed on by packs of wild dogs.

“Americans did not have interpreters with them, so they entered houses and killed people
because they didn’t speak English. They entered the house where I was with 26 people and shot
people because they didn’t obey their orders, even just because the people couldn’t understand a
word of English,” said the Lebanese cameraman. “Ninety-five percent of the people killed in the
houses that I saw were killed because they couldn’t speak English.”

The United States has tried to paint a rosy picture of Fallujah since the November 2004 assault,
but Jamail found it was not accurate when he interviewed a doctor from Fallujah.

“And I’ve seen them use the media and on January 2nd at the north checkpoint … they were
giving people $200 per family to return to Fallujah so they can film them in the line when,
actually, at that time, nobody was returning to Fallujah,” said the doctor.

Richard Perle, a senior advisor to President George Bush said at the start of the Iraq war: “The
greatest triumph of the Iraq war is the destruction of the evil of international law.”

War brings out the worst in human nature and many should not be surprised by these revelations
from Fallujah. Perle and others from the Bush administration would argue that war provides
exception to international law, but it should be realized that war makes international law even
more important.

However, the basic lesson of Fallujah could be as Tony Klein of Sydney Morning Herald states:
“The message the siege of Fallujah sends is brutally simple: resist us and we will destroy you.”