I don’t know if most people in the United States ever knew what Fallujah meant. It’s hard to believe the U.S. military would still exist if they did. But certainly it has been largely forgotten — a problem that could be remedied if everyone picks up a copy of The Sacking of Fallujah: A People’s History, by Ross Caputi (a U.S. veteran of one of the sieges of Fallujah), Richard Hill, and Donna Mulhearn.
“You’re welcome for the service!”
Fallujah was the “city of mosques,” made up of some 300,000 to 435,000 people. It had a tradition of resisting foreign — including British — invasions. It suffered, as did all of Iraq, from the brutal sanctions imposed by the United States in the years leading up to the 2003 attack. During that attack, Fallujah saw crowded markets bombed. Upon the collapse of the Iraqi government in Baghdad, Fallujah established its own government, avoiding the looting and chaos seen elsewhere. In April, 2003, the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division moved into Fallujah and met no resistance.
Immediately the occupation began to produce the sort of problems seen by every occupation everywhere ever. People complained of Humvees speeding on the streets, of being humiliated at checkpoints, of women being treated inappropriately, of soldier urinating in the streets, and of soldiers standing on rooftops with binoculars in violation of residents’ privacy. Within days, the people of Fallujah wanted to be liberated from their “liberators.” So, the people tried nonviolent demonstrations. And the U.S. military fired on the protesters. But eventually, the occupiers agreed to be stationed outside the city, limit their patrols, and allow Fallujah a degree of self-governance beyond what the rest of Iraq was permitted. The result was a success: Fallujah was kept safer than the rest of Iraq by keeping the occupiers out of it.
That example, of course, needed to be crushed. The United States was claiming a moral obligation to liberate the hell out of Iraq to “maintain security” and “assist in transition to democracy.” Viceroy Paul Bremer decided to “clean out Fallujah.” In came the “coalition” troops, with their usual inability (mocked quite effectively in the Netflix Brad Pitt movie War Machine) to distinguish the people they were bestowing liberty and justice upon from the people they were killing. U.S. officials described the people they wanted to kill as “cancer,” and went about killing them with raids and firefights that killed a great many of the non-cancer people. How many people the United States was actually giving cancer to was unknown at the time.
In March, 2004, four Blackwater mercenaries were killed in Fallujah, their bodies burned and hung from a bridge. The U.S. media portrayed the four men as innocent civilians who somehow happened to find themselves in the middle of a war and the accidental targets of irrational, unmotivated violence. The people of Fallujah were “thugs” and “savages” and “barbarians.” Because U.S. culture has never regretted Dresden or Hiroshima, there were open cries for following those precedents in Fallujah. A former advisor to Ronald Reagan, Jack Wheeler reached for an ancient Roman model in demanding that Fallujah be completely reduced to lifeless rubble: “Fallujah delenda est!”
The occupiers tried to impose a curfew and a ban on carrying weapons, saying they needed such measures in order to distinguish the people to kill from the people to give democracy to. But when people had to leave their homes for food or medicine, they were gunned down. Families were gunned down, one by one, as each person emerged to try to recover the injured or lifeless body of a loved one. The “family game” it was called. The only soccer stadium in town was turned into a massive cemetery.
A seven-year-old boy named Sami saw his little sister shot. He watched his father run out of the house to get her and be shot in turn. He listened to his father scream in agony. Sami and the rest of his family were afraid to go out. By morning both his sister and father were dead. Sami’s family listened to the shots and screams at the surrounding houses, as the same story played out. Sami threw rocks at dogs to try to keep them away from the bodies. Sami’s older brothers would not let his mother go out to close her dead husband’s open eyes. But eventually, Sami’s two older brothers decided to rush outside for the bodies, in hopes that one of them would survive it. One brother was instantly shot in the head. The other managed to close his father’s eyes and to retrieve his sister’s body but was shot in the ankle. Despite the efforts of the whole family, that brother died a slow and horrible death from the ankle wound, while dogs fought over the bodies of his father and brother, and the stench from a neighborhood of dead bodies took over.
Al Jazeera showed the world some of the horror of the First Siege of Fallujah. And then other outlets showed the world the torture the U.S. was engaging in at Abu Ghraib. Blaming the media, and resolving to better market future genocidal acts, the Liberators withdrew from Fallujah.
But Fallujah remained a designated target, one that would require lies similar to those that had launched the whole war. Fallujah, the U.S. public was now told, was an Al Qaeda hotbed controlled by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi — a myth depicted as if real years later in the U.S. film American Sniper.
The Second Siege of Fallujah was an all-out assault on all human life that included the bombing of homes, hospitals, and apparently any target desired. A woman whose pregnant sister was killed by a bomb told a reporter, “I cannot get the image out of my mind of her foetus being blown out of her body.” Instead of waiting for people to emerge from houses, in the Second Siege, U.S. Marines fired into houses with tanks and rocket-launchers, and finished the job with bulldozers, Israeli style. They also used white phosphorus on people, which melted them. They destroyed bridges, shops, mosques, schools, libraries, offices, train stations, electricity stations, water treatment plants, and every bit of the sanitation and communication systems. This was a sociocide. The controlled and embedded corporate media excused all.
Within a year after the second siege, with the city transformed into a sort-of open-air prison among the rubble, staff at Fallujah General Hospital noticed that something was wrong. There was a dramatic — worse than Hiroshima — increase in cancer, stillborn births, miscarriages, and never-before-seen birth defects. A child was born with two heads, another with a single eye in the center of his forehead, another with extra limbs. What share of the blame for this, if any, goes to white phosphorous, and what to depleted uranium, what to enriched uranium weapons, what to open burn pits, and what to various other weapons, there is little doubt that the U.S-led Humanitarian War is the cause.
Incubators had come full circle. From the lies about Iraqis removing infants from incubators that (somehow) justified the first Gulf War, through the lies about illegal weapons that (somehow) justified the massive terrorism of Shock and Awe, we were now arrived at rooms full of incubators holding deformed infants quickly dying from benevolent liberation.
The U.S.-installed Iraqi government’s Third Siege of Fallujah came in 2014-2016, with the new tale for Westerners involving ISIS control of Fallujah. Again, civilians were slaughtered and what remained of the city was destroyed. Fallujah delenda est indeed. That ISIS arose out of a decade of U.S.-led brutality capped by an Iraqi government’s genocidal assault on Sunnis went unmentioned.
Through all of this, of course, the United States was leading the world — through the burning of the oil the wars were fought over, among other practices — in rendering not just Fallujah, but most of the Middle East, too hot for humans to inhabit. Imagine the outrage when people who support someone like Joe Biden who played a key role in destroying Iraq (and who can’t even seem to regret the death of his own son from open burn pits, much less the death of Fallujah) discover that almost nobody in the Middle East is grateful for the collapse of the climate into an unlivable inferno. That’s when the media will be sure to tell us who the real victims are in this story.
David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is executive director of WorldBeyondWar.org and campaign coordinator for RootsAction.org. Swanson’s books include War Is A Lie. He blogs at DavidSwanson.org and WarIsACrime.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio. He is a 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee.
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