Subcomandante Marcos from the Zapatistas made a comment years ago when the government announced its “new military strategy” for the Chiapas conflict. He said: they have announced a new strategy, but it isn’t new, nor is it a strategy, it is the same stupid pounding we have suffered for 500 years.
I am working on a piece on the ‘strategy’ the US is pursuing in this war in Iraq and the likely consequences. It seems to me that the way the US is fighting this war, the war is taking on a logic of its own, changing Iraq in irreversible ways, and creating the conditions for a holocaust like that the US inflicted on Vietnam. In particular I was struck by two things: 1) at least half of Fallujah’s inhabitants (150,000 people) are now refugees in their own country, and 2) the US says openly that this assault is only the beginning. If the US goes around and does this in every city where there is resistance, we will be talking about millions of internally displaced refugees in a country with an already devastated infrastructure and a continuous inflicting of firepower by the US.
Below is a work in progress: comments are welcome. The final piece will probably just become a ZNet Sustainer Commentary.
Guerrilla wars are fought by parties that have no hope of matching the other side’s size or power. If guerrillas know what they are doing, they don’t stand and fight when the stronger side masses its forces. The United States military is immeasurably more powerful than the Iraqi resistance or any other force in the world. But Iraqi guerrillas don’t stand and fight. So the United States did what the larger, more powerful army could be expected to do: try to trap the insurgents in an area and destroy them. This forces them to stand and fight, removes their advantages as guerrillas, and allows the US to bring its firepower to bear to destroy them.
Was the above military analysis sufficiently detached to be worthy of an armchair general on the TV news? Add the human factor. To trap the insurgents in Fallujah, the US sealed the town off. They told everyone to leave. They told everyone that any military-age-male (or MAM, not to be confused with the marriage-aged-males that were so frequently the targets of US massacres in Afghanistan and Iraq earlier in the wars) under 45 years old would be arrested (perhaps for torture at Abu Ghraib?) They then prayed to God, talked about Satan, and invaded the city. First they blew up a hospital. Then they occupied another hospital, stating explicitly that they were doing so because they did not want the hospitals to release figures of how many people they were killing. It worked. According to an Al Jazeera Report “Doctors said people brought in at least 15 dead civilians at the main clinic in Falluja on Monday. By Tuesday, there were no clinics open, residents said, and no way to count casualties.” They blew up minarets of a mosque. What more they are doing is difficult to know, because they are controlling the information.
For example, no one knows how many people there are in Fallujah right now. The population before the invasion was 300,000. The population now could be half that, or 10% of that. In other words, tens of thousands of people have been displaced already. Will they be able to return to their homes? Will their homes be there? 20,000 are gathered at the town of Saqlawiya south of Fallujah. Thousands of elderly women, and children, have had no food or water for days, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Among those who stayed is Muhammad Abbud, who buried his 9-year old child in his garden because they can’t leave their houses because of the American siege. “My son got shrapnel in his stomach when our house was hit at dawn, but we couldn’t take him for treatment,” said Abbud, a teacher. “We buried him in the garden because it was too dangerous to go out. We did not know how long the fighting would last.” (1) The Red Crescent Society, according to a Reuters report, wants to distribute relief supplies in the city. The Americans have refused to allow them to do so. Firdoos al-Ubadi of the Iraqi Red Crescent Society was quoted saying “From a humanitarian point of view it’s a disaster, there’s no other way to describe it. And if we don’t do something about it soon, it’s going to spread to other cities… There’s no medicine, no water, no electricity. They need our help.”
The question in the mainstream media is: did the insurgents slip away before the attack started, or will this battle finish them off? The answer does not matter to the US: the massacre will go on regardless. Indeed, Rumsfeld and the gang have said as much in press conferences: admitting the important insurgents had long since escaped and that this assault was only the beginning.
The beginning, indeed. The Lancet study that estimates that 100,000 Iraqis have already been killed as a result of the occupation, the UN figures of hundreds of thousands of children who died during the sanctions regime from 1991 to the present, all these are just a prelude. The US is fighting this war in a way that is creating massive internal displacement and humanitarian crises. It has long since destroyed the infrastructure that enables a people to cope with such crises. It has destroyed hospitals and mosques, trapped people in their homes, and refuses to allow international aid organizations to operate in areas whose inhabitants it is killing.
In recent wars, when casualties have reached genocidal proportions, it has usually not been because of the firepower deployed, but because of the collapse of infrastructure and security leading to starvation and preventable disease. That is what happened in the Congo war that killed 3 million people between 1998-2001.
Scott Ritter, writing for Al Jazeera, made this prediction: “Falluja is probably the beginning of a very long and bloody phase of the Iraq war, one that pits an American military under orders from a rejuvenated Bush administration to achieve victory at any cost against an Iraqi resistance that is willing to allow Iraq to sink into a quagmire of death and destruction in order to bog down and eventually expel the American occupier. It is a war the United States cannot win, and which the government of Iyad Allawi cannot survive. Unfortunately, since recent polls show that some 70% of the American people support the war in Iraq, it is a war that will rage until the American domestic political dynamic changes, and the tide of public opinion turns against the war.” (2)
The invasion of Fallujah is an attempt by the US to use its firepower to try to change the political reality in Iraq. That political reality is one in which they are seeking stable control of the country and its oil resources, and the resistance, combined with the US’s own arrogance and incompetence, has made it impossible for the US to exercise control. The US is trying to use destruction as a substitute for control. It can’t work. But what it can do is transform the whole situation in horrific ways.