The Marines' Punishment of Fallujah

Revolutionary Worker #1236, April 11, 2004, posted at

"We are all suffering from what the Americans are doing to us, but that doesn't take away anything from our pride in the resistance."

Saadi Hamadi, 24, recent college graduate, speaking to AP

"Despite an uptick in local engagements, the overall area of operations remains relatively stable with negligible impact on the coalition's ability to continue progress in governance, economic development, and restoration of essential services."

Double-talk from Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, chief spokesman for the U.S. military command, March 31, 2004

A convoy of heavily armed Americans came careening deep into Fallujah on Wednesday, March 31, but this time, some of them didn't get to leave. Three vehicles were ambushed with rocket- propelled grenades. One SUV sped off. But the men inside the other two were shot in their burning cars. And the world soon saw the street celebration that followed.

The videos showed the faces of an occupied people--thrilled by this moment of victory over their occupiers. They showed the defiance of people living in a poor, besieged community with a heavily armed military division of the world's superpower camped outside their gates.

This incident showed, once again, that the White House lied when it said its troops came to Iraq as "liberators." And it showed, once again, the lie of Bush's aircraft carrier announcement on May 1, 2003, that the war was over--made standing in front of that banner saying "Mission Accomplished." U.S. casualties in March were twice as high as in February, and the second highest since the occupation started.

However, as the video images arrived from Fallujah, the media machinery instantly kicked in--taking viewers through the looking glass and telling everyone what to think.

The dead Americans were "civilians" and "contractors," the news reports said over and over. They were on a mission (we were told) to "protect food deliveries" in Fallujah. One radio broadcast quoted a "military expert" saying the Iraqi resistance had failed to hit U.S. troops, "so now they are hitting civilian contractors and also missionaries. They are soft targets."

You were supposed to get a mental picture of the Americans in those SUVs as "civilian soft targets"--as just good-hearted boys-next-door, out and about helping deliver food. But, meanwhile, it was also coming out that these men were veterans of U.S. elite commando units, now working as heavily armed mercenaries in Iraq--whose real mission and activities are still far from clear.

Meanwhile, the crowd in Fallujah, celebrating around the burning cars, were described as "a barbaric mob" or even as "animals." When people in Fallujah later tried to explain to reporters that these Americans were hired killers and CIA agents--their remarks were treated as paranoia and lies.

And all of that, not surprisingly, was fed directly into a theme of military resolve and violent revenge.

"Somalia was a terrible situation, but we could walk away," Republican Senator John McCain told CBS. "American security, national security was not threatened." By contrast, McCain said, "We cannot afford to lose this."

"The stakes are high in Iraq. We will not be intimidated," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.

John Kerry quickly endorsed the White House's war aims: "United in sadness, we are also united in our resolve that these enemies will not prevail."

On the ground, all this means that the collective punishment of Fallujah's people is being planned as a lesson for the world.

Looking over a parade field of his latest Iraqi police recruits, the U.S. administrator of Iraq, Paul Bremer III, vowed that this incident "will not go unpunished."

"We will be back in Fallujah," growled Brig. General Mark Kimmitt, deputy operations director for the occupation forces. "It will be at the time and place of our choosing. We will hunt down the criminals. We will kill them or we will capture them. And we will pacify Fallujah."

Marine Attempt at Iron Fist

"You can't escape and you can't hide."

Marine leaflets dumped in Fallujah in the days before March 31

"Long live the honorable men of the resistance!"

Graffiti on the walls of Al Askari in Fallujah

Much has been hidden about these Fallujah events. For example, it is rarely discussed in the U.S. media that Fallujah's neighborhoods have been under intense recent attack by the U.S. Marines.

On Friday, March 26 (four days before the SUV burnings), the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force invaded the town with tanks and armored vehicles.

This Marine division had just taken over the occupation role in the area. The previous occupiers from the Army's 82nd Airborne Division opened fire on unarmed crowds in the streets in April 2003, killing scores of people--and had not dared enter the city in force since November.

The newly arriving Marine commanders intended to change all that. They decided to inspire a new fear among the people with a heavy-handed invasion of the town.

The Marines cordoned off two large poor communities that had previously been "no go" areas. Then they kicked in doors and arrested people. At some point a firefight started, and the Marines opened up with their heavy weaponry. The bombardments reportedly went on all day, while reporters were kept away. At least nine civilians (including a television cameraman and three children) were killed that day alone.

The Washington Post interviewed several injured civilians, including Ahmed Yusuf who described being shot in his car: "They think that they're going to control the city by doing this? They're wrong. They will never be able to control the city like this. They will turn the situation here to a war situation."

In the car behind Yusuf, someone was shot in the head. The local hospitals treated dozens of wounded, including children.

For the following four days, Marine roadblocks obstructed all the main roads in and out of Fallujah-- and their tank cannons openly aimed at the nearby working class neighborhood of Al Askari.

The Associated Press reports that on Monday night (March 29), Marines sent a convoy through the neighborhood-- threatening (in Arabic over loudspeakers) to turn the whole town into a battlefield unless the resistance stopped. The Marines conducted more house-to-house searches -- taking off men they captured.

Khaled Jamaili, 26, told the Associated Press: "If they find more than one adult male in any house, they arrest one of them. Those marines are destroying us. They are leaning very hard on Fallujah."

These were the events in the very days before the March 31 burning of the two SUVs. The people of Fallujah had been literally "under the gun" in an intense Marine campaign to terrify them.

The promises of "punishment" now coming from Bremer and his generals are nothing new. It is exactly the aggressive policy the Marines were already carrying out in Fallujah--to "pacify" the people and to force them to accept U.S. domination and whatever Iraqi government the U.S. invents. Only now, the occupiers expect renewed support from popular opinion-- hoping that their propaganda about "barbaric mobs" and "soft civilian targets" will confuse people about what this occupation of Iraq is about.

So far, their threats and brutality have been a failure. And their next attempts to punish and frighten the people of Iraq must be opposed and exposed.