THE AMERICAN CONQUEST OF FALLUJA IS A PYRRHIC VICTORY
By Ulrich Ladumer
[This article originally published in: DIE ZEIT 48/2004 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://zeus.zeit.de/text/2004/48/Falludschah.]
Falluja is occupied 90 percent by the US army or is it 70 percent or only 50? Were 200 or 2000 of the 17,000 houses completely destroyed? Were 1,000 rebels killed or 1,000 civilians or perhaps 5,000?
The truth is we do not know with certainty. We only know what the US supreme command and the Iraqi government claim. Very little of that can be corroborated. The commander-in-chief of the American army, George W. Bush, proclaimed the end of combat actions on May 1, 2003. One battle after another, one more violent than the other followed this victory announcement. Falluja was only the latest climax of the war and the propaganda battle. The knowledge about the whole course of events is essential for understanding the significance of the battle for Falluja.
WHAT CAN BE SAID WITH CERTAINTY?
The US army advanced against the Arab-Sunni city with merciless severity. They deployed 10,000 soldiers, tanks, bombers, cannons and everything needed to force Falluja to its knees. The US army wanted to show that it was serious and able to break all resistance. The commanders did not want to take any risk. After the beginning of the attack, they did not let any men between 15 and 55 leave the city. Whoever tried to escape would be driven back into the maze of houses. US soldiers also stopped the relief convoy of the Red Cross arguing that they would bring aid supplies to the civilians. The Iraqi prime minister supported this action when he said simply at a moment of the battle: "There are no civilians in Falluja any more!" He could not explain where the 300,000 went.
Allawi expressed a very different truth probably involuntarily. The war in Iraq cannot be enclosed any more. The boundary between fighters and civilian persons is increasingly blurred. That is the logic of war, one could say, and the logic of a policy that since the attacks of September 11, 2001 only distinguishes between friend and enemy. There is no in-between any more as there is no in-between any more for the civilians in Falluja. To keep to Allawi's words, they have dissolved in thin air - or in blood.
The terrorist and head-cutter Abu Musab al-Sarqawi and many of his followers disappeared from Falluja. We know this. He could have been caught if the media had profiled him as it did Saddam Hussein. He stood behind all the acts of violence against the occupiers, it was said. When they caught him, everything was even worse.
Al-Sarqaiui and his followers left to "take up the battle again on another day". That day came quickly. During the fighting in Falluja, rebels brought parts of Iraq's third largest city, Mossul, under their control. They put up a good fight in Ramadi, Bakuba, Buhris and other smaller and larger cities of Iraq.
Even geographically, the war does not seem contained any more. There is always talk of resistance in the Sunnite triangle. Mossul is not part of that triangle even if Sunnites live there. The occupiers counter this. Fighters from Falluja leave for Mossul. How they could be 500 kilometers from Mossul in such a short time and how hundreds of heavily armed persons arrived there unnoticed remain mysteries to US strategists.
Falluja should fall to pacify Iraq, it is said. The city now seems conquered but peace has not come. Instead the war has spread. Falluja should fall to finally make clear to the Sunnites that they should participate in the political process prescribed from the outside. The result is that they will be less ready for participation after the massive death of their fellow Muslims. Does anyone seriously believe that a whole group of the population can be bombed to the ballot boxes?
Don't be deceived! Shed blood is not simply an occasion for mourning or an opportunity for cheap indignation. Shed blood fundamentally changes the political presuppositions. Every military operation has the consequence that the Iraq society exhausted through several wars and an embargo for years is undermined and atomized again. Who should be the negotiating partner for the occupiers, tribal chiefs, clan chiefs or heads of mafia organizations?
War is a brutalization machine that can hardly be stopped or only when the enemy is convincingly crushed. However this is not possible in Iraq because the enemy is everywhere. When struck, he disappears and then reappears elsewhere. This is an endless cruel game in which occupiers and occupied show the features of their hatred more and more. This is the only explanation for the killing of a defenseless wounded Iraqi in Falluja by a US marine.